Ask the panel

March 3, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I am about to start a new post with a local university. Ihave always worked in the public sector and contributed to various pension schemes. My concern is that, despite an imminent salary increase, my pension looks to be insufficient, and I also worry that the final-salary pension scheme may come to an end.

* Our panellist from the Universities and College Employers' Association says: "The three main schemes that university staff are entitled to join depending on whether they are in pre or post- 92 universities are the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the Teachers' Pension Scheme and the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

Changes have been proposed following the Government's announcement of its intention to raise the pension age from 60 to 65 for public service schemes and of changes introduced by the Finance Acts 2004 and 2005. However, they will all continue to be final-salary schemes. If you are concerned about the insufficiency of your pension benefits, you may wish to make additional contributions. Among the changes to be introduced is the removal of the Inland Revenue limit on the amount of pensionable earnings that employees can contribute. From April 2006, individuals may contribute up to 100 per cent of earnings tax-free to one or more schemes."

* Our Association of University Teachers panellist says: "Following the threat of industrial unrest, the Government agreed last year to withdraw its proposals for reform of public sector pension schemes and have a fresh look at all pension reviews. New negotiations were entered into and framework principles for the reform of public sector pension schemes (other than the LGPS) were agreed by the Government and public sector unions.

"The result is that negotiations on reform of the TPS are ongoing but the unions have secured certain principles underlying any changes. These include the TPS remaining a defined benefit scheme that will be index linked. Pensions earned before any changes come into effect will be protected under the agreement, as will the pension age for existing scheme members."

She adds: "The USS is the final-salary pension scheme for academic and related staff in the pre-92 sector. As it is not a public sector scheme it has not been subject to the same negotiations with the Government and there are currently no negotiations on proposed changes to the scheme."

As you have deferred benefits in public sector pension schemes, on joining either the USS or the TPS you can ask for a transfer value for your new scheme under the public sector "club" arrangements.

"You should be advised of the value of all existing pensions. Once you have the transfer value, take independent financial advice to find out whether it is financially advanta-geous to transfer to the TPS or the USS.

Colleagues who are members of the LGPS are being balloted on action to defend their scheme and to secure the same safeguards offered by the Government to other areas of the public sector."

* Our Natfhe panellist says: "Despite confusing media reports, the Government has not said that public sector final-salary schemes should end or even be closed to new members. Principles have been set out by the Government that will affect new members of the TPS. These do not include an end to final-salary schemes but are likely to include attempts to change the normal retirement date to age 65 from 60. This will not affect staff already in the TPS. The USS (for staff of pre-92 institutions) is not affected in this way, and there are no plans to revise its rules to affect final-salary provisions."

He adds that for the TPS or the USS you can transfer existing benefits but should take independent financial advice about whether you would be better off leaving your transfer value in your existing scheme.

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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