In our recently published Annual Report and Accounts (ARA)1 we have reflected on a year that has been like no other. The report, which is our second while under the shadow of COVID-19, marks the first full year where our activities and those of our regulated community have been affected by the pandemic.
As the ARA shows, our clear, quick and tough approach has been essential in our successful response to the challenges of the pandemic. We have been able to meet the needs of the pensions industry so that savers have been protected.
We recognised that the pandemic would affect our regulated community in different ways, and therefore applied easements in automatic enrolment (AE) and for pension schemes more broadly, such as pausing our review of chair’s statements and giving employers more flexibility with deficit repair contributions (DRCs). We believe that these represented a quick, clear and proportionate response.
As we began to ease towards a ‘new normal’ from a business perspective, we reverted to pre-pandemic reporting requirements for providers and trustees and have continued to keep our guidance and support updated as the situation has evolved.
As well as responding quickly to the immediate and ongoing challenges of the pandemic, we continued to deliver successfully against our statutory objectives to make workplace pensions work and protect savers.
We forged ahead with new and complex work, including the launch of guidance for superfunds, stepping up the fight against scams, and preparing for new legislation set out in the Pension Schemes Act 2021. This year also saw the launch of our bold new strategy to put savers at the heart of all we do. Our corporate strategy set out our 15-year vision for the future of regulation and our rolling corporate plan set challenging new targets which we quickly started to deliver against.
The supervisory relationships we have built with schemes has meant we were in regular dialogue with them so that we have been able to hear first-hand their challenges and help them adapt to the changing environment brought about by the pandemic.
To support trustees and protect savers we also published a policy on ending enforcement action more quickly if the targets of its action come up with an acceptable proposal so that savers achieve a good outcome more quickly without the need for legal proceedings.
However, where needed, we did not ease up on our determination to prosecute fraudsters who threaten savers’ retirements. Our enforcement work this year includes the extradition of an alleged fraudster from Spain, securing a confiscation order to force charity boss Patrick McLarry to pay back over £280,000 he stole from the charity’s pension scheme, and a £35 million settlement in our anti-avoidance case against the owners of bed manufacturer Silentnight.
All of this work throughout the year could not have been achieved without the resilience of our staff. Without missing a beat, and with the support of our internal processes and business continuity measures, our dedicated staff quickly adapted to working from home and all of the challenges that entailed. We were able to push forward with our work, striving to protect savers now and in the future.
We know there will be challenges ahead, we are not out of the woods yet - the impact of COVID will be felt for some time to come. As the government’s support package for employers comes to an end this autumn, those challenges will become clearer. However, as our recently published perceptions tracker shows, we are right to set the bar high for ourselves and for those we regulate so that we can continue to meet ambitious targets.
The annual perceptions survey, which tracks how effectively we are perceived to be fulfilling our statutory objectives, shows the majority of respondents (70%) judged our response to COVID to be ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Of the remainder, 17% rated our response as ‘fair’, with only 2% entering a ‘negative’ rating.
As a regulator, gaining the trust and respect of those we work with is crucial. It is essential that the industry believes what we say – from following our guidance to understanding that we will take enforcement action where we need to.
Having the backing of our regulated community also means we can advocate effectively for them when working with government and other organisations. This is why we welcome the survey results which show 75% of respondents rate our overall performance as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, 95% believe we were trustworthy, and more than 77% agree we are visible, fair, clear and evidenced-based. We can’t realise our ambitions without our regulated community all pulling in the same direction and trusting that we are doing the right things as a regulator. We will do all we can to maintain and build upon that trust, so that we all continue to work successfully together to achieve the best for savers.
This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine September edition.
Last update: 15 September 2021