MRM's Jon Atkins

Almost a year until it is rolled out, NEST is the workplace pension that ensures employers will have to provide a pension arrangement for their UK- based workers.  But how many employers actually know about NEST and if so, do they realise they are going to incur extra costs by contributing to their employees’ pensions?

From October 2012, all employees, with a few exceptions, will be automatically enrolled into a pension scheme by their employer and will also benefit from their employer providing a pension contribution. This will apply, in time, to the likes of builders who have a couple of full or part-time workers or indeed, any family that employs a nanny (as long as earnings are above £7,475 and employees are over the age of 22).

Aimed at the many workers who may not have had access to a pension arrangement before, NEST is being phased in for large companies next year and smaller companies by 2016. Employers with perfectly good pension schemes in place that meet certain criteria won’t have to use NEST but can run it alongside its own scheme if they choose.  The new pensions are portable and if an employee changes jobs and their new employer uses NEST, they will still receive matching contributions from their new employer into their existing retirement pot.

This has come about because of the ever-increasing ‘Pensions Gap’, where the gap between how much people are currently saving, and how much they need to save in order to have a decent retirement income is widening – currently, many UK workers currently have little or no pension provision.  With an ageing population that is estimated to see 11.6 million people (18% of the population) aged over 65 by 2015, the Government has realised people cannot expect the state to provide for them when they retire and relying on the state pension of £140 a week just won’t work.

How much will this cost businesses? Naturally, this will vary but the Government estimates administration will cost £46 per employee although the Federation of Small Businesses puts the expense of admin and contributions for a small business with four workers earning £25,000 at £2,550 a year. Small business leaders described the Government’s estimates for how much it would cost to automatically enroll workers into company pensions as “wildly underestimated”. The FSB says it will prove to be an “administrative headache” for small companies as they struggle to survive amid the fallout of the recession.

NEST should be welcomed as a way of encouraging people to save for their retirement, but it still does not answer the conundrum of hundreds of thousands of lower earners who will struggle to build up anything like an acceptable pension pot or how small firms are going to administer and pay for it.  Are employees actually interested in saving for their future, and if they do save are they going to have enough? At the lowest level of income required to be auto-enrolled, according to figures calculated by Hargreaves Lansdown, the effective minimum combined contribution from an employer and employee is just £11.75 a month, resulting in a pension of just £236 a year in retirement.  I hope we don’t have another stakeholder pensions fiasco on our hands.

And the final word goes to Steve Bee, managing partner at Paradigm Pensions and founder of “What will one day become quite apparent to all concerned is that the real costs involved in the new world of pensions we’re now heading for have little to do with the marginal costs of running pension schemes, but much more to do with the cost to employers of compliance with the new regulations.”