Business

RPI to CPI costs pension savers £83bn

BBC business editor Robert Peston on the value of pensions

On Friday, when the attention of a few of us was on some interesting events in Egypt, the Department of Work and Pensions published a new so-called impact assessment of the costs for members of defined benefit pension schemes of the government's decision that many of these schemes should up-rate their benefits in line with lower CPI inflation, as opposed to RPI inflation.

I am not sure why they published a new assessment, since it was only in December that the last such evaluation was put out.

But the calculation may upset the millions of people affected by the changes, since it says that the effect of the move from RPI to CPI for protecting the value of future pensions is to reduce the value of their benefits over the next 15 years by £83bn - which is 8.4 per cent more than the £76.6bn December estimate of the erosion of their wealth.

This is how the DWP puts it: "The main cost of this policy is to members of private sector defined benefit pension schemes who will see the anticipated value of their pension rights reduced and the value of their total remuneration package reduced in the short term."

The value of this reduction in pension rights and total remuneration equates to a significant £5.7bn per annum.

And for 2m relevant active members of pension schemes, there is a reduction in their annual rate of pension accrual - which is broadly the same as a pay cut - of between £2,250 per year and £2,500 a year on average.

In other words, they will be up to £2,500 a year worse off right now, on average. That is the implied fall in their total remuneration, including the value of the pension promise made to them by their employer.

But they won't feel it till they retire - when their pensions will be up to 12 per cent lower than would otherwise have been the case (in real terms) in 2027 and 20 per cent lower in 2050.

The corollary of course of the pain for those saving for a pension in a defined benefit scheme is an £83bn windfall for the companies and other institutions which sponsor these schemes.

John Ralfe, the pensions expert, puts it like this: "this is a reduction in the value of pensions to pension scheme members and is a transfer from them to shareholders".

You can keep up with the latest from business editor Robert Peston by visiting his blog on the BBC News website.

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