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The hiatus caused by the general election could delay the launch of the first pensions dashboard. At worst, it could derail the dashboards project altogether.
"We clearly need a central, national pensions ‘account’ that every individual could access [including] details of the size of the state retirement pensions."
What is the aim of a pensions dashboard?
Ideally, at some point, it would allow consumers to go online and see all of their pension savings in one place, together with current values and provider details.
The Government’s response to last year’s Department for Work & Pensions’ (DWP) feasibility study on pensions dashboards confirmed that the new Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) would have responsibility for overseeing the creation of the first (non-commercial) dashboard.
One of the key requirements for the success of pensions dashboards is to compel ALL pension providers to provide policyholders’ data, whilst ensuring that the data submitted is both accurate and intuitive.
Moving the Bill through Parliament
Following its inclusion in the Queen’s Speech on 14 October 2019, the Pension Schemes Bill (“the Bill”) received its first reading in Parliament the following day.
Contained within the Bill are clauses which will “create a legislative framework…to support pensions dashboards, including new powers to provide accurate information to consumers. This will include provisions for the Regulators to ensure relevant schemes comply."*
In this context, “provisions” is another word for fines and compensation. For example, The Pensions Regulator could fine providers and pension schemes up to £50,000 if they fail to provide data for the dashboards.
Therefore, with MaPS starting to build the infrastructure to make dashboards a reality, legislation was starting to work its way through Parliament to ensure that the dashboard would meet the primary aim of allowing an individual to see all of their pensions in one place.
General election announcement puts things on hold
Unless you’ve been blissfully unaware of UK politics recently, you’ll know that the Government finally won the vote for a general election to be held on 12 December, which resulted in Parliament being dissolved on 5 November to enable the campaigning to begin.
This meant that the second reading of the Pension Schemes Bill on 30 October didn’t happen.
So, until we know the outcome of the election, we don’t know if (or when) the Bill will be reintroduced into Parliament, or whether it will contain the same clauses as its first iteration did.
Is this the end of the pensions dashboard or just a pause?
At best, this interruption could delay the launch of the MaPS dashboard. At worst, it could derail the whole dashboards project altogether!
The current Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman, states that the reforms set out in the Bill have broad cross-party support and so hopes that a new government, regardless of its hue, will move forward with them.
Other commentators are not as optimistic. Headlines that followed confirmation of the election date included “General election puts pension reforms in jeopardy” and “Pensions Bill ‘lost’ amid election uncertainties."
Doubters, Doomsters and Gloomsters?
Although Boris Johnson might describe the authors of such headlines as ‘doubters, doomsters and gloomsters,’ the Government has also been criticised by the cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPC), chaired by Frank Field MP, regarding the dashboards.
Just as the provision of pension scheme and policy data is crucial to the relevance and usefulness of the dashboards, so too is the provision of information on the state pension.
For most consumers, the state pension is the bedrock for their overall retirement funding. So it is imperative that sufficient detail becomes available via a dashboard as early as possible.
Government failing on pensions dashboard data
The Bill mandates the pensions industry to have accurate data ready for the launch of the dashboards. Indeed, the Government’s response to the WPC’s report into pension costs and transparency agreed that state pension information should be available via dashboards. However . . . the Government does not commit to preparing this data in time.
Instead, the response merely stated that “we will make this available at the earliest possible opportunity,” leading Frank Field to question, “why does the Government insist on missing a trick like this? We clearly need a central, national, pensions ‘account’ that every individual could access [including] details of the size of the state retirement pensions.”
A short delay? Or a utopian ideal?
What does seem likely is that an incoming administration will want to review the details of the Bill before any reintroduction of it into Parliament. It will seek to stamp its own ideological priorities on it, based upon the content of the party’s election manifesto.
In extreme circumstances, a new incumbent may assert its newly obtained power to dismiss pension dashboards altogether.
At best, therefore, the general election creates an inconvenient pause in the development of the dashboards and delays the necessary legislation for the statute books.
At worst, the ‘utopian’ ideal of enabling a consumer to see all of their pension provision in one accessible place, including their state pension, could be rejected by a new government as an unachievable and overly expensive ‘pipe dream.’
*Pension Schemes Bill [HL] Explanatory Notes – House of Lords, 15 October 2019.
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