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Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2017

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2017

Motion to Consider

Moved by

My Lords, I will be brief. The Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order is entirely a technical matter that we attend to each year. This order was laid before the House on 16 January 2017 and, in my view, its provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The order provides for formerly contracted-out defined benefit occupational pension schemes to increase their members’ guaranteed minimum pension which accrued between 1988 and 1997 by 1%, in line with the increase in the general level of prices as at September 2016. On that basis, I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his brief introduction to this technical order. It addresses, as we have heard, the required uprating of GMPs by CPI. The period in question is the year ending 30 September 2016, which we have just discussed. That period largely precedes the spurt in inflation—imported inflation—driven by the post-referendum depreciation of sterling. At 1%, it is well within the 3% cap on the GMP uprating. We will obviously support this order but, although it is superficially straightforward, uprating GMPs is a complicated area, as a recent NAO report identifies. It illustrates that, although GMPs were applicable for a relatively short period of time—1978 to 1997—there are ramifications well into the future. Some people with rights to GMPs would not reach state pension age until around 2050.

April 2016 saw the introduction of the new state pension, of course, which involved the end of contracting-out and of the additional state pension. Because the contracting- out position is incorporated in somebody’s starting amount, the Government no longer take account of inflation increases to GMP accruals between 1978 and 1988, nor for increases beyond 3%. I think that is correct, but perhaps the Minister might just confirm it. Can he also remind us what is happening to GMPs which are in payment?

The NAO also points out that, with changes to the state pension age, there is a growing time period between GMP age, which is 65 or 60, and the actual state pension age when payment begins. Other things being equal, this means a longer period during which the GMP is not fully uprated.

The scheme provider is now solely responsible for uprating, but only from 1988 and in excess of 3%, and for maintaining the records necessary to calculate each member’s GMP. The NAO advises that up to October 2018, scheme providers have to reconcile their records with HMRC. Individuals will be notified of the value of their GMPs as at April 2016 and will have to keep a record thereafter themselves, including when they transfer to another pension scheme. Can the Minister tell us how this is all going? What communications support these requirements, and what assessment have the Government made of compliance with these arrangements? How many individuals are involved in this process?

Finally, the Minister may be aware of the article on the front page of the money section of the Sunday Times last week, which seemingly involved contracted-out pensions and the provision of inaccurate data. Can the Minister please explain what is happening? What is the problem and its scale? Who is affected and how is it going to be fixed?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, is quite right to refer to the complicated nature of this field and to point out how long it is likely to go on. He talked about 2050. I did a few sums and thought that someone—I hope not me—could still be moving this order some years after 2050. Certainly, it has some years ahead of it as an annual order—when the GMP has to be increased by either CPI or 3%, whichever is the lower. That is why we have increased it, on this occasion, by 1%, which is the CPI figure for September.

The noble Lord also asked some rather detailed questions about what communications we were making to individuals and what compliance we sought from the benefit providers. I would prefer, on this occasion, to write to him in greater detail on that matter, because it might be dangerous to answer. Similarly—this goes beyond today’s debate—the problems reported in the business section of the Sunday Times, which I think it got slightly wrong, are a matter probably better dealt with by a letter from me rather than in a debate on the uprating of the guaranteed minimum pension, formerly SERPS. I apologise to the noble Lord for not answering his questions on this occasion but promise to write to him. I also accept his acceptance of the 1% increase—as it will be—and look forward to having this debate again for many years to come, though not necessarily with him or me involved if it continues as late as 2050.

I am grateful for the offer of correspondence on those two issues: dealing with information flows under existing arrangements and the Sunday Times article. It may be “fake news”—I think that is the term—and I do not know how accurate it is, but it seemed to tie in with important issues regarding data and the capacity of the system to cope with it.

I am particularly concerned about the arrangements for reconciling records with HMRC. My noble friend Lady Drake has been heavily involved in many pension matters over the years, particularly the Pension Protection Fund. She could wax lyrically about the dirty data that somehow came from defined benefit schemes, and how difficult it was to straighten those data out. I am not sure whether there is any of that in this, or how many GMPs are currently in payment. Having said all that, I accept the generous offer of correspondence on this. It would be helpful to have it as soon as possible, because I have to go back to basics every year to remind myself what it is all about.

My Lords, I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, as my noble friends Lord Freud and Lord Young took the pensions Bill through, and admired her expertise on this subject. One day, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and I will reach such a level, but in the meantime we will have to rely on correspondence between us. I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting my assurance, and I will write to him in due course on those matters. I beg to move.

Motion Agreed