James Coney  

Stop changing the pensions goalposts

James Coney

James Coney

From one of my old jobs, I have three different types of pension.

When I started at the company, I qualified for a final salary. But this only lasted for a few years before all existing defined benefit savers were put into a career average scheme (which itself had two levels of saving).

Then, when this was viewed as being too costly, I was finally dumped into a very standard defined contribution scheme.

On each occasion the scheme changed, there were separate rules for existing and new savers – in the move from DB to career average, new workers at the company were just given a DC scheme.

At some point auto-enrolment was introduced, so a new rule came in again to limit a more rewarding DC scheme to those with longer service, while new workers got the standard AE contributions.

What a mess – but it is not much different from that of many long-serving employees at a company.

From one side, each change looks like a pragmatic move to safeguard DB benefits alongside reflecting changes in the workplace, such as longevity.

Or from another side, you could say that it is actually chronically unfair on younger savers.

And this is the pickle that the government seems to have found itself in as it tries to transform the nation’s liability to pensions.

For starters, we have the rising women’s state pension age.

Besides thinking it is only right that men and women have equal state pension ages, I have never come out on one side or other of the debate about how the rises for the 1950s women were handled: some women of this generation knew about it, while some did not.

Let them campaign and see what the judicial review says.

I never really thought they stood a chance though, not least because I am not sure how you prove that you did not receive something that someone else claims was sent to you.

Despite this, the government seems to have made a right mess of the case and some almighty concession does not look so remote any more.

Last month, we had firefighters successfully argue that younger workers were penalised over changes to its pension scheme in 2015.

You just cannot change anything to do with pension schemes without bumping into some kind of trouble, because every alteration you make ends up being worse than the previous iteration.

The Royal Mail, which is sort of like the public sector, seems to think it has discovered some kind of Holy Grail with the launch of its collective defined contribution scheme. But that too is a worse version of DB – it is not even a good version of DC.