Following on from Pensions Minister Laura Trott’s announcement at the beginning of March that the Pensions Dashboards Programme, (responsible for delivering the “digital architecture” needed to implement the programme) would require additional time to deliver the project, on 9 June 2023 the DWP laid draft Regulations to amend the Pensions Dashboards Regulations 2022 (the “Regulations”) confirming that, as promised, there will be a revised timetable for dashboard implementation. The draft regulations must now be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament before coming into law, although there are no time limits within which Parliament must vote to approve the draft.
Badged as a new and more collaborative approach, in a wholesale revamp of the timetable, the draft Pensions Dashboards (Amendment) Regulations 2023 provide that all schemes within scope will now have a single “connection deadline” of 31 October 2026. The concepts of “staging profile” and “staging deadline” will accordingly be removed and consequential changes made to the Regulations.
However, while pension scheme trustees and administrators around the country might breathe a sigh of relief (particularly those originally due to connect in August 2023!), it will be important for schemes not to lose momentum in their dashboards preparations. Whilst there may be a single October 2026 legal “connection deadline” for all schemes in scope, the draft explanatory memorandum advises that “To ensure pensions dashboards services can be launched to the public as soon as possible, the Money and Pensions Service and The Pensions Regulator will communicate with trustees and mangers of schemes in scope to encourage connection ahead of the single connection deadline, in line with the connection dates set out in guidance.”
This was trailed by Laura Trott in her accompanying announcement, when she advised that the October 2026 connection deadline is not the same as the dashboard available point (i.e. the point at which it will be available to the public) and warned that this may be earlier. Therefore, schemes should be mindful that guidance may specify an earlier connection date to “encourage” connection ahead of the end of October 2026 deadline. There has been some speculation as to the whether any such earlier connection date would be legally enforceable and, if not, what schemes stand to gain by connecting early. The Pensions Dashboard Programme has since published a newsletter in which it states the following regarding the forthcoming guidance:
“The guidance will set out when pension providers and schemes are expected to connect. While this will not be mandatory, an updated staging profile in guidance will provide the framework for when schemes should connect. This is a complex programme involving the connection of more than 3,000 pension providers and schemes. Schemes will be required in legislation to have read the guidance. Trustees will be expected to demonstrate how they have had regard to the guidance”.
This corresponds with our reading of the draft regulations which provide that:
- TPR will only have power to issue trustees with compliance notices where it is of the opinion that trustees are not complying or have not complied with a requirement in the Regulations;
- The only requirement in the Regulations is to connect by 31 October 2026 or any different deadline that applies under Regulations 16 to 20, which provide for voluntary connection but only where schemes have less than 100 relevant members, deferred connection where there has been a change in administrator and potential later connection dates for new or growing schemes, schemes that may initially be exempt from the Regulations but then become subject to them and schemes that come out of a PPF assessment period;
- Trustees are only required under the Regulations to have regard to any guidance on connection, not comply with deadlines contained within any such guidance.
Nevertheless, schemes who are ready to connect before 31 October 2026 may choose to do so early so that they can test their connection and the digital architecture and ensure they can comply before the final mandatory date for compliance, or because they consider it would be beneficial to members to have earlier access. As such, schemes would be well advised to continue their preparatory work.
The other key amendment that has been made by the draft Regulations is to amend the definition of reference date, which is the date used to determine whether a scheme must connect to the Pensions Dashboards or not. Schemes required to comply with the Regulations are those who had 100 or more ‘relevant members’ as at the reference date. Given the delay, this is now the scheme year end date falling between 1 April 2023 and 31 March 2024 and not the scheme year end date falling between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. Relevant members are active and deferred members only so if your scheme has completed wind-up by your first scheme year end date falling after 1 April 2023 or, due to retirements within the last 3 years, now has less than 100 active and deferred members as at that date, you will not be required to connect by 31 October 2026. There remains an option for such schemes to apply to the Money and Pensions Service to connect on a voluntary basis.
A final point to note is that deferred connection can still be applied for (for example due to a change in scheme administrator), but the application will need to be made within 12 months of these Regulations coming into force, and must relate to a process that had begun before they come into force.
Actions for schemes
- Look out for further guidance that will include the new expected staging profile
- Continue to consider data and technical requirements and prepare to meet these