DWP unsure of Covid-19 impact on AE contributions; pensions remain a ‘key priority’ for govt

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is unsure of the impact of Covid-19 on employees’ auto-enrolment (AE) contributions, due to a lack of “suitable data”.

Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, stated that the department does not yet have “suitable data” to make an assessment of the number of employees who have reduced or stopped contributions since the start of lockdown.

His comments were made in response to a written question from MP Harriet Baldwin, which queried what assessment has been made of the level of opt-out from auto-enrolment into workplace pensions during the covid-19 lockdown period.

However, Opperman clarified that the DWP was examining the impact of Covid-19 on pension participation and saving levels, as well as “working closely” with the pensions industry and across government to better gauge the “impact of the emergency”.

Previous research from Scottish Widows warned that around one in 10 working age people have reduced or stropped pension contributions amid the pandemic, with the government urged to act on previous AE recommendations to protect those worst hit by the crisis.

Opperman emphasised that pension savings remain a “key priority” despite the pandemic, highlighting government initiatives, such as the Job Retention Scheme, which have ensured that businesses are able to continue to meet their auto-enrolment duties.

He stated: “Helping people to save for their futures remains a key priority for this government.

“We put in place an unprecedented package of support to strengthen job and income security during the emergency; this included help to ease workplace pension saving for businesses with furloughed workers.

“As part of the next phase of its response, the government’s goal is to support, create and protect jobs; and giving businesses confidence to retain and hire workers supports the capacity for retirement saving.”

The DWP have previously emphasised the Pension Schemes Bill as a priority for the government despite the pandemic, with a number of initiatives progressing throughout the lockdown period.

For instance, the DWP recently launched a call for evidence on the AE charge cap and cost transparency, and a call for evidence on pensions tax relief administration, as well as exploring schemes’ readiness for the pensions dashboard.

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