All employers must now offer a workplace pension to their employees. This wasn’t always so, but many employers offered pension schemes to their staff as an employee benefit, usually with contributions made by the employer on the employee’s behalf.
Final salary (or defined benefit) schemes
Perhaps the best known type of workplace pension (otherwise known as an occupational pension scheme) is the ‘final salary’ scheme. The employee would make a contribution from their salary each month (such as 5%) which secured a period of service in the pension scheme for as long as they were making those contributions. That length of service would then be used to work out what proportion of their salary they’d be entitled to as a pension at the date of retiring (or when they left the employer).
A common type of final salary scheme is a ‘1/60ths’ scheme. This means that, for example, if someone was a member of that scheme for 20 years, they’d accrue a year’s membership for each year they made contributions – so 20/60ths of their final salary – which would then be paid as a pension when they came to retire.
These types of scheme are often called ‘gold plated because unlike ‘money purchase’ schemes (see below), there’s no investment risk for the employee. The benefits are guaranteed and worked out by applying the numbers of years’ service to the salary at the date of leaving.
Legislation was also introduced in the 1990s to ensure that pension funds were held separately from company assets. This meant that even if an employer ceased to trade or otherwise got into financial difficulties, the pension assets would be safe.
Money purchase (defined contribution) schemes
An alternative to the final salary scheme is the money purchase scheme. This is where an employee’s contributions are invested in one or more pension funds – usually a mixture of stocks and shares and other lower-risk types of investment such as government bonds and cash, to balance out the investment risk.
The eventual pension benefits will largely depend on how those pension funds have performed up to retirement. If you then swap your pension pot for a regular pension (an annuity), the actual amount of pension you get will depend on the size of that pension pot and the ‘annuity rate’ (which means how much a pension provider is willing to pay on a yearly basis for the rest of your life, as a percentage of the pension pot). This annuity rate takes into account your age, state of health, and other factors such as whether you’d like a spouse’s pension to be paid after you die.
Money purchase schemes don’t have the same guarantees as final salary schemes, but being in one can still be very beneficial. The employer often also makes contributions on the employee’s behalf – perhaps matching the contributions paid by the employee. They also tend to have low fees and charges because looking after many similar policies should be more efficient. This means more of your money can be invested.
The Pension Review
In 1994, the industry regulator at the time established the ‘Pension Review’ amid concerns about the mis-selling of personal pension policies. The review looked at sales of personal pension policies between 29 April 1988 and 30 June 1994.
If you wanted your pension policy to be considered as part of the Pension Review, they had to apply before the deadline of 31 March 2000. But if the sale of a personal pension wasn’t included in the Pensions Review – for example, because you believe you didn’t receive an invitation or because you bought your policy after June 1994 – we may still be able to consider a complaint about it.
If your complaint was looked at under the Pension Review, it’s unlikely that we’d look at it again. This is because the review was meant to deal with any mis-selling at that time and to provide finality to customers and financial businesses.
But if you think that there was something wrong with how a business did the review, or that you think should have been included, but wasn’t, we might be able to look at it. Time limits apply to bringing a complaint to us, though. And as the Pension Review finished more than six years ago, we’d need to be satisfied that you’ve only reasonably had cause for concern within three years of raising your complaint with the financial business.
Types of complaint we see
The complaints we see about workplace pensions are where you may feel that you have been:
- unsuitably advised to start a personal pension plan instead of joining your workplace pension scheme
- unsuitably advised to opt out of the workplace scheme in favour of a personal pension plan
- unsuitably advised to transfer your benefits from a workplace pension (usually from a final salary scheme) to a personal pension plan or a Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP)
You may also feel that you didn’t receive an invitation to request a review under the Pension Review, but are concerned that you were given unsuitable advice about a personal pension you took out in the period covered by the review.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has published an advice checker on its website. You can use it to find out more about whether the advice you received was right for you, and what to do if you think it wasn’t.
We can only look at a complaint about a workplace pension if it’s about the way it’s been administered by a business regulated by the FCA, or if it and its investments have been advised upon by an FCA-regulated business. All other complaints about workplace pensions – for example about the way a final salary scheme has been administered or about payments made by that scheme – are dealt with by the Pensions Ombudsman. We’ll let you know if that applies to your complaint.
British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS)
In 2017, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) became aware of concerns about the financial advice received by members of the BSPS, which was being restructured and prompted many BSPS members to consider if they should transfer out of a Defined Benefit (DB) scheme to a personal pension scheme.
We have put together some information about what those affected can do, and how we may be able to help.
How to complain
You need to talk to the business first so they have the chance to put things right. They have to give you their final response within eight weeks for most types of complaints. If you’re unhappy with their response, or if they don’t respond, let us know.
Find out more about making a complaint.
What we look at
We can look at complaints about advice to not join, opt out of, or transfer a workplace pension scheme in favour of a personal pension plan outside the Pension Review dates. And in practice, although these complaints don’t fall within the terms of the Pension Review as such, we would look at them – and the way any loss should be compensated – in a similar way.
We’ll look at what advice you were given and whether it was suitable for you at the time, taking into account your circumstances and financial objectives. If we decide you were given unsuitable advice, we might uphold the complaint. And the financial business which gave you the advice would then need to do a specific form of calculation to assess whether any loss had occurred.
There may also be instances where we conclude that not joining, opting out, or transferring away from your workplace pension was suitable, but the investments chosen within a personal pension or SIPP weren’t.
Opt-outs and non-joiners
We’ll look at whether the business which advised you knew, or should reasonably have made further enquiries, about any workplace pension scheme that was available to you – even if you thought that no scheme was available or that you weren’t eligible to join it.
We’ll take into account the individual circumstances of each case. But, in general, because of the financial benefits of joining a workplace pension, we’d usually expect the business to have recommended that you join a workplace pension scheme where one was available.
Financial businesses sometimes tell us they have records of their customer saying they 'may not stay with their current employer for much longer'. Whether it was therefore appropriate for someone to join their employer’s scheme would depend on several factors, including how soon they were planning to leave, and whether the next employer offered a pension scheme. If they did, it’s not likely to have been worthwhile starting a personal pension for a very short time.
When deciding whether the advice to transfer your workplace pension funds was suitable or not, we’ll take into account:
- the number of years’ service you’d accrued in the workplace pension
- what other pension provision you had in place
- if moving to a new employer, what type of pension scheme they operated
- how much your personal pension or SIPP would need to grow to match the benefits you’d given up at the time of the transfer (also called the ‘critical yield’) - or for advice given since 1 October 2018, the cost of buying the same income you’d have received from the workplace pension
- your attitude to investment risk
- the period of time left from the transfer until your retirement
- whether there were compelling reasons for the transfer which outweighed the advantages of staying put, such as a need to retire early but no flexibility to do so in the workplace scheme
- whether the consequences of the transfer and the loss of guaranteed benefits (in the case of final salary schemes) were explained to you.
Putting things right
If we think your complaint should be upheld, and reinstating your pension benefits in the workplace scheme isn’t possible, we’ll tell the business to calculate whether you’ve suffered a financial loss. It will do this by comparing the value of the benefits you would have had with the workplace pension against those you actually have in the personal pension.
If you’ve suffered a financial loss, we’ll tell the business to pay financial compensation to your pension plan, or if not possible, directly to you. We might also make an award for any trouble and upset you’ve been caused.
Detailed advice for businesses
Businesses can find out more in our detailed information about transfers from workplace pensions and the pensions review.