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Why are pensions ruining my (HR) life?

How to effectively handle pensions in the social housing sector.

Sometimes it’s quiet for months. Sometimes there’s a steady drip of questions from staff, but nothing you can’t handle. And sometimes there’s a deluge of pensions work that threaten to take over your whole working life.

Pensions are always there in the background. Your employer will pretty much certainly need to provide one, whether to meet its automatic enrolment obligations or to keep itself competitive in the ever-tightening marketplace for good staff. And in the unlikely event that you don’t at the moment have to provide a compliant pension, monitoring that status is in itself a full-time job.

You’re a busy HR professional in the social housing sector. You didn’t sign on for this.

What sort of pensions questions are taking up my time?

Some daily tasks are unavoidable, although some are easy enough to deal with. Often, staff will come to you with pensions questions that are really better directed at your pension provider. Of course, they may not understand the sometimes technical responses they’ll get, so they may come back to you…

You also need to monitor compliance with automatic enrolment. Who’s reached the end of their postponement period and needs to be enrolled into your pension? Who’s moved up their hours and now qualifies? Your payroll team, within your organisation or outside, should be able to deal with most of them, but you know they’ll come to you for the difficult decisions.

And then there are the times when it’s all hands to the pumps. There’s a Big Project — you’re taking on services from another provider, and with them new employees via TUPE transfer. They’re coming with a whole host of different pension schemes around them.

Perhaps you sit on the trustee board of your employer’s own pension scheme. This role can be rewarding, but also demanding.

And, perhaps the most difficult circumstances of all, what happens when someone dies while in employment? Either through your pension scheme or a separate insurance policy, your organisation probably offers a death in service benefit, to soften at least the financial blow for the employee’s family and dependants.

That benefit is paid out on trust, so that it doesn’t become part of the employee’s estate for tax purposes. The employer is usually the trustee. And it’s often the HR team who have to decide where the money is paid. Do you follow the ten year-old expression of wish form the employee filled out when they joined and forgot to update? How far do you have to go before you’ve investigated enough? And how do you decide who gets what?

How can I stop pensions ruining everything?

We hope you enjoy more quiet than busy times for pensions, but we’re always on the end of the phone or an email away if you just want to check something. If you’re looking to outsource more of your pensions work, especially when it’s got a legal dimension, then we’re always happy to talk. Then, if you want, you can pass most of the pensions legwork to us and, where it’s not legal in nature, to our colleagues in other advisory firms who specialise in employee benefits.

If you’re a trustee of your employer’s own pension scheme, we can advise you and your colleagues at every legal step of the way, so you do the right things at the right time.

But when it really gets serious, we can take the problem out of your hands, and present you with solutions. Our Pensions team has extensive experience in the social housing sector. If it’s happening to you, we’ve probably seen it before. We can advise on how you deal with those incoming TUPE employees, and what extra pension provision you’ll need for them. Sometimes we can confirm that it’s actually easier than you may have originally thought. Sometimes, of course, it isn’t…

And when you have to deal with that most difficult and sensitive task, working out where a death benefit should go, we can look after the whole process, from identifying who might be entitled to some or all of the money, through interviewing those people and getting the information we need when they are often deeply distressed by their loss, to making a recommendation as to where the funds held in trust should be paid. So you can be confident that, even if not everyone is happy, the decision you take is a sensible one that will stand up to challenge.

If you’d like to talk pensions, at any stage, please get in touch with our team. Our details are below.

If you'd like guidance on dealing with pensions in the social housing sector, please speak to our expert pensions lawyers.

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