Speaking at the House of Commons last week (February 25), Opperman was asked about the government’s position on the auto-enrolment reform bill, put forward by MP Richard Holden.
In the House of Commons, Opperman said: “As my honourable friend will understand, we are at the latter part of this parliamentary session. It is the end of February and the Queen’s Speech will come, in all probability — obviously I cannot commit, but it is usually — on the second Wednesday in May, so the House has a relatively limited period of time.”
He said the practical reality is that there is no real way in which this bill would get through this house and the House of Lords in the time that is allowed “and that is the requirement in respect of private member's bills, the nature of his and all others”.
However, he added: “I can confirm that the government remains committed to the 2017 automatic enrolment review. It remains the case that we will, in the fullness of time, bring forward or support legislation to take this matter forward. My honourable friend will have to bear with me.”
In January Holden put forward a private members’ bill to urge the government to enact changes to auto-enrolment.
He tabled a motion in the House of Commons in January looking to lower the age threshold for auto-enrolment from 22 to 18, and there were rumours that the £10,000 earnings trigger would be scrapped, in line with proposals from think tank Onward, with which he had previously worked.
However the bill, which was published ahead of the discussion in Parliament of February 25, restricts itself to the proposals outlined in the government’s 2017 auto-enrolment review.
It proposes expanding auto-enrolment to 18-year-olds and eliminating the lower, qualifying earnings threshold, making earnings pensionable from the first £1 where people are enrolled or have opted in, but makes no mention of the £10,000 trigger.
It is in line with a written statement from pensions minister Guy Opperman, published earlier in February, confirming the government’s intent to maintain the earnings trigger and the qualifying earnings bands unchanged for 2022-23.
Meanwhile, Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said it came as no surprise that the bill would not pass before the end of the parliamentary session.
“It was always going to be a challenge to push through these reforms by the end of this parliamentary session and so it comes as no surprise Richard Holden MP’s private members’ bill hit a hurdle with the minister saying time is running out,” she said.
“However, Holden has fought a strong campaign that has really raised the profile of the need for further reform to auto-enrolment and garnered significant support.”
Morrissey said reducing the minimum age to 18 and removing the lower earnings limits has the potential to bring many more people into the workplace pension sphere.
She explained that it has the potential to “significantly boost the retirement prospects” of part-time workers, especially women who currently do not benefit from auto-enrolment but may wish to do so.
She added: “The pension minister said reform would be brought through in the 'fullness of time', but the concern is that the mid-2020s might become the late 2020s and the timetable gets pushed further and further out. These are important reforms that must not be kicked out into the long grass.”
Opperman added that in 2012 there were less than 40 per cent of women saving into occupational pensions but this number is now 80 per cent. He also said the same could be said for 22 to 29 year olds.
He said: “There is no question - automatic enrolment has transformed saving in this country.”
Earlier this month, the government opted to keep the earnings trigger for automatic enrolment at £10,000 for 2022-23, despite some in the industry calling for it to be scrapped to bring in more low earners.
In a written statement, Opperman said he opted to keep the qualifying earnings bands at their current level of £6,240 and £50,270.
This came after Now Pensions called for an urgent policy change to remove the £10,000 earnings trigger to bring more people into pension saving.
Last month (January 26), Opperman also failed to set out a timeline for reforming auto-enrolment in a parliamentary debate on the policy.
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