End of The Line for DB to DC Transfers?

by Brian Spence   •  
At the end of July by the Department of Work and Pensions published a consultation document entitled  "Abolition of contracting-out on a defined contribution basis: consultation on draft consequential legislation." Hidden within the document (it takes some finding) and then cross referencing  the Contracting-out (Transfer and Transfer Payments) Regulations 1996 (what would we do without Pendragon Perspective!) and it becomes clear - no transfers of GMPs or of post 1997 contracted-out rights will be permitted from DB pension schemes to either occupational DC pension schemes or to personal pensions from 6 April 2012. Who saw that coming?  The vast majority of DB pension rights are now locked into the DB pensions funding regime until the last member dies, a regulated buy-out is transacted or the sponsor goes bust. Deferred pension scheme members who may have been thinking for some time about transferring to a personal pension will need to make their mind up soon.  There is a minority of people who would be well advised to take transfers, for example some of those in poor health or without dependents.  Schemes will undoubtedly have to deal with an increased incidence of transfer requests for 18 months and virtually none thereafter. The whole new industry that has developed around transfer incentives will come to an end.  From the point of view maximising individual choice this is not a good development but there are a number of practitioners who have advised employers to conduct enhanced transfer value exercises in a manner that will in all likelihood result in many of those members who have been advised to transfer coming to regret the advice they have received. The Pension Regulator's recent consultation on the subject seemed a rather limp response to some very poor practices on the part of some advisers but maybe this latest announcement goes some way to explaining why.  If the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Services Authority cannot regulate Enhanced Transfer Value Exercises (and certainly over the last few years it is clear that they have failed to do so) then banning transfers seems a logical step.  Whilst we understand the move by the new Pensions Minister Steve Webb, it is a pity that the price of this regulatory failure is to deprive the minority of people who could gain by transferring of that option. It is a price worth paying to protect the majority from the detriment caused by the predatory and harmful practices that have developed. The whole area of calculating transfer value equivalents to DB benefits has been fraught with difficulty - the mis-selling of the late 1980s and early 1990s having been improved on by some firms only a little in more recent years. There does however seem to be a high chance of a firesale over the next 18 months as individuals take a final look at their affairs and decide once and for all on whether to transfer out to a personal pension or DC scheme and as employers contemplate making a final and best offer to incentivise deferred members to take their liabilities and leave the scheme.  Hopefully employers and trustees will take the proposed new Guidance from the Pensions Regulator to heart and conduct these exercises in an appropriate manner.  The appointment of an independent trustee in such cases to eliminate conflicts of interest would be good start. We have argued several times that transfer incentives properly conducted are a legitimate and proper technique for employers to manage their liabilities and at the same time would be happy to advise any employers looking to achieve a fair win/win result in the limited time that now appears to be available or indeed any trustees seeking to meet the demanding new expectations of the Regulator. Brian Spence is a founder of actuaries Spence & Partners Limited and a director of independent trustee Dalriada Trustees Limited.  You can follow him at @briandspence or @PensionsEndgame on Twitter or link to him on LinkedIn. Follow @SpencePartners and @DalriadaTrustee on Twitter.

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