Henry Tapper on pension paralysis over the net-pay rip off

The following article is an excerpt from of one of the daily blogs by my good friend and pensions expert Henry Tapper. It explains, much more eloquently than I can, why no payroll agent who has clients with low earning employees should ever allow, or suggest, they join a Net Pay Arrangement pension scheme’:

The ‘net-pay rip-off’

The ‘net-pay rip-off’ is denying hundreds of thousands of low-paid people the incentive promised them by HMRC for contributing into workplace pensions.

It is a scandal, the pensions industry are complicit in allowing it to become one and this blog explains why the situation has got to the state it has. It also gives some hints to employers who don’t want to be a party to yet another pension scam.

I’m writing this article because net-pay has finally become topical. It’s become topical because a pension consultancy (Hymans Robertson) has launched a report on the matter which has sufficient PR behind it to get it media prominence.

How did we get here?

Around October 2015, payroll experts, notably Kate Upcraft, noticed that the lower threshold for auto-enrolment contribution and the minimum threshold for income tax were diverging so that some people could be paying no tax, getting no tax relief and yet being auto-enrolled.

As Kate and I and a few others looked further, we realised that a lot of auto-enrolment was starting at £1 of earnings (this is what happens at the House of Fraser). This means that all low-earners in net pay auto-enrolment schemes, could be missing out on incentives to contribution. Then remember that many people on habitual low-earnings “spike” into auto-enrolment – as a result of a well-paid pay period and you realise that auto-enrolment’s 11m new participants, include a few hundred thousand who get no incentive to contribute – just because their employer is operating net-pay rather than RAS.

From my emails, Kate Upcraft first had a meeting with the DWP about this in November 2015, and NOW Pensions and my blog were flagging all this from mid-September 2015. Kate first discussed this with me in July 2015.

It is very hard to know how many people are contributing to DC schemes under net pay and missing the incentive. Many are doing so under salary sacrifice and are completely off the radar. Lloyds Banking Group reckon that they may have as many as 3000 such employees on their own. Since the vast majority of own occupation occupational schemes are set up under net-pay and as many of them (for instance Whitbread) have high numbers of low-earning, part-timers, I think our initial estimate of 300,000 people in the “rip-off”, should be revised upwards.

Over the past 3 years, despite my blogs, Ros Altmann’s blogs and the pleading of parts of the payroll industry (Kate Upcraft in particular), nothing has happened. OK, NOW has cobbled together a fly-by-wire compensation structure, but other than that NOTHING HAS HAPPENED!

Why has nothing happened?

Nothing has happened because virtually all the players in this sorry fiasco, have blood on their hands.

Chief culprits are the consultants, who both recommended employers set up net-pay arrangements (which suit the high-earning purchasers very well) and administer them on systems which are “net-pay only”.

These consultants – especially the big three – Mercer, WTW and Aon, have now gone further and set up their master-trusts under net pay. That means that they are so steeped in net-pay themselves that they can say nothing on the subject.

Now let’s look at the employers. Quite apart from feeling they are absolved by their consultants, they have no wish to deal with this issue on any commercial grounds. The staff who are missing out are their least valued, they are probably more mobile than senior staff but even if they aren’t they have no voice. They have no voice because their normal representatives – the unions – are making no noise.

I do not know why the unions are not bothered about this issue. Perhaps it is because this is DC, perhaps because of phasing, the scale of the problem is currently too small,

All of which is leading up to the great big villain of the piece – the Government.

This is another version of the “too big to fail” problem. The PLSA, PMI, Consultants, Employers, Unions and most of all HMRC really do believe that they can keep a lid on the Net Pay scandal, because it is so big that no-one will have enough energy to lift the lid on it.

Possible solutions

Because NEST is a relief at source scheme, many large employers have put in place a NEST scheme for low-earners and the problem (for them) is mainly solved. I know of at least one large employer with their own occupational DC arrangement (net-pay) considering a GPP for low-earners.

I have seen various solutions that could be administered by HMRC, which would compensate those on net pay without incentives, through “year-end sweeps”.

And I know that some workplace pensions operating under Net Pay (Smart for instance) are promising to offer Relief at Source within a few months.

People’s Pension of course has the best solution which is to offer both forms of relief (though not within one employer arrangement).

All of these solutions are pro-tem till HMRC gets its act together. HMRC were the bright lads who introduced Relief at Source and HMRC should have it in them to provide us with the long-term solution. I don’t know what the long-term solution looks like but we cannot go on like this!

In conclusion

So rather than write another 32 blogs about net-pay, I hope that others apart from Hymans Robertson, will do it for me. I hope that the PLSA and PMI and other bodies will start lobbying HMRC for fairness for those on low-earning and I really hope that we will have – in quick time- a solution that ensures that a large part of the newly phased contribution increases of those on minimum auto-enrolment contributions, are given what the Government has promised them – an incentive equivalent to basic rate tax-relief – WHETHER THEY PAY TAX OR NOT!

 

Henry Tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen, Director of First Actuarial

Full article originally published at: www.henrytapper.com