UK - Trustees and pension managers see improving communications for members as more important than tackling scheme deficits and regulatory changes, according to a study by consultancy firm Higham Dunnett Shaw.

Its study of 50 trustees and pensions managers suggests better member communication, enhancing trustee knowledge and understanding (TKU) and improved governance are key concerns the industry should deal with over the next 12 months.

Reducing scheme deficits and potential changes to the regulation of defined contribution schemes are said to be lower down the list of priorities for those polled, according to Mira McKelvie, head of HDS's governance practice.

"Nearly a quarter of the respondents to our survey said improving communication with members was their number one issue, demonstrating that the pensions industry is embracing the need for improved members communication as part of a broader governance strategy," said McKelvie.

This latest research comes at the same time as the Pensions Regulator has stated its priority over the next three years is to ensure schemes strengthen their funding and improve TKU.

Under key priorities set out by the UK's Pensions Regulator, trustees of work-based pensions will in future be required to demonstrate ongoing knowledge and understanding of pensions fund governance rules.

Details of a three-year plan set out by the Pensions Regulator reveals the body will, between 2007 and 2010, seek to influence the behaviour of trustees in relation to governance, as part of its aim to improve the protection of pension funds and their members.

"There will be year-on-year improvement in the extent to which trustees demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the governance requirements for their schemes, as evidenced by surveys of knowledge, understanding and key aspects of governance," said TPR in its latest report.

However, evidence presented by Mercer suggests 30% of pension scheme submissions to TPR on pension funding could be subject to further scrutiny as three in 10 schemes are setting their funding targets for the next 10 years below the unofficial "trigger levels" set by The Pensions Regulator.

A survey of 230 UK pension schemes found 94% intend to settle their scheme funding deficits within 10 years - compared with only 38% two years ago - but some schemes are prepared to push the "trigger points" which may subject schemes to further scrutiny.

Tim Keogh, worldwide partner at Mercer, stressed while there are no official rules as to the appropriate level of funding targets schemes should set, TPR has "hinted at its preferences" and one in five schemes has so far been asked to justify their funding approach.

"We have been surprised at the lack of response over several months on some cases. However, where there has been pushback it has been in line with expectations - generally trustees have been asked to justify their position rather than having their plans rejected out of hand," added Keogh.

Mercer's study also shows schemes have increased their funding targets by around 8% in the last two years.