DWP figures show employees with pensions soar

DWP figures show employees with pensions soar

Three quarters of the UK's employees are participating in a workplace pension scheme, according to the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) latest figures on auto enrolment.

A total of 79 per cent of eligible workers have contributed to an employer scheme in three of the last four years, according to the DWP survey. 

Altogether, eligible employees have saved nearly £82bn into their pension pots through auto enrolment since the government launched the workplace pension initiative, which automatically puts workers in a pension unless they opt out.

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According to government figures, almost 6.9m workers have been automatically signed up to workplace pension schemes, with 293,000 employers participating. 

In April next year contribution levels will increase from a minimum of 2 per cent of earnings - with at least a 1 per cent contribution from the employer - to 5 per cent - and at least a 2 per cent contribution from the company. 

Participation in auto enrolment is highest in the public sector, with 91 per cent of employees enrolled or 4.7m workers. 

However, the biggest increases in sign-ups have been seen in the private sector, with participation up 27 percentage points to 69 per cent since 2012 and a total of 10.4m workers enrolled. 

In the private sector, the largest increases in participation have been seen in the agricultural and fisheries sectors as well as manufacturing and the distribution, hotels and restaurants sectors. 

Overall, compliance is highest in professional occupations, with 85 per cent of eligible employees participating in 2015 compared with just 58 per cent of those in trade occupations, such as plumbing, carpentry and welding. 

However, skilled occupations have enjoyed the largest increase in participation since 2012, with the biggest rise seen among postal workers, security guards and cleaners. 

“Auto-enrolment has been very successful in getting people into pension schemes after a period where under 50% of the workforce was in a pension scheme," said John Wilson, head of technical at auto enrolment specialist JLT Employee Benefits.

"However, ultimately it is quality not just quantity that matters and the next step is to increase contribution rates. We need contributions of 15 per cent not 2 per cent. A reality check is needed and pension scheme members need to understand the cost of retirement.”

Despite the upbeat DWP figures, some industry insiders have raised concerns that 6m workers are currently excluded from auto enrolment.

"Auto enrolment is working in reversing the persistent decline in workplace pension saving," said Morten Nilsson, chief executive of NOW: Pension. "But these headline statistics can mask an uncomfortable truth."

"While 6.9m people have been auto enrolled, research from the Pensions Policy Institute shows that around 6m have been excluded.

The employees - the majority of them women - do not meet the earnings criteria, Nilsson added. "Of these, 3.3m have been disbarred as they don’t earn £10,000 per annum – the trigger for inclusion in auto enrolment and, over three quarters of employees earning less than the auto enrolment trigger are women.