'Significant increase' in AE participation amongst younger savers - DWP

Workplace pension membership for those aged 22 to 29 saw a 50 percentage point jump, up to 85 per cent between 2012 and 2018, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The automatic enrolment review revealed that whilst participation remained highest for older employees, there had been a “significant increase” amongst younger age groups.

This was despite a slight increase in opt-out rates, from 0.72 per cent in 2018/19 to 0.76 per cent in the first quarter of the 2019/20 financial year.

However, the DWP emphasised that the cohort opt-out rate had remained “consistently low” throughout the implementation period, with just nine per cent of employees who were enrolled in 2018/19 deciding to opt out within one month, the same level seen in 2016/17.

Whilst the report showed a higher participation rate for women, 88 per cent compared to 86 per cent for men, it attributed this difference to the higher share of women in the public sector, where participation rates are higher across the board.

However, the average active decision stopping saving rate between April 2014 and June 2019 was also slightly higher for men, at 0.76 per cent compared to 0.59 per cent for women.

The majority (62 per cent) of private sector employers now also have some form of workplace pension provision in 2019, up from 27 per cent in 2017.

Furthermore, less than four in ten (39 per cent) private sector employers had seen an increase in the total pension contributions their organisation had to make since the introduction of auto-enrolment, though there was “substantial variation” on this depending on employer size.

Participation also remained highest for savers in the upper income brackets, with those earning £50,000 to £60,000 having the highest participation levels at 93 per cent.

However, the DWP emphasised that whilst participation for those earning between £10,000 and £20,000 was lower at 81 per cent, this had seen a much larger 47 percentage point jump since 2012, resulting in a narrowing between the earnings bands.

The report also noted that whilst those contributing above the 2018 minimum were more likely to belong to older age brackets, work for larger employers and have higher earnings, the dominance of these groups had lessened over the last six years.

The share of those belonging to younger age brackets, with lower earnings and working for smaller employers has "increased significantly over time", the report revealed.

Responding to the findings, The People’s Pension director of policy, Gregg McClymont, said: “It's encouraging to see that opt-out rates remain low, following last April’s increase in contribution rates and that saving for a pension has become the ‘norm’ for more than three quarters of those surveyed by the DWP.

“While automatic enrolment has been a great success so far, the government must provide a timeline for when it will act on its own recommendations to reduce the eligibility age from 22 to 18 and make contributions count from the first pound earned. Reducing the earnings threshold from £10,000 to £6,240 should be a priority too.

“There are millions of under-pensioned workers who can only be helped by these changes to policy.”

Industry experts have previously raised concerns after the government failed to include recommendations from previous DWP automatic enrolment reviews, such as lowering the age threshold to 18.

However, the government recommitted to a mid-2020s timeline for these proposals at a reading of the Pension Schemes Bill earlier this year.

This report will be the last of its kind now that the implementation period is complete.

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