Friday 24 April 2020: Since our announcement on 27 March, the Pensions Authority has engaged directly with sectoral and industry representatives on the implications for pension schemes of the Covid-19 pandemic and how we might assist in the present difficulties.
This announcement deals with regulatory matters and with employer pension contributions. However, it is important to be clear about the remit of the Pensions Authority and its limits. Our primary function is to oversee compliance with the Pensions Act but we do not have power to waive obligations imposed by the Act. Furthermore, many obligations of pension scheme trustees and sponsoring employers are set out in scheme rules and employment contracts that the Authority does not have power to override.
We have received queries about disclosure to members and to the Authority in relation to PRSAs and pension schemes. These enquiries relate to such matters as statutory deadlines and electronic versus paper communication. We have no power to waive statutory requirements under the Pensions Act. However and as previously advised, the Authority will take into account current circumstances when assessing compliance with these requirements, including compliance with disclosure and member communication obligations. In considering these matters, we expect trustees and their service providers to be proactive and member focused and to be able to demonstrate that they made reasonable efforts to meet their statutory obligations.
Trustees are also reminded of their obligations to inform members of material changes to their pension benefits and should, where practicable, communicate with their members on relevant developments in relation to members’ pension benefits during what can be a worrying time for pension scheme members.
Despite the Covid-19 constraints, our supervisory activities are being maintained. The 2020 engagement programme is continuing, with some modifications. The Authority will be in contact with the selected schemes to discuss this further over the coming weeks.
Suspension of employer contributions
We have received enquiries about possible temporary suspension of employer pension contributions during the business disruption caused by Covid-19.
In many cases, employers have retained employees on their payrolls with the assistance of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS). Further information on the TWSS scheme is available on the Revenue’s website.
An employer’s obligations to make pension contributions is governed by employment contracts, pension scheme rules, and in some cases, specific sectoral legislation. The Authority does not have the power to override these obligations.
Employers’ situations differ. There is no single answer for all employers and each employer has to consider its situation. We would advise any employer considering the suspension of pension contributions to discuss the matter with the scheme trustees and to liaise with their service providers and advisers including seeking legal advice.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of matters that should be considered by employers/trustees with the support of their service providers/advisers in relation to a possible contribution suspension:
- scheme rules, in particular in relation to contribution cessation or reduction and notice periods
- provisions of employment contracts relating to pensions
- the obligation under section 58A of the Pensions Act to make any employer defined contribution payment due
- possible impact on death in service benefits
- possible impact on insured defined contribution schemes if regular contributions cease
- engagement with/communications to affected employees.
The above considerations are mostly relevant to both defined benefit and defined contribution schemes. However, there are also a number of issues that are specific to defined benefit schemes, including:
- the effect of any suspension on the ability of the scheme to meet its benefit obligations
- the contributions required under a funding proposal
- whether ongoing contributions are necessary to meet current pension payments
- whether a suspension of contributions would unfairly affect a particular class of members.
Many employers are faced with very serious challenges. Nonetheless, employers must be aware that any decision about whether to temporarily suspend pension contributions is not straightforward. The Pensions Authority strongly advises them to consider the relevant employment and scheme issues before making a decision.
The Pensions Authority
In accordance with government guidelines, our public office will remain closed until further notice. However, the Pensions Authority remains in operation during this period and you can continue to contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone on 01-6131900. Further general guidance is also available on our website at www.pensionsauthority.ie.
For further information, contact:
The Pensions Authority
Tel: (01) 613 1900
Note to editors
The Pensions Authority is the statutory body established by the Pensions Act 1990 to regulate occupational pension schemes, trust based RACs and Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) and to advise the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection on overall pension policy development.