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Analysis: UK pension equality costs ‘lower than forecast’

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A court ruling requiring UK pension funds to equalise legacy pension benefits for men and women will likely raise total liabilities by £8bn (€9.2bn), according to Hymans Robertson – roughly half the original estimate.

The consultancy estimated that the final bill for the equalisation of ‘guaranteed minimum pensions’ (GMP) would be far less than the estimates published last year by consultancy groups. Aon said in October that the ruling could raise liabilities by £15bn, while others reported total costs of £20-30bn. 

Meanwhile, IPE has collated estimates from 128 UK listed companies’ annual and interim reports, revealing an estimated total bill of nearly £2bn – or 0.48% of their combined £416bn of liabilities.

The ruling – handed down by the UK High Court in October last year – relates to the payment of GMP benefits, which applied to some private sector benefits accrued between 1990 and 1997. Under EU rules, they must be paid equally to men and women, but have so far been paid out at different ages as they were based on the UK’s state pension.

It means defined benefit (DB) schemes must revisit decades worth of data to identify those who are due back payments, an exercise that consultants say could take years.

Matt Davis, head of GMP equalisation at Hymans Robertson, said the latest estimate was “really encouraging news” for UK companies with DB liabilities.

“This suggests that most companies will not see significant disruption to their long term funding strategies,” he said.

However, Davis added that GMP equalisation “remains one of the largest industry-wide challenges”.

HSBC incurs biggest GMP bill

The biggest GMP bill so far reported fell to HSBC Bank, which estimated in its annual report that equalising GMP payments would cost it £177m, increasing its DB liabilities by roughly 0.84%.

Lloyds Banking Group – which was the ‘test case’ at the centre of the High Court ruling in October – estimated that implementing the ruling would raise its DB obligations by £108m, or 0.26%.

BT, which sponsors the UK’s largest company pension scheme, expected its liabilities to rise by approximately £100m, or 0.17%. 


Biggest GMP bills reported so far

Source: IPE research. Data gleaned from annual reports and CapitalIQ. British Airways’ figures have been converted from euros.
Scheme sponsor Pension assets Liabilities GMP estimate GMP as % of liabilities 
HSBC£26.8bn£21.1bn£177m0.84%
Barclays£29bn£27.3bn£140m0.51%
Rolls Royce£13.6bn£11.5bn£121m1.05%
BAE Systems£22.4bn£26.1bn£114m0.44%
Lloyds Banking Group£42.2bn£41.1bn£108m0.26%
Royal Bank of Scotland£45.1bn£36.4bn£102m0.28%
BT Group£50.7bn£57.2bn£100m0.17%
British Airways£23.7bn£21.8bn£80.7m0.37%
Aviva£17.1bn£14.2bn£63m0.44%
Phoenix Group£4.2bn£4.1bn£59m1.44%
Total (128 companies)£433.7bn£416bn£1,982.6m0.48%

Source: IPE research. Data gleaned from annual reports and CapitalIQ. British Airways’ figures have been converted from euros.


While the majority of companies reported an impact of less than 1% of liabilities, a small number have estimated that the GMP ruling could raise the cost of paying future pensions by more than 2%.

For smaller companies, the effect has been more significant. Genus, a biotechnology firm, reported GMP equalisation costs of £15.7m – 3.93% of its reported pension liabilities. The cost wiped out its income for the six months to 31 December 2018, pushing it into a loss for the period.

Of the nine companies to have reported a GMP estimated bill of more than 2% of liabilities, seven of them have schemes with less than £100m of DB obligations, and six are in deficit.

Hymans Robertson’s Davis said the eventual cost would depend on specific scheme rules. DB plans with earlier retirement ages and inflation-linked annual uplifts were likely to incur a smaller bill, he said, while those without increases and with higher retirement ages would likely see higher costs.

Despite the size of the expected GMP equalisation bill, the actual impact on individual members’ benefits is expected to be small. 

Davis said: “While many finance directors will be relieved that the impact is not as bad as first feared, we‘ve seen noticeable differences from scheme to scheme. This means it is important to complete a thorough assessment, especially as this extra cost normally flows through ‘profit and loss’ in company accounts.”

HSBC

HSBC estimated that equalising GMP benefits would cost it £177m

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