Opposition mounting to plan for mandatory pensions

Government’s plans for low-risk auto-enrolment regime criticised by actuaries

Actuaries also query decision to exclude workers from this obligatory pension saving between the ages of 16 and 23. Photograph: iStock

Actuaries also query decision to exclude workers from this obligatory pension saving between the ages of 16 and 23. Photograph: iStock

 

Mandatory pensions are all about putting people into a position where they do not find themselves financially undermined at the end of their working life. It stands to reason, then, that they’re no good if they are unrealistic.

And that is the concern at the heart of the critique of the Government’s proposed auto-enrolment regime by the Society of Actuaries – a group whose members spend much of their time at the coalface of the pensions industry.

The Government is clearly aware that a major concern of people who have been reluctant to make the long-term commitment to pension saving thus far is that the money will disappear and they will be left with nothing at the end of the day.

Hence its emphasis on a “low-risk” default pension investment strategy. Of course, as the actuaries point out, low risk means low return. In the case of cash funds, they note, the return these days could actually be negative after management charges.

If you are enrolling people in their 20s or earlier in a pension that they will not be drawing down for 40 years or so, it makes sense to build in risk in the early days so that there is the potential for growth. Only as you near retirement does it make sense to dial back on risk – an investment approach known as “lifestyling”.

For similar reasons the actuaries query the decision to exclude workers from this obligatory pension saving between the ages of 16 and 23.

First, the earlier you start, the more time your fund has to grow. And it is asking for trouble to allow a young worker access to all their wages and then, at 23, just as they are starting to look at taking on commitments, oblige them to surrender up to 6 per cent of their pay.

In this, the actuaries find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

While their approaches differ, the two groups also oppose any move to reduce the tax relief available to workers on pensions contributions.

Facing this broad church of opposition, the Government might do well to accept some amendment of its plans.

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