BLOG: Why political parties need to stop the pensions arms race

Written by:
Andrew Roberts, partner at Barnett Waddingham, the independent actuaries and consultants, calls for all political parties to work together to create a stable pensions system.
BLOG: Why political parties need to stop the pensions arms race

You know winter has truly arrived not when train companies start issuing snow timetables but when you start reading about loss of higher rate tax relief and taxing of retirement lump sums in the papers in the days leading up to the Autumn Statement.

This is usually followed by the Opposition putting forward their ideas. And after the excitement of that, we can look forward to more rumours in advance of the Budget being held this year on 20 March.

It’s worth remembering that it has been the Conservatives that have taxed pensions for the rich more than Labour, by introducing the Earnings Cap in 1989 and reducing the Lifetime Allowance in 2012.

Another reduction has been announced for 2014.

The Labour government brought in sweeping changes in 2006 but couldn’t resist the urge to tinker and, of course, when money got tight introduced the bizarre concept of a Special Annual Allowance. I read with utter amazement that Labour still likes the look of that.

My amazement stems not just from a plan to reintroduce the most complicated rule for pension tax relief ever, or from a link back to £150,000 of earnings which was deemed too generous to last a year when first introduced in 2009.

No, my amazement is that political parties think it is ok to treat pension policy like a game of ping-pong.

It seems every political party wants to shave off a billion or two from the annual cost of pensions yet they want to go about it in different ways.

Under a Conservative administration higher rate tax relief is maintained, under Labour it will be curtailed and under Liberal Democrats it will be scrapped.

How can I plan my future finances on that basis? Should I repay a mortgage now or contribute to a pension? Do I now have to factor in who will be in power and for how long between now and my retirement? That’s harder than predicting investment returns or inflation.

I am lead to believe that there will be no further changes to pension tax relief during this government.

This is little comfort seeing as the Lifetime Allowance reduces for the year ended 5 April 2015 and an election is due by May 2015 anyway!

Still, the new flat rate basic state pension doesn’t seem to be funded by removing higher rate tax relief so that could be some extra stability in the market.

A stable system is needed and there is no better time than now for all parties to accept that there needs to be a central pension policy.

There should be a pension tax changes ceasefire for a few years during which time an independent apolitical body should be set up to dictate long term savings rules for the UK, to stop the temptation to meddle.

It seems at the moment, the only people who find pensions attractive are politicians.

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