Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Questions (643)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

643. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of discussions for pensions for persons (details supplied); the changes she will make to the Pensions Act 1990 and Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 to assist the pensioners in accessing pension payments. [51791/19]

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Written answers (Question to Employment)

The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on issues relating to a particular pension scheme.

Scheme trustees have duties and responsibilities under trust law, under the Pensions 1990, as amended, and under other relevant legislation. The duties of pension scheme trustees include administering the scheme in accordance with the law and the terms of the trust deed and scheme rules as well as ensuring compliance with the requirements that apply to these schemes. Trustees must act in the best financial interest of all scheme members, whether active, deferred or retired, and must serve all beneficiaries of the scheme impartially.

Measures were introduced in 2015 to facilitate engagement between the trustees of a pension scheme and groups representing the interests of pensioner and deferred scheme members. Changes to guidance issued by the Pensions Authority require the trustees of a pension scheme to notify groups representing the interest of scheme members of proposals to issue a direction under section 50 of the Pensions Act to restructure scheme benefits. This affords the representative group an opportunity to make a submission to the trustees of a pension scheme in relation to proposals to restructure scheme benefits. These changes facilitate engagement between groups representing the interests of pensioner and deferred scheme members, the Pension Authority and the trustees of a pension scheme.

Groups representing the interests of pensioners and deferred scheme members have a right to appeal a section 50 direction by the Pensions Authority to the High Court on a point of law.

While current legislation does not specifically provide that member trustees must include at least one or more members from each scheme membership cohort, namely active, deferred and pensioners, it does provide an opportunity for membership from each cohort and such members may avail of the opportunity to become scheme trustees or nominate others to act on their behalf.

As you are aware, the General Scheme of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 (now the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017), was published in May 2017 and contained a number of key measures relating to DB pension schemes. It is intended that these proposed measures will act to support existing provisions in the Pensions Act and will provide for further protection for scheme members’ benefits and enhance employer responsibilities for their schemes.

In developing these measures, it is essential to recognise the current pension landscape in Ireland so that a balanced, proportionate approach is developed and that unintended negative consequences do not arise.

Under existing pensions law, there is no legislative obligation on the employer to make contributions to a scheme. However, the provisions of this Bill will introduce a new regime into the Pensions Act 1990 which, amongst other things, will ensure that an employer cannot “walk away” at short notice from the pension scheme it is supporting by providing a 12 month notification, and will enable the Pensions Authority to make a funding obligation direction specifying payments to be made by a sponsoring employer to the pension scheme where no agreement is reached, within a specified time period, to resolve a funding deficit.

The defined benefit pension provisions are very technical and involve complex policy issues. In order to achieve a resilient solution it has been necessary to consult with and obtain numerous legal advices from the Office of the Attorney General on various aspects of this policy. When these matters have been resolved and amendments approved by Government, an early date for Committee Stage will be requested.

The Pensions Authority is the regulatory body charged with the supervision of pension schemes and has the necessary powers under statute to investigate the conduct of a pension scheme should it become aware that a scheme is not in compliance with the provisions of the Pensions Act. Where a pension scheme member is of the view that the scheme is not in compliance with legislative requirements he or she may make a formal complaint to the Pensions Authority.

Any questions relating to access to the State's industrial relations machinery is a matter for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.