2021: The year pensions struck back

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We have become so used to living in a pandemic that it almost feels like normal, but of course it isn’t, and there is more than one indicator for this. 
Many things on the pensions calendar last year have been postponed until 2022. Royal Mail has not yet created its collective money purchase scheme; superfund legislation has not been laid (though TPR has now given the green light for a first provider); and the Pensions Regulator has not published its second consultation on the DB funding code, which will now only come out in summer next year. 
In the pensions world, the year in any case only really started in February, when the Pension Schemes Act received royal assent. A big piece of legislation, it creates the basis for CDC and pensions dashboards, but in years to come might well be blamed for putting the final nail in the coffin of member-nominated trustees, as the threat of criminal prosecution is now hanging over everyone involved with a pension scheme. 

Climate takes centre stage 

COP26 came and went; not an awful lot was agreed that could save us from climate meltdown with all its consequences for humanity's achievements, pensions being one of them. The US, China and India refused to phase out coal, though deforestation reduction targets and a methane pact were signed; small victories. 
So while the biggest polluting nations are trying to protect their GDP, some UK pension funds now have to adhere to strict climate risk regulations as of October this year; and 2021 was also when the UK government, rather cunningly, issued its first green gilts, financing projects it would arguably have built anyway. 
To mark its leadership it has also mandated net zero for firms here. With many companies hoarding cash according to recent data, they may well be able to finance this. In the hospitality and travel sectors however, some might find this harder especially now omicron is causing a drop in revenues again. Without further government support, a rise in insolvencies from the current lows is predicted for next year, with potential knock-on effects for the Pension Protection Fund, but also for DC master trusts if it means a fall in employment.  

Wind of change 

In 2021, pensions – which as a benefit by nature has an affinity to the social state – clawed back some of the territory lost in the austerity years marked by neoliberalism. Trustees have been given greater powers to delay or stop DB transfers after a rise in scams post-pension freedoms; and exponents of the gig economy have been dealt a blow by workers in court, meaning ride-hailing app Uber now has to provide a pension scheme for its drivers who, it had claimed, were ‘self-employed’. 
Aside from the gig economy, UK policymakers this year also started to show some interest in US tech giants, which host scam ads but have tended to wash their hands of them - and have been accused of profiting from the crime, as well as efforts to stop it, since they charge both scammers and anti-fraud units. Calls for inclusion of financial scams in the online safety bill have been made repeatedly from various corners, so far with limited success – only ‘user generated’ content has been brought into scope. The FCA meanwhile contends that online ads can now be regulated. 
All has not been bad in 2021 though: saving rates have not collapsed during the pandemic, although different groups are affected differently. Among trustees, news in July that Aon was forced to abandon its bid for rival Willis Towers Watson prompted sighs of relief (though a potential exodus of clients from these two would have made smaller competitors more than happy). 
The year ends with consumer price inflation at 5.1%, the highest since the 1990s and looking much less short-lived than was previously hoped. The Bank of England has just put the base rate up from 0.1% to 0.25% in response - hardly earthshattering as a move, and unlikely to benefit savers but expected to be felt by borrowers. What will be next? Stay tuned... 

What are your pensions highlights, lowlights and milestones of 2021? 

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