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UK roundup: ONS, BBC, pension de-risking

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UK - A third of UK pensioners rely solely on the state pension in retirement, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics, while the BBC has defended proposed changes to its defined benefit (DB) scheme.

Elsewhere, Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC) has noted de-risking is still a high priority for pension funds and employers, even though volatility in the markets has meant overall affordability for de-risking solutions for most schemes has reduced.

Latest figures from the annual ONS Social Trends 40 survey showed in 2007-08 31% of all pensioners relied solely on the state pension and pension credit for their retirement income, with 42% of these made up of single female pensioners.

Meanwhile, 43% of all pensioners had income from an occupational pension alongside the state benefits, with 56% of pensioner couples receiving occupational pension benefits and 54% of male pensioners receiving an income of some kind from this type of pension, compared with just 27% of single female pensioners.

The figures highlighted that in 2008-09 social security benefit expenditure in the UK was £152bn (€184bn), of which £136bn was managed by the Department of Work and Pensions, with £81.7bn, or 60%, paid to people of state pension age.

In addition, data from the report on attitudes to financial security in retirement showed 59% of all people believe the government should be responsible for ensuring people have enough money to live on in retirement, while 11% thought employers should be responsible and 30% felt it was an issue for personal responsibility. 

The BBC's director general yesterday defended the corporation's move to close its £8.2bn (€10.2bn) DB scheme to new members from December 2010. (See earlier IPE article: BBC to close scheme to new members as deficit hits £2bn)

Speaking on political talkshow The Andrew Marr Show, Mark Thompson said the amount of money the BBC paid toward the scheme could have risen from 3.5% to 10% had no changes been made.

He said the £2bn deficit was not a result of the fund being "badly run", saying of DB schemes: "They are shutting everywhere, certainly in the private sector because they are no longer affordable."

Thompson pointed to a new DB scheme as an alternative for employees who wanted their pensions to continue rising with inflation, rather than the 1% annual increase offered under the new terms for DB members.

There will now be a three-month consultation period, with broadcast unions already threatening strike action.

Findings from PIC's quarterly Pension Risk Transfer index has suggested more schemes are looking at a range of de-risking options in the second quarter despite the double impact of market volatility and the "effective doubling of long-dated real gilt yields" at the beginning of the year resulting in a reduction in the overall affordability for most schemes.

In particular, PIC noted that the levels of affordability for specific tranches of pension scheme liabilities had "remained constant", as, for example, older pensioner liabilities are often matched by gilts and can be insured for a "marginal cost over the scheme's funding levels".

The insurer said continued volatility meant trustees were seeking to bolster funding positions and that contingent assets were becoming more popular as a form of security alongside cash contributions.

Most recently, Marks & Spencer and Sainsburys have used property assets to improve their pension funding levels, while Diageo last week announced plans to use whisky investments to boost its pension scheme. (See earlier IPE articles: UK roundup: Marks & Spencer, J Sainsbury, BT Group and Diageo pension scheme to plug £860m deficit with whisky)

PIC suggested this trend might be extended to the use of these assets to finance future risk transfer transactions.

David Collinson, head of origination at PIC, said: "The increased number of trustee boards coming back to the market for full or indicative quotes, even where there is a slight deficit in the pension fund, demonstrates the industry is becoming more risk averse, with heightened awareness around the weakness of the corporate covenant being one of the main factors in this trend."
 

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