Update on pensions

Dear Members,

I understand that this is a bit of a long one but I wanted for you all to be as informed as possible so please do take the time to read it.

By now most of you will have received an email from HR sent on behalf of USS. The email explained what their plan for cost sharing will look like: 

Under the 2017 valuation that USS approved in November 2017, contributions will eventually rise by 10.6% from 26% of salary (18% employer, 8% member) to 36.6% (24.9% employer, 11.7% member) in order to retain the status quo.

Why is the cost-sharing rule being implemented in USS?
Members will already know that under its current valuation, USS is in deficit. USS has been claiming for months that it is legally obliged to have a plan in place for dealing with that deficit. But the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will not make any decisions about the current valuation until September 2018, and the previous plan to recover the deficit by removing the Defined Benefit element of the scheme was left in tatters after strike action by our members: you!

As a result, USS has chosen to trigger a process known as ‘cost-sharing’, although it is better described by the phrase ‘shared contribution increases’. Under Rules 76.4–8 of the scheme, the trustee can require employers and members to increase their contributions to the rate which they deem sufficient. This decision has been made without the pension regulator’s enforcement – they are still happy for UUK, USS, and UCU to resolve this without their intervention.

We must stay vigilant because there are few signs that UUK has abandoned its long-standing goal of transferring as much of the cost and the risk of pension provision onto employees as possible. Prior to the USS dispute, UUK used a manufactured deficit in USS to represent Defined Benefit pensions as unaffordable. The JEP arose out of USS members’ growing appreciation that the deficit was, in fact, illusory, and the reforms which it had been used to justify were not needed. More information on the JEP can be found on the UCU website at this address: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss

Pension Contribution Calculator
Here’s a tool that lets you get an idea of how much more you can expect to pay in contributions under this new plan: https://beta.observablehq.com/@scjoss/uss-cost-sharing.

It’s important to note that UniversitiesUK had the option of taking up the extra member increases themselves should they have wished to do so, but turned it down. That would have been possible by a resolution of the JNC. UCU negotiator Sam Marsh pushed for UniversitiesUK to cover the full burden of interim cost sharing, given strike was entirely UUK’s fault and we’ve already lost a lot of money via strike deductions. This seemed a fair compromise. Again, UUK said no – hence it falls to us all.

Now it looks like USS are prepared to listen to a rethink from UUK on their ‘risk-appetite’ (which if you remember, most said they were willing to stay will current level, with some saying they’d be happy with increase – UUK decided to go with the minority of employers and push through a low-risk appetite strategy). This is an area the JEP are likely to comment on. The hope will be that a change to the Test 1 parameter will lead to a resolution to this dispute but it’s important to keep informed.

Excellent information can be found on https://ussbriefs.com – A website built and populated with content by UCU members volunteering their time and expertise to keep the rest of us informed.

If you have any questions please email ucu@london.ac.uk.

All my best,

Tim Hall
UCU Senate House Branch Chair

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