TPR’s updated, shorter code should help schemes respond to scams and makes their duties on responsible investment clear

Last week the Pensions Regulator’s updated DC code came into force. The existing code needed a refresh to incorporate the retirement flexibilities brought in last year, and the regulator has taken this opportunity to address some concerns with the guidance.

Andrew Warwick-Thompson

The new code is shorter and drops the unwieldy 31 ‘quality features’ schemes had previously been required to demonstrate. It is also a bit less woolly in its wording – the watchdog describes the latest document as “clear and unambiguous”.

TPR executive director for regulatory policy Andrew Warwick-Thompson (pictured) says: “In revising the code, we have responded to calls from the pensions industry to shorten and simplify it, with an increased focus on legislative requirements.”

The updated code is split into six sections – the trustee board, management skills, administration, investment governance, value, and communications – each with an accompanying ‘how to’ guide.

Scams

The response from the industry has been positive. Advisers appreciate the slimmed down guidance, and the consensus is that the watchdog has acted on concerns raised by schemes and providers.

Sackers head of DC Helen Ball says: “We expect this will improve standards of best practice, to help trustees manage their responsibilities more effectively.”

There will be no mandatory timescale for pension transfers which reflects the current concerns around scams

She believes the regulator has also given some support to schemes and providers faced with transfer requests to suspicious schemes.

“TPR’s response to the consultation on the guides is clear that there will be no mandatory timescale for making pension transfers which reflects the current concerns around pension scams,” she says. “However, there will be further transparency measures in the new year, which could be a helpful way of driving behavioural change.”

There is also some direction for trustees wrestling with the tricky task of measuring value for money. The regulator makes clear that it expects bigger schemes to share information through their advisers and independent trustees.

Assessment of value for members will be mostly qualitative and this won’t be perfect in its first year

Hymans Robertson partner Rona Train says many large schemes already do this, but some will struggle until wider industry comparisons emerge.

“At the moment, assessment of value for members will be mostly qualitative and it’s probably fair to say this won’t be perfect in its first year,” she says. “One of the reasons is a lack of industry-wide data. How to achieve cross-industry benchmarking is something we’re looking at.”

ESG

The latest code also incorporates the findings of the Law Commission’s 2014 report on fiduciary duty. It states that trustees should take into account environmental, social and governance factors, or ethical concerns, where they believe these are financially relevant.

The code also makes it clear that trustees can take non-financial factors into account if they have a good reason to think scheme members shared their views and there was no risk of significant financial detriment. 

This is great news for trustees of DC schemes who have had their responsibilities clarified by the regulator

UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association chief executive Simon Howard says: “The guide on investment governance is particularly welcome and we were pleased to see our opinions have clearly been taken on board by the regulator and at times directly reflected in the wording of the guidance. 

“This is great news for trustees of DC schemes who have for the first time since the Law Commission’s work in 2014 had their responsibilities clarified by the regulator.” 

ShareAction policy officer Rachel Howarth says the regulator’s decision to clarify this is very encouraging. 

“The guidance for pension trustees is clear,” she says. “They have a mandate to consider all risks that could affect the financial performance of their funds, and this includes ESG risks. We look forward to seeing how they do that.”