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UK roundup: National Trust, Scottish Widows, Ensign Pensions, MNOPF

The National Trust is closing its defined benefit (DB) pension scheme after its deficit ballooned 68% in three years.

The history preservation organisation said it intended to close its final-salary pension scheme, NTRDBS, to future accrual on 31 March 2016, after consulting staff and the trade union Prospect.

The scheme has already been closed to new entrants since 2003.

The sponsor said the proposed changes would affect around 1,200 members of staff, about 16% of its permanent workforce.

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The closure of the pension scheme was the result of the latest valuation, in April 2014, which revealed a deficit of £116m (€165m) – up from £69m three years before in 2011.

The National Trust said: “Whilst we are going ahead with our plans to close our final salary pension scheme, we have taken a number of steps to mitigate the potential impact on members of staff.”

These steps included putting off the implementation of the move until the end of next March and the decision not to remove the link with final salary.  

It also made “positive changes” to its original proposals for death-in-service and ill-health benefits from the date next March, as result of the consultation.

The trust said it agreed with the scheme trustees to boost its deficit recovery payments to £8.5m a year from 2016, from £3m a year now.

This amount will increase with inflation (CPI) plus 1% every year until 2029.

In other news, UK insurer Scottish Widows has announced the first transaction of its new bulk annuity business with an internal deal from one of its with-profits annuities funds.

In the first-half report from the Lloyds Banking Group, which owns Scottish Widows, the bank said its insurance division had completed a bulk annuity transaction with the Scottish Widows With-Profits fund in the reporting period.

This represents the first stage of plans to participate in the DB pension scheme de-risking market.

The deal was worth £98m, boosting the insurance division’s underlying profit by 27% in the six-month period.

The move could be seen as trial run for Scottish Widows as it builds its capabilities in the bulk annuities business following its announcement in February that it intended to enter the space by the third quarter of 2015. 

A spokesman for Lloyds Banking Group said the deal involved Scottish Widows being paid by the with-profits fund to take on the liability of paying the guaranteed annuities involved in the fund.

Lastly, Ensign Pensions confirmed it is launching a new defined contribution (DC) master trust on 1 August that will be open to all employers and employees in the maritime sector.

The Ensign Retirement Plan is being set up by Ensign Pensions, the Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund, Merchant Navy Ratings Pensions Fund and Merchant Navy Officers Pension Plan.

Ensign Pensions said the new scheme had applied for the National Association of Pension Fund’s Pension Quality Mark.

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