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UK workers may be forced to join company schemes

UK – Employers may once again be able to force workers to join company pension funds if the government accepts one of the key recommendations in the upcoming pensions simplification review.

The proposal will be made in the report on pensions simplification that Alan Pickering, former chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds, is due to present to the new work and pensions secretary Andrew Smith at the end of the month.

The recommendation to re-introduce compulsory membership has met with mixed emotions. The Confederation of British Industry is sceptical as it says increased mobility in the labour market makes it less practical than before.

However, the idea was welcomed by the Trades Union Congress, the UK Unions’ representative body. Pensions officer Michelle Lewis believes restoring compulsory membership of company schemes will be a quick way of enhancing pension scheme coverage in the UK since the level of membership of occupational pensions has fallen to its lowest level for 50 years.

Pickering would like to see the range of pension products reduced from more than twenty in existence now to just two or three to make saving clearer and easier. Moreover, he says employers should also have more freedom to decide what level and type of pension they provide.

The current level of regulation surrounding pensions is “disenfranchising whole swathes of people” according to Pickering, who adds that the government should move to simplify the industry for “appropriate providers to sell appropriate products to appropriate people”.

He also feels that concurrency – allowing people to contribute to more than one scheme at a time – should become an option.

Pickering warns that if the government doesn’t reform the regulatory framework soon, there is a danger that people won’t take out a pension at all, leaving them without adequate retirement income.

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