Bosses under pressure over pensions

Nov 21 2003 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Employers are feeling under increasing pressure to justify the cost of expensive company pension schemes, Government research has concluded.

Providing pension schemes used to be seen by employers as part of their wider, community responsibility, in particular in encouraging employees to save for their retirement.

But that's less and less the case these days, research by the Department for Work and Pensions has suggested.

Boards of directors, other parts of the organisation or shareholders are all looking closely at the costs of pension schemes and asking whether the bill is worth it in terms of recruitment, retention and brand value.

The study, by research firm IFF Research, found the main driver for making changes to schemes was a need to cut or contain costs, as falling annuity rates, poor stock market performance and an ageing workforce made providing pensions ever dearer.

Employers who were still providing expensive defined benefit schemes felt these were increasingly vulnerable, and so were exploring new ways to safeguard their long-term future, including reviewing the benefits available.

Organisations that had closed schemes to new members were not always aware of the full range of options in terms of restructuring or reducing costs in other ways, it added.

Most employers felt pension schemes only had recruitment and retention value for particular groups of staff, normally older employers and those in managerial or professional roles.

Linked to this was a view that many employees did not understand the differences between different types of pension schemes and it was therefore only important to offer "a pension" and that the type was of lesser importance.

When it came to retirement ages, employers, the study found, generally felt it was desirable for workers to leave the organisation at normal retirement age because this allowed them to introduce new blood into the organisation.

Some employees were allowed to retire late though, usually when they were in senior or hard-to-replace groups.

Allowing flexible retirement, such as downshifting or gradually reducing hours in the run up to full retirement, was still uncommon. Only a small minority had schemes in place to accommodate this, said the DWP.