Firms warned over pension plans

Pensions provider Axa has written to retired members of its own final-salary pension scheme offering them higher immediate payouts in exchange for lower amounts in the future.

The Telegraph says that it has seen copies of letters sent out to individuals offering them the deal, and also claims that members of the Fujitsu scheme have received a similar offer from their company. Alliance Boots took similar steps last week.

An Axa spokesperson said: “AXA confirms that it has issued a letter to the retired members of its final salary scheme offering them the opportunity to participate in a pension increase exchange in which they can exchange the future increases on part of their pension for a higher pension now. This offer is entirely optional and provides pensioners with more choice around how they manage their retirement income. All members will have free access from an IFA staffed helpline to support their decision making. Full details on the offer will be available to members in a few weeks.”

Richard Butcher, managing director at Pitmans Trustees, said that the concept of pension increase has been around for some time but warned that there is a risk of mis-selling claims if individuals feel that they have not been given sufficient information on which to make a decision.

“The bold are pressing ahead with these but there are worries,” he said. “In particular, both the pensions minister and the Pensions Regulator are concerned.

“The aim for the trustees of such schemes, and the employers, should be to ensure that members can make informed choices,” he said. “This invariably includes the provision of financial advice. If they can demonstrate this they should be safe from prosecution.”

Meanwhile, research by MetLife Assurance suggests that four employees out of five would like more advice on pensions in the workplace.

But the study found that employers are only the preferred source for such information for 17% of employees, with the majority (55%) wanting help from independent financial advisers. Almost one in five (19%) said that they had no interest in receiving advice at work.

The survey also highlighted the potential impact that auto-enrolment could have on employers, with only 34% of people currently paying into a company scheme.

Emma Watkins, director of business development at MetLife Assurance, said: “This research clearly highlights that employees want help to avoid future retirement income issues. Individuals require simple and clear information about their pension provision to determine what this means for their retirement plans.

“While many employers provide pension communication and education, there appears to be demand for access to an independent financial adviser when key decisions need to be taken by their workforce.”

Today also saw findings published by the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), which highlight the fact that one in three (31%) people have accepted a new job with no idea about whether or not it came with a pension.

NAPF said this means that employees miss out on a benefit potentially worth thousands of pounds per year and suggested that the situation is not helped by employers, who it accused of not doing enough to communicate details of their pension scheme to candidates. A NAPF analysis of job adverts found that only one in 12 carried any pension information at all.

Joanne Segars, NAPF chief executive, said: “Britain is facing a crisis when it comes to saving enough for its retirement. People need to wake up to the fact that some workplace pensions are worth a huge chunk of annual pay.

“Jobseekers need to know whether a pension is on offer, and they need to be aware as early as possible so that they can make an informed decision.

“Employers have got to do more to ‘mention the pension’ and they must be more explicit in disclosing its terms. They should specify the type of pension and the employer contribution, which might be anything from zero to well over 20% of annual salary.”

A separate NAPF survey published last month found that public support for pensions was at an all-time low, with 48% of working adults saying that they were not confident they would deliver long-term benefits compared to other methods of saving.

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