Workplace pension savers fall in number, says ONS

Pension file Changes mean that people will increasingly be signed up automatically to a pension

The number of workers saving in an occupational pension has continued to fall, official figures show.

Some 46% of staff were saving in a workplace pension last year, the lowest on current records, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

But with people now increasingly being automatically enrolled into a workplace pension scheme, the numbers are likely to rise.

This is mainly designed to increase saving in the private sector.

Only 32% of private sector employees had a workplace pension scheme in 2012, compared with 83% in the public sector, the ONS statistics showed.

The figures show that 91% of public sector employees with a workplace pension were in a defined benefit - often a final-salary - scheme in 2012, compared with 26% in the private sector.

Automatic pension saving

The proportion of all workers saving into a workplace pension scheme is the lowest since this series of ONS records began in 1997, when 55% were in a scheme.

Pension schemes explained

  • Final-salary scheme: Guaranteed pension based on earnings at end of your career and length of service. Also known as defined benefit schemes
  • Career average scheme: Guaranteed pension based on your average pay over your career
  • Defined contribution scheme: Determined by contributions and investment returns. Usually worth less than final-salary pensions

But some pensions experts suggest that this will be the trough in numbers.

"It is unnerving and unsustainable that only a third of the private sector workforce is saving into a pension," said Joanne Segars, chief executive of the National Association of Pension Funds.

"This is storing up huge problems for our society. People simply will not be able to retire in comfort, and will lean more heavily on the state.

"We hope that this is the worst things will get. Millions will be automatically put into a pension in the coming years."

Many workers in the UK will gradually see a slice of their pay packet being automatically diverted to a savings pot for their pension through the automatic enrolment system.

Employers are obliged to pay in as well, with the government adding a little extra through tax relief.

The system is being introduced in stages over six years, with the first workers working for the biggest businesses signed up in October last year.

Those who already save in a workplace pension scheme or are self-employed are not being signed up.

Despite the changes, some suggest that more needs to be done to encourage people to save for a pension.

"The early signs from the government's workplace pension auto-enrolment programme largely directed at the private sector are promising," said Malcolm McLean, consultant to actuaries Barnett Waddingham.

"However, these may not be enough in terms of the numbers and levels of pensions eventually produced to sufficiently arrest the decline and further measures to reinvigorate pension saving are likely to be required - sooner rather than later."

The TUC also called for employers to ensure that they were making a decent contribution to their employees' pensions.

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