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UK roundup: pension tax relief, Bexley, BlackRock, Accounting Standards Board

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  • UK roundup: pension tax relief, Bexley, BlackRock, Accounting Standards Board

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UK - The government has revealed details of the reform to pension tax relief, lowering the threshold to £50,000 - a drop of more than £200,000 - by April 2011.

The move was seen as positive by most in the industry, with the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) describing it as a "welcome and pragmatic approach" that would protect moderate earners.

Under the new guidelines, the lifetime allowance for tax-free pension saving would also fall by £300,000 to £1.5m.

The government estimated the changes would affect around 100,000 pension savers, four-fifths of whom earned more than £100,000. It also expects to raise £4bn annually through the new tax threshold.

The new rate was initially expected to be lower, a change the Confederation of British Industry welcomed.

The lobbying organisation's deputy director-general John Cridland said: "Today's announcement is not as bad as feared. The government had considered making the annual allowance as low as £30,000."

Cridland also welcomed the government's decision to consider postponing the introduction of the new lifetime allowance until 2012, warning that they must appreciate the short timescale for implementation.

June Grant, a principal consultant at Aon Hewitt, added that employers now needed to move fast to identify the workers affected by the changes.

"Employers do not have long to decide on their approach and then to communicate it so that key staff can make informed decisions ahead of April," she added.

Pension fund law firm Sackers & Partners also cautioned about the timeframe for implementation, with Eleanor Daplyn noting that even the government admitted it would be a stretching timetable.

PricewaterhouseCoopers warned there were still some unknown factors to consider.

Marc Hommel, pensions partner at PwC, said: "The main unknown that will impact the extent to which people in defined benefit pension schemes will face additional tax is how inflation will be taken into account in looking at the amount of pension build-up in the year that is taxable."

Meanwhile, the local government pension scheme (LGPS) for the London Borough of Bexley has awarded a £50m bond mandate to BlackRock Investment Management.

The investment, which accounts for around 11% of current scheme assets, is a core bond mandate, from which the LGPS expects an outperformance of at least 1% annually, net of fees.

A composite benchmark will be used at first to measure performance, while the £50m will be invested evenly in the gilt market and corporate bonds.

Finally, the Accounting Standards Board recently published guidance on how companies should address the switch from the retail price index (RPI) to the consumer price index (CPI).

As a result of the switch-over, pension schemes that only include references to revaluation orders, rather than explicitly citing RPI as a measure for increase in benefits, will from next year see a reduction in liabilities of 2-3%, Towers Watson said.

Rash Bhabra, head of corporate consulting, said: "The company accounts being prepared now will put a value on the wealth that has been transferred from pension scheme members to employers, making companies' pension debts smaller."

However, Bhabra added that, despite the savings this would result in, liabilities could still increase, as interest rates on corporate bonds have fallen since the last time accounts were prepared.

"In most cases, the shift to CPI inflation that has been confirmed will only make a difference between the time a member stops earning new benefits and when they retire," he added.

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