THES reporters unravel the tangle of pension options facing staff three years after the reorganisation of higher education and examine the barriers to a unified system. Pension experts from lecturers' unions are surprised that so few of the 28,000 who have opted out of the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme are trying to switch back.
Since the publicity surrounding recent cases where compensation has been won for teachers persuaded to opt out by bad advice, only about 250 similar claims are being pursued.
The unions say they would advise opting out of the universities' or teachers' schemes only in very limited circumstances - and fear that many academics may have been misled into plans offering reduced benefits.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has led the campaign against private company pension plans which fail to match the benefits of the public sector. They point to high employer contributions - 18.55 per cent for the Universities' Superannuation Scheme and 8.05 per cent in the TSS.
"The only kind of circumstance in which I would think about someone opting out is for the person coming here from overseas, generally Australia or New Zealand, only planning to stay for a year," said Susan Johnson, head of pensions at ATL. "Personally, however, even then I would pay the contributions and have the refund when you leave," she said.
"Many members who have contacted us have opted out basically because of bad advice from insurance companies, including independent financial advisers, often because they do not know enough about the TSS."
She added: "Part-timers would be strongly recommended to be in the scheme although they have been advised to opt out in disproportionately large numbers.
"There is no personal pension which provides guaranteed inflation proofing after retirement and automatic cover for death in service and ill-health retirement."
Since the Securities and Investments Board found widespread evidence of mis-selling in the pensions industry last October and instructed insurance companies to compensate those badly advised, ATL has taken on 200 cases and sent out 100 self-help packs. Natfhe has helped in about 20 cases. ATL has won an average Pounds 15,091 per teacher wrongly advised.
"When you consider 30,000 have opted out of the teachers' scheme, there seem to be a lot of teachers out there who have not done anything about it," said Ms Johnson.
Natfhe's pension and legal adviser Joan Gordon added: "We believe people should be in the teachers' scheme and they should not opt out. The advantages of the TSS are quite outstanding. For example, you get defined benefits and cover for dependents."
Hourly-paid part-time lecturers are pushing to be allowed to join the TSS and Natfhe has 1,500 women members who have lodged cases of sexual discrimination at industrial tribunals, claiming they are unfairly excluded. Unlike part-time school teachers, who are paid on pro rata salaries, the hourly-paid lecturers cannot join under present legislation. The unions are waiting to hear whether they are successful in having Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, named as a respondent in the cases.