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UK government rejects call for default at-retirement option

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The UK government has rejected calls from an influential group of MPs to introduce default drawdown products for retirees, saying it was “not convinced” they would be suitable for the majority of the population.

In April, the Work and Pensions Select Committee, made up of a crossbench group of MPs, called on the government to work with the regulator to introduce a “suitable and regulated default product” for those people who did not make an active choice about how to use their pension savings. It referred to these as “default decumulation pathways”.

In its response to the committee’s findings, however, the government has said such a move would run counter to the central idea behind pension freedoms.

“There is insufficient evidence to suggest a common default pathway would be suitable for the majority of people at this time,” it added, “particularly given that most people reaching retirement with DC savings now and in the coming years will also have other retirement provision to take into account in their planning.”

The government noted that the select committee had recommended it take forward proposals from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to introduce default decumulation pathways, but that the regulator’s emphasis was on consumers actively choosing particular retirement outcomes and providers being encouraged to offer products to suit those choices.

The government’s stance triggered mixed reactions from the pensions industry.

Former UK pensions minister Steve Webb, director of policy at insurance group Royal London, said the government was “right to reject the idea of a one-size fits all approach at retirement”.

“The whole point of pension freedoms is that everyone is different and has a different pension history and different goals for the future when they reach pension age,” he said.

“Much more can and should be done to help people make the choice that is right for them, but defaulting them down the route that the provider thinks is best is not the answer.”

However, Tim Gosling, policy lead, DC, at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, disagreed.

“We… urge the government to reconsider the benefits of implementing a signposting system to help savers,” he said. “A default or signposted pathway leading to an income product would make accessing an income easier while preserving the right to a free choice.”

Troy Clutterbuck, CEO of master trust NOW: Pensions, called for a “twin track approach” that would allow both active choice and a default option.

“While the government does not believe that default decumulation pathways are consistent with the freedom and choice reforms, they are entirely consistent with auto enrolment where savers often are unengaged and make no active decisions at all,” he said.

“There needs to be a twin track approach for engaged and disengaged savers with defaults available to those who have relied on our trustees to safeguard their interests throughout and want to continue to do so.”

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