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UK regulator hints at mandatory assurance framework for master trusts

The UK pensions regulator is pushing for stricter regulation of defined contribution (DC) master trusts, questioning whether a currently voluntary assessment framework should be mandatory.

Lesley Titcomb, who joined the Pensions Regulator (TPR) as chief executive from the Financial Conduct Authority in March, said the regulator was in discussions with the government about making the assessment of a master trust’s health mandatory.

It will also examine the entry requirements for master trust operators, currently set by HM Revenue & Customs.

She noted that the current regulatory hurdles to launching a master trust focused mainly on the ability to administer tax relief.

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Titcomb told attendees at the National Association of Pension Funds annual conference in Manchester: “Given my objectives, of course I have a rather different set of interests in what those master trusts are doing.”

She outlined a number of the regulator’s concerns.

“Are [master trusts] going to be able to look after the customer’s assets, administer it well [and] be a well-governed scheme?” she asked.

“Are they able – should they not succeed in business for any reason – to […] wind themselves up in an orderly fashion?” 

Titcomb also expressed regret at the small number of master trusts to have completed the so-called assurance framework, published last year and drawn up in conjunction with the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales.

The assessment has to date only been completed by four schemes – The People’s Pension, Now Pensions, the National Employment Savings Trust and the SEI Master Trust – with only the first two listed by TPR as recommended schemes, a step that requires the provider to accept any UK employer wishing to use the scheme for the purposes of auto-enrolment.

Titcomb said the regulator’s list was a short one, but she expressed hope that it would grow.

She also hinted that the assurance framework could in future be mandatory for schemes wishing to take in members through auto-enrolment.

“One of the things we could ask the government to look at is to make master trust assurance compulsory if you’re going to be open to any[one],” she said. 

“We have to look at the issue of master trusts and the regulatory regime that applies to them. They are fulfilling a hugely important role in auto-enrolment, particularly as we get into the small and micro [company] world.”

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