Pension schemes are subject to a comprehensive legislative regime which governs the disclosure of certain information to members and others (for example, trade unions). The requirements cover such matters as the basic information about the scheme to be given to new joiners (for example, any conditions which must be satisfied in order to be eligible for membership, notice periods where the member wishes to terminate his or her pensionable service, how employer and employee contributions are determined); they also cover information to be disclosed in a whole range of other circumstances (for example, information to be given to members in advance of a benefit becoming payable). The requirements are largely prescriptive as to form, content, circumstances and timescale.
Following an initial consultation on changes to the disclosure regime in March 2009, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revised its proposals and has put them out for a second consultation (closed on 1 March 2010).
The DWP has largely moved away from the principlesbased approach expounded in its 2009 paper. It has dropped its proposal for a high-level key overarching disclosure principle and its original intention to replace specific timescales with a requirement for information to be provided within a reasonable period. Under the new proposals the prescriptive timescales remain.
In order to be consistent with the upcoming auto-enrolment requirements, the DWP proposes that the time deadline for providing basic scheme information to new members should be reduced to one month, but only with effect from 1 October 2012. In the meantime, the current deadline of two months will remain.
A particularly useful aspect to the new proposals concerns the use of electronic communications to fulfil the disclosure requirements. The DWP proposes to allow trustees to provide information to members by email or by making it available on a website, subject to certain safeguards (including, the initial advance notification (by post) to any individuals who have not received information electronically before and allowing members to opt-out of receiving information electronically).
The majority of these amendments will apply from 1 October 2010 (and not 6 April 2010 as originally planned), with the time limit for the provision of basic scheme information to apply from October 2012.