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UK pensions industry facing three times as much regulation as six years ago, according to survey

UK pension providers, trustees and employers had to digest three times as many regulatory consultations and announcements last year than they did six years ago, according to analysis by Financial News.

According to the industry news website (registration required), regulators were responsible for 108 releases in the year to 31 May 2014; a figure which had increased steadily since the 30 releases recorded in 2008/09 and is up from the 71 documents released last year. Its figures included consultations, guidance papers, codes of conduct and regulatory statements issued by the UK government, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Pensions Regulator, the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA).

Commenting on the findings, Joanne Segars of the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) said that the concern was that the government and regulators were trying to do too much, too soon.

"We support all of the reforms the government has introduced, but our concern remains that in attempting to do so much in a short period of time, we risk not delivering the very best outcomes for workers and savers," she said. "This is too important to rush."

Among the documents analysed, Financial News found that consultations requiring an industry response increased from five in 2008/09 to 20 in 2013/14. Of these, central government was responsible for most of the increase. The number of consultations on occupational pensions it ran increased from one in 2008/09 to 12 in 2013/14.

Financial News said that many of the recent changes related to the introduction of automatic enrolment into workplace pension schemes, which took effect for the largest employers on 1 October 2012. The vast majority of the millions of savers expected to begin saving more towards their retirement or saving for the first time under the programme will be enrolled into defined contribution (DC) schemes, in which the benefits provided on retirement depend on the performance of the saver's investment. The Pensions Regulator finalised its Code of Practice for these schemes last year following the start of this programme, and has proposed to carry out an "ongoing programme" of thematic reviews to ensure compliance.

Earlier this month, the Pensions Regulator published its new code of practice on defined benefit (DB) pension scheme funding. Other regulatory initiatives to be announced or finalised in the past year include a ban on consultancy charges in auto-enrolment schemes, the proposed cap on DC annual management charges, new governance rules for 'master trusts' and regulatory changes stemming from a new definition of 'money purchase benefits'. The FCA also published the results of its thematic review of the annuities market.

Two further pieces of legislation on pensions are due to be introduced before the next general election in 2015. These are a Pensions Tax Bill, which will give savers more freedom to access their pension savings in whatever way they wish without necessarily having to purchase an annuity or suffering heavy tax penalties; and a Private Pensions Bill, which will allow for the introduction of defined ambition (DA) pension schemes as a separate category from existing DB and DC schemes. The second of these initiatives will allow for the creation of Dutch-style 'collective' pensions, under which individual pension contributions could be pooled to form a single fund for investment purposes.

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