Pensions Law: What’s on the horizon for 2024?
2024 is going to be a busy year for the pensions industry. Martin Jenkins, National Head of Pensions takes a closer look at the agenda for 2024.
After a well-deserved festive break from the barrage of pension law developments in 2023, I returned to the office full of enthusiasm for the year ahead and wondering whether we will see more pension-related surprises on 6 March in the Spring Budget.
It is now approaching the end of January and there is already plenty of reading to do. TPO stole a march on both HMRC and TPR by publishing its Corporate Plan for 2023 – 2026 on 21 December, just as I was looking forward to starting on the Christmas cake.
Q1 - 1 January to 31 March
On 4 January, HMRC updated its December 2023 Lifetime Allowance Guidance Newsletter. This confirms the Government’s intention to abolish the Lifetime Allowance and explains that the intended effect of the Finance Bill 2023-24 is to maintain the current treatment for the PCLS (Pension Commencement Lump Sum). Also, no income tax will be payable on beneficiaries’ drawdown and annuity income if those pensions derive from uncrystallised rights and a member’s death under age 75. The newsletter also focuses on:
- pension commencement lump sums
- taxable lump sums and PAYE for employer payroll reporting
- dependants’ or nominees’ flexi-access drawdown pension or annuity (BCE 5C and BCE 5D)
- enhancement factors
- lifetime allowance protections and enhancements — application deadline is 5 April 2025
- scheme administrator reporting
- lump sum death benefits
- lump sum death benefits from before 6 April 2024 crystallised funds
- overseas transfer allowance
- member payment charges on certain lump sums paid from non-UK pension schemes
- transitional arrangements where a BCE (Benefit Crystallisation Event) has occurred prior to 6 April 2024
10 January brought us the long-awaited General Code and consultation response. The General Code is due to come into force on 27 March, after Parliament has approved it. By way of a brief overview, the General Code consolidates and updates ten existing codes of practice into a single set of clear, consistent expectations on scheme governance and administration, for Occupational, Personal and Public Service pension schemes. It is designed to be a digital product and TPR believes it is modern, succinct and user-friendly.
Existing Codes of Practice on Notifiable Events, Funding Defined Benefits, Modification of Subsisting Rights, The Material Detriment Test, the Authorisation and Supervision of Master Trusts and Collective Defined Contribution Scheme sit outside the General Code and will continue to apply.
The General Code has five sections, covering Governance, Funding and Investment, Administration, Communications and Disclosure and Reporting to TPR. There is a greater emphasis on documented policies and procedures, a requirement to consider Climate change, a stronger reference to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion on governing bodies and a new requirement to undertake and document an Own Risk Assessment (ORA) for schemes with more than 100 members.
Compliance, and evidencing it, is now more important than it has ever been, not least because TPR may consider failure to complete an ORA indicates poor scheme governance, which could lead to greater scrutiny going forwards.
6 March: Budget Day
I am hoping we do not get any more pensions related surprises in the March Budget!
Mansion House Reforms:
Meanwhile and as confirmed in the Autumn Statement, the DWP continues to develop the Mansion House reforms at pace. Currently, there is an ongoing consultation regarding the “pot for life” model and background work on the. consolidation of small deferred defined contribution (DC) pots, trustee duties in the DC decumulation phase, the expansion of collective DC schemes and a value for money framework. Also, the Bim Afolami, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, recently reassured the Work and Pensions Committee that the government is keen to introduce a permanent superfund regime “as soon as possible”.
Might we see the results of this work in this quarter? Parliamentary time seems to be the biggest constraint at the moment, leading me to wonder which reforms might be timetabled for Quarter 3.
DB Funding Code
I wonder whether lack of Parliamentary time will also affect the timescale for the DB Funding Code? In late November 2023, TPR chief executive, Nausicaa Delfas, confirmed that TPR has revised its DB Funding Code, and believes that it is "entirely consistent" with the government's Mansion House reforms because it it allows for pension schemes to invest in diverse assets. At the same time, TPR interim director of regulatory policy, analysis and advice, Louise Davey, confirmed the code was on track for an April 2024 launch date.
Q2 - 1 April to 30 June
6 April signifies the start of a new tax year and with it, the abolition of the Lifetime Allowance and a reduction in the tax charge on a refund of surplus from 35% to 25%. Facilitating Employer access to surplus in ongoing schemes is also on the Government’s agenda.
Might we see a consultation on this in Q2 and further development of Government policy to increase investment in productive finance?
Might we also see more disputes about the use of surplus as more schemes experience an improved funding position?
Questions over the use of surplus are complex as the way forwards for a pension scheme will depend on the scheme’s rules, whether the scheme is looking to secure benefits or run on and balancing the interests of the employer(s) and scheme members. We have successfully advised several schemes recently, helping them to minimise the risk of disputes and uncertainty, communicate their journey plan to scheme members and negotiate with the sponsoring employer about their medium to long term plan.
PPF – Expansion of its role?
In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor confirmed the Government’s intention to explore how the PPF could expand its role, both as a consolidator for public sector DB schemes and as an investment vehicle for smaller BD schemes. The PPF has welcomed this and we expect a consultation to happen sometime this year.
Q3 - 1 July to 30 September
I wonder whether Q3 / Q4 might bring changes to the Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Conditions for Transfer) Regulations 2021 (Transfer Regulations)?
These regulations require trustees to check for red and amber flags which might indicate a pension scam, putting member(s) benefits at risk. Red flags prevent a transfer from proceeding, amber flags require the member to seek guidance from Money Helper. Incentives (red flag) and overseas investments (amber flag) have caused trustees considerable headaches because their current wording captures any incentive or overseas investment, whether or not they are a cause for concern. In practice, both could feature in a low-risk transfer and so members are facing unnecessary obstacles, whilst trustees have the tricky decision of whether to take a literal or pragmatic approach to applying the Transfer Regulations.
On 5 December 2023 the trustees of the NTL Pension Plan confirmed that the appeal hearing will take place before the Court of Appeal on 25 - 26 June 2024. Pension lawyers will be hoping that the Court of Appeal decision will be published at the start of Q4, and that it will bring clarity about the validity of amendments lacking certification. Click here for more details about the High Court decision.
Q4 - 1 October to 31 December
At the end of 2023, the DWP told the Association of Pension Lawyers that it is very unlikely that regulations to change the Notifiable Events regime will come into effect in April 2024. So, might we finally see these regulations in October 2024?
Click here for our detailed guide to the proposed changes.
We do not yet know the date of the Autumn Statement. Might the Government look to schedule this for late November 2024?
Might we see a General Election before Christmas?
January 2025 is the last possible month for a General Election, leading me to wonder how different the pensions law landscape might look this time next year.
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