The AE review and the pension stitch up.

7 years on from our last review, auto-enrolment is back under the microscope and the Government has published some questions they’d like answering**.

They’d have more chance in getting them properly answered if they put the matter in the hands of people responsible for doing the work.

Instead of reaching out to the small business , their payroll reps and business advisers, Richard Harrington is doing what big Government tends to do, and going to the usual suspects.

  • Ruston Smith, Trustee Director at Peoples’ Pension
  • Jamie Jenkins, Head of Pensions Strategy at Standard Life
  • Chris Curry, Director of the Pensions Policy Institute

Anyone who currently works helping employers stage, will be asking “who”? Here are my alternative bios.

Ruston Smith – serial committee sitter!

Well much as Ruston might like his work at People’s Pension to qualify him, it doesn’t. Ruston has spent most of the past few years knocking around at the PLSA, his day job is head of People and Pensions at Tesco and he also sits on the Standard Life Master Trust. Ruston is a  totemic figure of the pension hierarchy but he is not the people’s champion!

Chris Currylifelong policy wonk!

Chris is ex DWP, ex ABI and now Director of Pension Policy Institute, which is a noble institutions that mines data and is an independent source of research for the pension industry. Chris is a great bloke but he is an observer.

Jamie Jenkins – lobbyist!

Jamie is one of the worlds greatest billiards players and Strategy Director at Standard Life. He is a diplomat, a lobbyist and a Standard Lifer! He is a champion for the insurance industry but not for you or I.

Individually they are great – but collectively they are no good.


Cover -engage- contribute (what the AE will look at)

What is happening today, and will continue to happen in the next few years, is that small employers are complying with a set of rules that cover them , but don’t engage them. The contribution levels that employers are currently making to auto-enrolment are low but they are about to rise.

The DWP has correctly identified the key issues for the review as

  • coverage
  • engagement
  • contribution levels

the second term of auto-enrolment – following the 2010 and 2017 reviews will be measured by how many of the 12m not currently auto-enrolled are covered, to what extent employers and staff are engaged and to what extent we are able to keep people in at 8% rather than 2% of the AE band of earnings.


Great but no good

Three men following the three men of the 2010 review *. Nobody young, nobody female and nobody from outside the pension magic circle!

Nobody from the Federation of Small Businesses, the accountancy or personnel bodies, no one from the CIPP, no Kate Upcraft, Karen Thompson or Ian Holloway. None of the people who have invested their time preparing payroll bureaux, accountancy firms and the small employers to do their duties!

Today I am at the Cintra Payroll Conference in Newcastle, last night I was with payroll people (discussing auto-enrolment over a few ales), tomorrow I will be at the mighty Sage. It is these payroll software companies , their trainers, their clients, that have kept auto-enrolment afloat. The Pensions Minister and the Pensions Magic Circle are pleased to take the credit, but the work is being done by these people.

I am really affronted that they have no representation on this panel. I fear that those who are asked to contribute to this review will consider it for what it looks like – a pensions stitch up.

I know that the people I was talking to last night were mightily pissed off too. If Government is serious about listening to the nation (rather than sitting in a pensions echo chamber) it would have had at least one person representing the interests of payroll.

But it isn’t interested in the views of payroll or of the business advisers, or even of the small employers. It will continue to impose policy on these groups who will have no say in it , no engagement – they will simply be asked to contribute to other people’s CVs.

On behalf of all the people who I know, who will never be heard , but who work ever so hard, I would call on the Pensions Minister to ensure that advisory boards on auto-enrolment in future , comprise of and are focussed on , people who manage auto-enrolment.

A postscript for the consumer

You may remember that this review will also be dealing with the AE charge cap (which is tagged onto the questions as an afterthought). I see none of these three as representing the interests of the consumer. I hold out little hope for a fully inclusive charge cap as intended in 2013.

We will have to wait for the FCA to pronounce and the IGCs to deliver, the DWP are clearly not engaged.

* the 2010 review (excellent) is here.

** questions and TOR here

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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4 Responses to The AE review and the pension stitch up.

  1. Tony Filbin says:

    All great blokes but a lack of diversity.An opportunity missed

  2. Phil Castle says:

    Once again I am in agreement with Henry. Government NEVER put people on panels like this who actually deal with consumers at the sharp end. Just look at the FCA’s consumer panel all “lovies”
    I used to be very focused on group pensions from about 1998 until about 2005 with all from 2000 onwards being singel charged and either stakeholder or as stakeholder friendly. We did a LOT of work with the employers and employees and all that was needed for ALL the plans was entry by default (auto enrolment) rather than having to make a conscious decision. We’ve walked away from all the schemes as I just couldn’t face rebuilding them all again. I now have NO interest in helping employers and their staff who I am not already helping as Govt wasted my time and money by NOT consulting with those of us at the coal face.

  3. The Government must avoid the mistakes of pre 2012. Payroll and pension contribution from payroll expertise is a must else UK PLC will end up with more impossible nonsense. This is heading for disaster.

  4. henry tapper says:

    Well it’s up to the payroll software providers to make sure this doesn’t! You’ll have my full support Simon!

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