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National Employment Savings Trust

Volume 550: debated on Monday 10 September 2012

4. If he will make it his policy that the National Employment Savings Trust should have greater freedom to compete in the market for occupational pensions. (119817)

NEST has been designed to complement, rather than replace, existing good-quality pension provision by offering low charges and simple choices to a target group of earners and employers. The Work and Pensions Committee has suggested that the NEST constraints might not be working in the way that was intended, potentially resulting in consumer detriment. We think that the evidence is not unequivocal and so are gathering further evidence to determine how to proceed.

I thank the Minister for that answer. He will be aware that for the past two decades we have had the highest pension charges in the OECD. Part of the solution for the next two decades is NEST, yet there are a number of restrictions on its operating model that are really quite onerous, owing to an onerous interpretation of state aid rules. Will he undertake to look at that again before auto-enrolment comes in, which could save many hundreds of thousands of people a lot of money?

It is important to stress that NEST is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, and the end is making sure that all employees under auto-enrolment have access to good-quality, low-cost pension provision, not necessarily through NEST, but because of the effect of NEST in the market. As things stand, in the early days of auto-enrolment, which starts in about 10 days’ time—I will therefore not change the rules right now—the early adopters of auto-enrolment are getting good-quality, low-cost pensions because there is huge competition, but we need to ensure that that remains the case.

Why does the Minister not stand up for lower-income savers, stand up to Brussels and make the case for setting NEST free now?

We are, at the moment, continuing with Labour’s constraints on NEST, and the reason is that those constraints were designed to encourage NEST to focus on low-income savers. It has therefore innovated on, for example, products and on language and has been a good thing. If we think that NEST is unable to achieve the job it is there for, we will change the rules, but the early evidence does not support that.