TPR and ICO urged to align 'unintentionally conflicting' guidance

Guidance from The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) should be better aligned and expressly refer to the specific intricacies of the pensions sector, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has said.

In written evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, the USS warned that it has faced a number of challenges in ensuring its ongoing compliance with the requirements of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

In particular, the USS highlighted barriers in relation to the current soft opt-in requirements and adhering to the guidance set by its principal regulator, TPR, that relate to communications with pension scheme members.

In light of the government's intention to extend the soft opt-in to non-commercial organisations, the scheme trustee called for clearer guidance outlining which type of organisations should readily be categorised as a “non-commercial organisation”.

It also asked that consideration is given to extending the proposed wording to include “not-for-profit corporate trustees”, suggesting that this is a more accurate description of the status of auto-enrolment workplace pension schemes such as USS.

"We are not trying to sell our members anything but seek to inform and educate them about the benefits of an employer supported occupational pension scheme," it stated.

More broadly, the USS called for the rules for soft opt-in to be looked at again in light of the challenges highlighted caused by auto-enrolment of individuals into workplace pension schemes, which it emphasised were "unique to our sector".

Differentiating between marketing material and service-based communications was also highlighted as an "area of significant challenge for USS", underpinned by what USS described as "unintentionally conflicting guidance" published by TPR and the ICO.

It explained that while electronic communications are one of the most effective ways to communicate with pension scheme members to help them make good decisions, this desire is limited currently as a consequence of PECR and accompanying ICO guidance.

"It is hard to see how such communications would be considered to be “service based”, as ICO rules say that these are effectively limited to any email communicating essential service messages sent for administrative or customer service reasons," it stated.

"For our purposes, these include providing members with information about their entitlements, applicable deadlines and changes to their benefits.

"This approach has been unhelpful as it means that a large proportion of our membership are not receiving information digitally that both we and TPR believe that they should be."

USS therefore argued that guidance from both the TPR and the ICO should be better aligned, "expressly reference the specific intricacies of the pensions sector", and clarify how communications that support pensions and retirement decisions should be categorised.

In addition to this, USS called for a policy statement to accompany any changes in the regulations and regulatory guidance that emphasises the importance of members of workplace pension schemes receiving communications that educate them in the decisions they take.

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