PDP alpha testing to begin in December; DWP consultation expected 'this winter'

The Pensions Dashboards Programme (PDP) is on track to begin the alpha testing phase for pensions dashboards in December 2021, with the government also expected to consult on secondary legislation "this winter".

The PDP's fourth progress update highlighted the move to the alpha testing phase as a “significant milestone for PDP” and emphasised the importance of industry collaboration.

The programme previously announced that seven major providers had signed up to be part of this testing phase, which will last six months, with the process to recruit potential dashboard providers to this stage also currently ongoing.

The alpha testing phase will see PDP work with Capgemini, Origo and its identity service provider to continue the build of the digital architecture needed for dashboards, whilst also testing and refining the onboarding process via the experience of the alpha participants.

Whilst PDP ultimately aims to provide an identity service under the government’s digital trust and attributes framework, this will not be available for a further two years, with PDP therefore launching a procurement exercise for an interim service next month.

The programme said that it expects to learn a “huge amount” from the alpha testing phase as to the technology needed to deliver the dashboards, as well as how to support data and dashboard providers during the onboarding process.

Learnings from this will also inform the plans and timetable for the rest of the programme, with a subsequent beta testing stage to follow, working with a bigger population of providers.

In addition to this, PDP's update included feedback received during the recent call for input on staging, revealing that whilst there was broad agreement with the proposed sequencing, several respondents indicated that the timeline may be “too ambitious”.

It also found that most respondents indicated that their lead-in time would start from the point of sufficient certainty, when full regulations are in place, and full technical specification.

The PDP confirmed that it is working with government and regulators to incorporate the feedback into staging policy development, ahead of a consultation from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this winter on secondary legislation.

The consultation is expected to focus on data requirements, staged onboarding, compliance, regime and consumer protection, with the expectation that regulations will be laid before parliament for debate in 2022, in line with theanticipated 2023 launch date.

It also confirmed that government will make the provision of a qualifying pensions dashboard a regulated activity, with those who wish to provide a pension dashboard therefore expected to obtain Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) authorisation to do so.

A testing environment will be made available for those organisations that are interested in exploring the service, however, to develop and refine their proposition in a safe environment, before applying for authorisation from the FCA.

Learnings from this will be fed into a corresponding consultation on rules from the FCA, which is expected “next year”.

Commenting in the foreword of the progress update, PDP principal, Chris Curry, stated: “Pensions dashboards are ambitious and PDP is a complex programme that requires support from industry, government and the regulators.

“That’s why it’s so great to see positive collaboration taking place already, with the seven major pensions organisations that signed up to take part in our initial testing phase. Their contribution will help streamline the onboarding process, to improve the process of connecting to dashboards for other providers and schemes.

“We fully recognise that not all providers are ready to connect yet and taking the necessary steps to prepare for dashboards will be challenging for many. But time moves fast and with the programme now firmly in its delivery phase, compulsory staged onboarding for data providers will soon be upon us.

“We will support you with that preparation in every way we can. We remain committed to operating in an open and transparent way, and will provide regular updates on what we learn during our testing process.”

Aegon head of pensions, Kate Smith, also said that the report "clearly shows" that the the PDP has its hands full but is "steadily making progress" to ensure the dashboard becomes a reality in 2023.

She commented: “It’s come along way, but the next six months will be critical as the programme ramps up with testing, consumer research and working with the pension industry and other stakeholders.

“The ambition is that the largest pension schemes and providers start to connect to the dashboard ecosystem in Spring 2023, all eyes will be on the consultations to see if this continues to be the ambition.

“The FCA is expected to consult on the full regulatory requirements in 2022. Potential dashboard providers will be interested to see what they need to do before taking the leap.”

Despite the progress made, industry experts have previously expressed scepticism that dashboards will be 'useful and comprehensive' by 2025, with many pension professionals "overwhelmingly sceptical" of the PDP's proposed timeline.

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