The Pension Schemes Act 2021 is now in force, here is a reminder of the key provisions and an outline of immediate action points.
Pension Schemes Bill receives Royal Assent
The Pension Schemes Bill has received Royal Assent and is now the Pension Schemes Act 2021 (the Act). The Act introduces wide-reaching changes impacting both defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution pension schemes.
Extended moral hazard powers
Perhaps the most discussed and controversial of the new changes are the enhanced Regulator powers. Both Members of Parliament and the pensions industry have raised concerns that the new criminal offences are too wide in scope potentially leading to 'routine behaviour' of parties involved with schemes and those not directly involved such as lenders and advisers being judged criminal. Although the Pensions Minister has confirmed that the frustration of legitimate business activities conducted in good faith is not intended, proposed amendments to the Act aimed at addressing such concerns were not accepted by the Government.
The Government has since confirmed that the new criminal sanctions and information gathering powers will not be retrospective. Aside from clarity on this point, it is likely to be months before the necessary secondary legislation, Regulator codes of practice and guidance are produced, and it is not until these are available that we will obtain a clearer idea as to how the primary legislative provisions will actually be implemented.
Immediate action points
In the meantime, trustees and employers should ensure that they are familiar with the Act's provisions, in particular, the moral hazard and scheme funding provisions and undertake the following actions:
- Moral hazard: checking that there are suitable procedures in place to identify any corporate activity that may come within the remit of the Regulator's extended powers, take advice as necessary and ensure that an appropriate audit trail is maintained;
- Scheme funding: keep up to date with developments on the new DB scheme funding code to ensure compliance with the Act and the code when it becomes effective. Although valuations do not come under the new code until it is in force, there are certain concepts of the code which are already present in the Regulator's 2020 annual funding statement, for example, having a long-term objective with clear plans for how this will be achieved; and
- Transfer provisions: keep an eye out for the draft regulations which will set out the detail of the new transfer fraud provisions and which the Pensions Minister has confirmed are expected to be introduced by September or October 2021.