McLean savages ‘simpler state pension’ claim

The government’s claim of a simpler state pension system has been left in tatters following the publication of a DWP fact sheet outlining how contracted-out benefits will impact entitlement, says Barnett Waddingham senior consultant Malcolm McLean.

The fact sheet details specific complex calculations for the treatment of contracted-out benefits across different time periods, including those in DB schemes between 1978/79 and 1996/97, DC schemes between 1988/89 and 1996/97, not recorded periods between 1997/98 and 2001/02 and Serps ‘top-up’ entitlements during the period 2002/03 and 2015/16.

It explains how individuals will be assessed under both the old and new rules, with the higher amount becoming their single-tier pension starting amount.

McLean says the fact sheet is so complex that nobody will understand why their state pension has been fixed at a particular level, and adds that it will be two decades before a majority of people with a past history of contracting-out will receive the full flat rate pension.

The transition to the new pension leaves all workers who have been contracted-in – including the majority of those in the auto-enrolment target market – worse off, provided they have a relatively full working life, cutting state pension retirement by around a quarter.

McLean says: “The fact sheet illustrates the mind-blowing complexity of the arrangements being put in place for taking into account periods spent contracted-out of Serps and S2P in establishing entitlement to the new single-tier state pension starting in April 2016.

“Although it will be barely intelligible to the vast majority of those affected it does confirm the difficulty the DWP has faced in giving effect to past accrued rights and rebates under the old system and configuring them into the new one.

“It also gives the lie to the claims made originally by ministers that the new system would produce a more generous simpler flat rate state pension for millions of new pensioners going forward – none of these claims would appear to be true at least in the short term. Indeed as the fact sheet shows it will probably be up two decades before a majority of new claimants with a past history of contracting-out will actually start to receive an unabated flat rate pension.

“I can’t help feeling that the transition could have been better handled in a different way. Although it would undoubtedly have cost more in the short term, an arrangement whereby past entitlements to Serps/S2P were bought-out by the payment of a cash lump sum – to a maximum capped as necessary – and periods spent contracting-out discounted altogether would have been much simpler and probably fairer to all concerned. It would also have meant that subject to the national insurance criteria being met, new pensioners would all be receiving a genuinely simple flat rate state pension, the administration of which would be similarly simple and more intelligible to all concerned. Sadly at this stage it looks unlikely that this will be now be possible.”