Government urged to consider reducing regulator's role

Government urged to consider reducing regulator's role

Law firm Pinsent Masons has urged the government to consider reducing the role of The Pensions Regulator, warning that too many rules "could be bad for us".

The report, prepared with Pendragon and the Pensions Institute and entitled "Pensions and Chocolate", calls for pensions regulation to be "radically cut back", and for the role of The Pensions Regulator to be "rethought and perhaps diminished".

The warning followed calls for more pensions legislation from the Work and Pensions select committee.

It also came ahead of the imminent release of a government green paper on defined benefit pensions schemes.

Last week, pensions minister Richard Harrington suggested the paper may contain provisions to give The Pensions Regulator more powers, arguing that it was currently "fairly light touch" compared to other regulators.

But the law firm argued that, while rules to protect consumers against scammers "might be a good thing", too many resulted in an "over-complicated" pension system that left consumers "bemused". 

In the executive statement, the study read: "Current intervention levels by The Pensions Regulator are adding to unnecessary costs for many schemes.

"At the same time, the regulator seems to be offering constructive assistance in a few cases. It is clear the role of the regulator needs to be rethought and perhaps diminished."

The study made four recommendations.

It argued that the government should issue a "holistic statement of its pensions policies"; that all new rules should be "evidence based"; that there should be a "deregulation exercise" for all pension schemes; and there should be a "consolidation exercise", creating an easily-understood "legal pensions code".

Carolyn Saunders, head of pensions and long-term savings at Pinsent Masons, claimed most people view the current pension system as "dysfunctional, leading to confusion, expense and a reduction in provision by employers".

She went on: "Whilst auto-enrolment is making some headway, for most of the population there is a reduction in the amount being set aside for retirement at a time when the population is aging and the savings ratios should be higher.

"Regulation may not be the sole reason for the decline, but it seems to be a major contributory factor," she said.

She said the government was committed to reducing regulation in other policy areas, citing a "red tape challenge" programme, and the OITO ("one in three out") policy requiring departments putting forward new regulations to remove three existing ones.

Ms Saunders urged the government to extend this approach to pensions.

Darren Cooke, a financial adviser with Red Circle Financial Planning who played a key role in the government's upcoming ban on pensions cold-calling, dismissed suggestions TPR's role should be diminished.

He said the complexity pensions rules was a legislative issue and had "nothing to do with" the regulator.

"I would say there is very much a need for The Pensions Regulator's to increase its powers to protect the public form con men and fraudsters," he said, adding the regulator had been "a bit slow" on some of the issues.