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Helping pension scheme members during the Covid-19 crisis

Daren Newman Partner and Head of Pensions Administration

None more so than during a crisis, trustees should be able to have confidence in their administration provider. They should expect them to be calm, and to get the balance right between flexibility and being alert and robust. As well as the safety and wellbeing of their staff being their main focus, an administrator’s general approach should be with members at the forefront of their minds.

Members who are approaching their retirement date, pensioners who rely on their pension as their main source of income, and dependants following the loss of their loved ones – to name only a few – will all have questions relating to the current situation.

The situation is both logistically demanding and very fast moving.

So how can administrators keep up and best help members?

Be calm when communicating

Members are now constantly surrounded by emotive language and serious words. There is no need to repeat them in your communications: we all know it is an ‘unprecedented’ and ‘serious’ situation. Members want to know that trustees are dealing with the challenges methodically, calmly and that things are in hand. So, use language that is reassuring and authoritative.

Point them to reputable sources of information if they want to know more about how the current situation is affecting pensions generally - the Pensions Advisory Service has a particularly useful webpage. Ask them to call if they have any questions relating to their own benefits.

I would strongly recommend that trustees publish a note for members, providing answers to the questions they have been asking (or, even better, try to anticipate what they will ask). Given how fast things are moving, this should be kept under constant review, at least in the short term.

Given the restrictions, trustees and administrators should be open to different methods of sending and receiving information. The option to be able to make use of different forms of electronic communications will be very helpful.

Be pragmatic and, where necessary, prioritise

Administrators should have a clear list of priorities – starting with paying benefits on time. PASA has issued helpful guidance which sets out what administrators should be prioritising and articulates what best practice looks like.

If an administrator has a robust Business Continuity Plan then remote working practices should mean that most tasks can continue to be processed, albeit some may take a little longer. Whilst members are likely to be understanding, they will still be hoping to a large extent that it will be business as usual.

However, there may be some non-critical tasks that can be delayed without impacting on members. Some examples might include project work such as GMP equalisation exercises and any improvements to service. Trustees should also consider the impact of the current situation on any provider changes that are in progress – it may be sensible to delay these, even for just a short period of time whilst the dust settles.

Be alive to evolving issues

The situation is evolving quickly, and it is important that administrators remain nimble and alive to the issues surrounding pension schemes – both those that may impact their immediate work and those that may impact them in future. The Pensions Regulator is naturally at the forefront of this and has published useful guidance on how the situation might impact members.

Scams is an area of particular prominence, and members and administrators are being asked to be extra vigilant. Sadly, scammers are already taking advantage of the crisis to target pension scheme members using increasingly sophisticated tactics, and cyber crime is expected to rise. Always point members to Scamsmart if they are suspicious.

As the situation evolves, it is important that trustees consider the right issues at the right time. They may find our Covid-19 insight hub helpful.

In short, it is important that administrators keep calm and carry on. These are challenging times for us all, but continuing to pay the right benefits and on time should remain a comforting constant.