Which pension schemes are covered? Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, made a statement to Parliament on 27 April about the Government's response to COVID-19 for pensions. He confirmed that a pension scheme need not be an auto enrolment scheme for salary-related pension contributions to qualify. This is in line with the Treasury Direction of 15 April which forms the legal framework for the CJRS, but is helpful because previous Government guidance to employers had implied otherwise.
Can full pension contributions be recovered? Not necessarily. As David Fairs (executive director for regulatory policy, analysis and advice at the Pensions Regulator (TPR)) acknowledged in a talk for the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association on 28 April, the interaction between pension arrangements and the CJRS can be complex, particularly for salary sacrifice.
A claim can be made under CJRS for the auto enrolment minimum contributions. However, an employer's pension obligations may be significantly higher, and these will need to be met unless amendments can be made to the pension scheme rules, or agreements reached to alter contractual arrangements. Where this is proposed, detailed consideration is required.
A key point to note is that the CJRS reference salary is calculated after any salary sacrifice arrangements, and that the amount claimed from CJRS has to be paid to the employee and so cannot suffer a deduction in respect of any salary sacrifice arrangement. Where furlough pay exceeds the amount that can be claimed, there may be more flexibility. TPR has provided helpful guidance with worked examples on salary sacrifice but David Fairs commented that TPR is open to clarifying the guidance further if needed. Note that even if changes are made to salary sacrifice agreements now, the reference pay period for CJRS claims has already passed.
Do pension scheme rules need to be considered? Yes, along with life assurance arrangements and policies. In several schemes we have considered, the rules do not necessarily operate in the way assumed by employers. Key points to check include how pensionable pay is defined, how the absence rule operates (including whether any decisions need to be made and by whom), the contribution rule, and whether there are any flexibilities built in for member choices such as changing tier or suspension of membership.
Employers can claim up to the minimum employer pension contribution of 3 per cent of qualifying earnings required under employers’ automatic enrolment duties, even if it’s not an automatic enrolment pension scheme.