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UK politicians launch inquiry into ‘defined ambition’ pension schemes

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A cross-party group of UK politicians has launched an inquiry into the merits or otherwise of collective defined contribution (CDC), also referred to as deferred ambition plans.

The Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) of the parliament’s lower house today announced it was seeking views on CDC schemes as “the type of retirement saving plan with the potential to address some of the concerns that policymakers and the public have about the current pension ‘offer’”.

Frank Field, Labour Party MP and chair of the committee, said: “What the select committee is aiming for is to retain some of the best features of company schemes in a different age when employers are no longer willing or able to sustain the burden of final salary promises to employees, who could instead club together and pool the risk themselves.”

Setting out its inquiry, the committee highlighted arguments in favour and against the introduction of CDC plans. These include that they would “take the central decision of pension freedoms out of retirement planning, and also much of the risk”.

The WPC is also carrying out an inquiry into pension freedoms, launched in September.

The lawmakers also said that CDC had been identified as a potential source of longer term investment in growing start-up companies. Unlocking such investment was one of the policies presented by chancellor Philip Hammond in his Budget statement this week.

Arguments made against CDC schemes, according to the committee, were that they could further fragment the pension landscape, suffer from lack of demand, or run counter to the trend towards greater individual freedom and choice in pensions.

Sir Steve Webb

Sir Steve Webb

Baroness Ros Altmann

Baroness Ros Altmann

CDC pension schemes are not allowed in the UK, although they are common in the Netherlands and Denmark. In Germany they will become possible as of January , under certain conditions. Their introduction in the UK was once planned, however.

As part of then pensions minister Sir Steve Webb’s aim for greater risk-sharing in pensions, in 2014 it was announced that the government intended to legislate to allow CDC plans. They were subsequently recognised as a distinct pension category in legislation created by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, but plans for regulations to bring them into effect were shelved following the 2015 general election.

Sir Steve’s successor as pensions minister, Baroness Ros Altmann, said this was because the government did not want to distract from other major reforms such as auto-enrolment and pension freedoms. Industry representatives had strong views about CDC schemes – the debate a few years ago came close polarising the industry. 

The committee has asked for written submissions by 8 January. It has posed questions under three headings: benefits to savers and the wider economy, converting defined benefit schemes to CDC, and how CDCs would be regulated.

The politicians’ questions include:

  • Would CDC deliver tangible benefits to savers compared with other models?
  • How would a continental-style collective approach work alongside individual freedom and choice?
  • Could seriously underfunded DB pension schemes be resolved by changing their pension contract to CDC, along Dutch lines?
  • Is there appetite among employers and the UK pension industry to deliver CDC?
  • Would CDC funds have a clearer view towards investing for the long term?

Related images

  • Sir Steve Webb
  • UK economy: Calm before the storm index

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