AE reform bill unlikely to be ready in time for Queen’s Speech

MP Richard Holden’s Private Member’s Bill on extending automatic enrolment (AE) is unlikely to complete the required parliamentary stages in time for this year’s Queen’s Speech.

When speaking at the report stage for the bill on guaranteed minimum pension (GMP) conversion, Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, was queried as to the government’s position on the AE reform bill.

“As my honourable friend will understand, we are in the latter part of this parliamentary session,” Opperman stated.

“It is the end of February and the Queen’s Speech will come, in all probability - obviously I cannot commit, but it is usually - on the second Wednesday in May, so the House has a relatively limited period of time.

“The reality is that there is no real way for my honourable friend’s bill to get through this House and the House of Lords in the time allowed, and that is the requirement of Private Members’ Bills of the nature of his and all others, to be fair.

“I can confirm, however, that the government remain committed to the 2017 automatic enrolment review. It remains the case that we will, in the fullness of time, bring forward or support legislation to take the matter forward.”

The bill on AE reform seeks to extend AE to all jobholders aged at least 18 and remove the lower qualifying earnings threshold.

However, despite recommendations contained in the research report from think tank Onward, which helped inform the bill, it does not propose removing the £10,000 earnings trigger or include a timetable for the reduction in the lower qualifying earnings threshold.

Responding to Opperman’s comments that the bill was unlikely to make this year’s Queen’s Speech, Hargreaves Lansdown senior pensions and retirement analyst, Helen Morrissey, warned that the reforms “must not be kicked out into the long grass”.

She continued: “It was always going to be a challenge to push through these reforms by the end of this parliamentary session and so it comes as no surprise Richard Holden MP’s Private Member’s Bill hit a hurdle today with the minister saying time is running out.

“However, Holden has fought a strong campaign that has really raised the profile of the need for further reform to AE and garnered significant support.

“Reducing the minimum age to 18 and removing the lower earnings limits has the potential to bring many more people into the workplace pension sphere. They have the potential to significantly boost the retirement prospects of part-time workers, especially women who currently do not benefit from AE but may wish to do so.

“The Pensions Minister said reform would be brought through in the ‘fullness of time’, but the concern is that the mid-2020s might become the late 2020s and the timetable gets pushed further and further out. These are important reforms that must not be kicked out into the long grass.”

The 2017 AE review stated that the government would lower the age for being automatically enrolled from 22 to 18 and abolish the automatic enrolment lower earnings limit in the ‘mid-2020s’.

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