Unite urges housing associations to refrain from ‘inferior’ staff pensions

uniteHousing associations should not seek to provide inferior employee pensions after contributions to the Social Housing Pension Scheme (SHPS) were increased, the country’s largest union has warned.

The SHPS has members in more than 700 organisations in the social housing sector, and is open to employers who are part of the National Housing Federation; Community Housing Cymru; the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations; or the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations. It is part of the Pensions Trust, but is run by an elected SHPS committee.

Back in March it confirmed that the gap between its assets and liabilities had risen to £1.32 billion from £1bn in September 2011 despite payments of £200 million to reduce it.

Details emerged of the deficit reduction plans after the SHPS wrote to employers last week outlining new contribution rates, which will see landlords required to increase pension contributions by a total of almost £32m from next April.

Now Unite has expressed its fears that housing association executives will use these increased contributions, particularly for defined benefit (DB) schemes, as an excuse to offer less generous pension options.

The union, which has 10,000 members in the housing sector, reiterated its commitment “to fight for good quality pensions that will provide a decent income for our housing members in their retirement”.

Unite national officer for the not for profit sector Sally Kosky said: “Alarm bells are certainly ringing that the SHPS deficit could kick-start a trend where employees are moved from a DB scheme to a defined contribution or ‘money purchase’ scheme, which relies on the vagaries of the stock market as to what you may get on retirement.

“The employers have a choice on how to respond and we don’t want the defined benefit schemes closed, with the SHPS’ demand for increased contributions being used as an excuse for downgrading pension provision.

“We don’t want our members taking this financial hit, as housing association managements have been squeezing the pay and terms and conditions of our members for a number of years – enough is enough.

“While staff are having their living standards throttled, housing associations always seem to manage to increase CEO pay and pension pots very generously on an annual basis.

“Housing associations continue to pile up record surpluses on a yearly basis, with growing assets and relatively low gearing in terms of borrowing costs.

“Unite is committed to maintaining DB schemes and we have been prepared to put that into action supporting groups of workers defending their pension.

“Penny-pinching bosses should not underestimate Unite’s determination to support our members in the fight to have a decent pension for their retirement.”

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