UK - The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has withdrawn its latest update on Pension Trends, after admitting it miscalculated the estimates of private sector pension income by treating certain figures as monthly instead of weekly estimates.

The ONS said in a statement:  "Significant error has now come to light, particularly affecting the estimates of private pension income. The mistake means that private pension income could be over four times as high as the estimates that were published on 14 April 2008."

As a result, it said the chapter detailing the incorrect estimates and any "associated web information" has been withdrawn while the estimates are being recalculated and the ONS investigates whether there has been "any impact on the estimates of state benefit income given in the chapter".
The organisation, which is the executive office of the UK statistics authority and the single largest statistic producer for the UK government, said it "apologises for any inconvenience this may cause" and confirmed the recalculated figures will be "published again as soon as possible, once they have been quality assured".

The original data, published in April, claimed many pensioners only received a "modest income" from their private sector pension, with the average income for 2005/06 equating to just £2,115 for a couple, £1,553 for a male pensioner, and £1,238 for women. (See earlier IPE story: Administration most popular pension industry)

Figures used by ONS analysts in the release originated from the Family resources Survey by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), however the ONS has revealed a "programming error" meant the initial figures were miscalculated.

It pointed out the basic data produced pension income as weekly amounts, however it admitted when calculating these annual estimates, the weekly amounts were treated as monthly amounts.

In these cases, the ONS confirmed the true figure could be four times higher, so in the case of a pension couple the income derived from private sector pensions would increase form £2,115 to somewhere between £9,000-£10,000, although the exact figure will not be known until the revised figures are published.

The ONS claimed in its statement "all the figures" in Chapter 15 of Pension Trends "had been extensively quality assured, but this failed to identify the programming error". 

It added the ONS "has reported this error to the UK Statistics Authority. It is also reviewing its quality assurance procedures for compiling Pension Trends".

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