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With the introduction of new UK Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (UK GAAP), and subsequently, the introduction of Financial Reporting Standard 102 (which replaces Financial Reporting Standard 17 as the financial reporting standard in the UK and Ireland) charity employers should be considering the impact this may have on their P&L and balance sheet, and be noting some actions they can take to limit this impact.
The most significant change under the new UK GAAP for defined benefit pension schemes is in relation to non-segregated multi-employer arrangements where employers are unable to identify their share of the assets and liabilities in the scheme.
Under old UK GAAP (and hence FRS 17) there was an exemption that allowed employers in this position to account for their pension costs on a defined contribution basis, by recording the contributions paid to the scheme in the profit and loss account. No account had to be taken of any pension deficit which may have existed at that date.
Under new UK GAAP this is no longer an option and employers which were previously "exempt" under the old rules have two options:
- If it is possible to reasonably identify your share of the assets and liabilities in the scheme then you must produce a full FRS 102 disclosure.
- If it is not possible to identify your share of the assets and liabilities in the scheme then you must record the Net Present Value of your future deficit reduction contributions in your balance sheet. An allowance must also be made in the profit and loss account for the interest accruing on the deficit over the year.
So what does this mean for charity employers? Charity employers participating in non-segregated multi-employer pension schemes that previously used the exemption under old UK GAAP will now have to disclose a potentially significant balance sheet item in their accounts. The effect of this will depend largely on the size of the pension scheme deficit in relation to the net current assets of the entity as a whole. In many cases however this is likely to be significant, as follows:
- Reduction in net assets – potentially moving to a ‘net current liability’ position.
- May impact on the ability to obtain new funds for charities if the future of the charity seems "unviable".
- May be an impact on the PPF levy payable by employers if insolvency ratings rise.
- Could potentially lead to insolvency.
From an overall perspective, these changes will lead to clearer disclosure across organisations with those disclosing under the exemption in the old rules now being on a level playing field with all other organisations. It will also lead to greater consistency within organisational groups, where entities within the group were both exempt and non-exempt under the old rules.
However, there may still be some cases where groups have inconsistencies – for example where there are employers accounting under the full disclosure method and NPV method within the same group.
What should you do if you are a charity employer? Understanding your position and understanding the potential impact are key. If you are a "small entity" you have the option of deferring this change to 1 January 2017 as the accounting standard for small entities will still reference the old UK GAAP until this date when it is then expected to be revised. For charity employers affected, it is about limiting the impact as much as possible. If such a charity employer you can do the following:
- Ensure the assumptions used to value your liabilities reflect your "best estimate" of the future taking into account your own charity's future business plans. Consider especially the salary increase assumption, which can often be overstated in "standard" assumptions. It is ultimately the responsibility of the trustees/directors of the charity to set the assumptions – ensure they reflect your future plans.
- Develop a strategy for managing your liabilities going forward. Further accrual is likely to result in a larger, more volatile deficit over time and hence a more volatile balance sheet position. There are ways to reduce your deficit and the volatility of your deficit over time, such as: liability management exercises; ceasing future accrual; limiting the membership; exiting the scheme.
The changes to UK GAAP are most likely to affect charities participating in large non-segregated schemes such as the Pension Trust arrangements (SHPS, SHAPS, Growth Plan, SVSPS etc) and any employers participating in the Universities Superannuation Scheme, and any other non-segregated arrangements.
The Charity Commission requires that any charities showing a "net current liability" position in the annual accounts explain the risks attached – this will include pension risks and it is important therefore that charities have a strategy in place for managing these risks.
Charity employers should also understand the non-pension aspects of FRS 102 as there are many other changes coming into force that may improve, or worsen, your balance sheet position. For example, one charity early adopted FRS 102 - despite it adding £20m to its balance sheet – as the revaluation of its fixed assets under FRS 102 more than offset this increase.
It is recommended that all charity employers engage with the necessary advisers to understand their obligations, the potential impact of these and any possible mitigation to ensure there are no surprises when the new rules come into force.
The one dimensional approach being forced upon local government pension schemes by impractical and outdated regulation is placing the existence of many charities participating in their schemes at serious financial risk. Charities are trapped in schemes they were often encouraged to join with no warning about the risk they were taking. They are now often left in the position where they can’t afford to continue to fund benefits in the schemes but equally cannot afford to get out of them.
The current regulatory framework requires that should an admitted body exit the scheme either by running out of active participants or by formally looking to leave the scheme then the fund must have its actuary calculate a cessation amount which the employer must pay.
This amount is typically calculated on a very low risk "gilts basis", similar to an insurance company buyout cost, which looks to make sure that the remaining employers, and indeed the taxpayer, are protected from the risk of picking up future liabilities for those employers who leave. It is however becoming increasingly recognised that the basis for this calculation is excessive in relation to LGPS. Why is this?
Excessive cessation calculations
The first point is that unlike private sector schemes LGPS are not going to be in a position where they will be looking to wind up and secure annuities in the market. So valuing an exit on a similar basis to a buyout is therefore excessively prudent and not reflecting reality.
Ultimately funds do not know how much the payment of future benefits will cost but they persist in suggesting that they do and this is the gilts based cost – it is not!! I totally understand that there is a requirement for prudence, however the basis currently adopted is excessive and needs to be revised.
The assumptions adopted by the actuary for the cessation debt calculations are very prudent. As such, and ignoring changes in market conditions, over time you would expect the buyout deficit to fall as actual experience is more favourable than that assumed.
The cessation deficit is calculated based upon the economic assumptions at the point of exit. Future conditions could be very different and while I recognise they could deteriorate further over the longer term, on the balance of probabilities, you would expect that at some point interest rates might increase with a commensurate reduction in liabilities. Those settling the exit debt on a gilts basis will derive no benefit from this.
In addition often exiting employers have little control over the timing of their exit which makes all this more unfair.
The application of a gilts basis on exit is for the most part a one way street in favour of the funds. The calculation is derived using the scheme membership at the point of exit. This ignores the fact that once closed to future accrual, this membership will change over time and always to the advantage of the fund. People will die, transfer out or draw benefits early or in different formats than expected, and none of this will be taken in to account once a settlement figure is imposed.
A very recent example I witnessed was that of a small charity which was being pressed to pay a cessation debt of just over £1m and over the period a senior member of staff accounting for around 50% of the liabilities unfortunately died. Had the debt been settled there would have been a windfall of around £250,000 to the fund.
Private sector solution
Private sector segregated and standalone schemes recognise this and allow employers flexibility to address this by allowing them to fund on an ongoing basis, initially until they decide they actually want to trigger their cessation debt. Payment on this basis allows the liabilities to unwind over a period of time.
The issue doesn’t just impact now on exit as many funds look to apply this gilts basis for employers where they have a limited period to go until the last member retires or where the membership numbers are particularly low. However, this is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Another charity I’ve been dealing with have seen their deficit increase 20-fold as a result of this change which has seen two members of staff in their 30s compulsorily moved to investing in gilts for a further 30 years. This just can’t make any sense. The fund has absolutely no idea how much these individuals benefits will cost in 30 years time.
To add to all this for many charities in this position the introduction of FRS102 is also hugely problematic. This is because the net present value of their deficit contributions effectively means that they are adding cessation liabilities to their balance sheet, which again impacts on their ability to compete for contracts and grants and/or encourage donations which again impacts on their solvency.
If organisations are forced to continue to accrue liabilities beyond the level which is affordable to them, as historically they have been, a day of reckoning awaits. The starting point must be that this can’t make sense for anyone, not the admitted body, other employers, scheme members or the tax payer. By forcing these employers to pay contributions on a three or four times multiple over a short period, they are placed at risk of insolvency, and if they do become insolvent then the funds will have very little chance of recovery. This also can’t make any sense.
A fundamental issue is also missed in all this. Should organisations be allowed to close to future accrual without automatically triggering a cessation debt the liabilities pre and post this event are effectively the same. On this basis I find it hard to understand the funds' calls for additional security to allow this to happen. This is especially when the risk to the fund is actually reduced as no further accrual is possible and all contributions can therefore be directed to reducing the deficit for the liabilities already built up, rather than funding for further future liabilities.
Frustratingly many funds also continue to deny the issue of inherited liabilities. It is totally inequitable to expect a small charity to pick up a cessation liability for benefits they previously inherited from a public sector body on an ongoing basis, or even in many cases a funding basis well below this.
Public sector ownership
One fund has sensibly identified this and looked to deal with it fairly and I can only hope that all others will follow suit. Indeed these liabilities should just be reallocated to public sector ownership which means that the fund has them guaranteed with no cessation debt requiring to be paid.
Many of the approaches adopted have been knee-jerk and not fully consulted upon and I believe that a totally independent root and branch review of the operation of local government pension schemes in relation to admitted bodies is required and the findings should drive reform of the regulation. With the Scheme Advisory Boards (SABs) in place and a review underway in England and Wales II can only hope that a revised approach is imminent.
Following on from the new Code of Practice 3 on Funding Defined Benefit Schemes the Pensions Regulator (TPR) has now issued much more extensive guidance on how to assess and monitor the employer covenant. The guidance has been structured in a straightforward way and TPR recommends that all trustees should as a minimum read the "At a glance" summary. Employers should do the same.
Importantly, for the first time there is charity-specific advice (and for other not for profit employers) in the new guidance. This has been welcomed by many, including the national representative body for workplace pensions, and with good reason.
There are also a number of case studies throughout, and some key points to consider when deciding on the extent and/or frequency of any review. These will be helpful to many charity employers and trustee groups as they wrestle with the difficulty of applying standards and assessments which are really designed for commercial enterprises and trustees of schemes which are sponsored and supported by them.
The guidance builds on the key message from the new Code of Practice focusing on the three key risk areas for defined benefit schemes - employer covenant, investment and funding – and how they interact. So, for instance, how might a change by trustees to the investment strategy affect the funding of the scheme and the employer's covenant.
TPR encourages trustees and employers, and the relevant advisers to work together but identifies the following key areas in any covenant assessment:
- Legal – what is the nature of the employer's obligations to the scheme and their enforceability.
- Scheme related - the funding needs of the scheme both now and in the future.
- Financial – the ability of the employer to contribute cash when required.
The annex dedicated to charities/NFPs states that the absence of a profit motive does not change how the employer covenant should be assessed, but the nature of some NFPs’ activities and financing arrangements means some elements of the guidance may apply differently. Two examples considered in the guidance are as follows:
- The proportion of a charity's income that comes from donations, for example, i.e. to what extent is the charity reliant on donations, compared to public funding or contracts, or funds raised through retail activities, etc.?
- Restricted funds are also a consideration outlined in the guidance. It encourages scheme trustees to check what restrictions actually apply and so establish whether the restricted funds are "off limits", and not simply take the charity's word that such funds are out of reach to the scheme.
Until now the Regulator's approach on monitoring the employer covenant has, with some justification, been classified by many as "on size fits all" and inflexible. In addition the Regulator's new "sustainable growth" objective, doesn't precisely fit the charity/NFP framework very well so the change of tack is to be applauded.
One therefore welcomes the engagement by the Pensions Regulator with the NFP sector, the Charity Commission and others, and acknowledge that this is a real and tangible shift, which should help scheme trustees and employers understand what is involved in assessing and monitoring an employer covenant.
What has not changed is the need for scheme trustees to take into account the different covenants for different participating employers. It is therefore vital that trustees are clear concerning:
- Which employers have a legal obligation to the scheme.
- The extent of that obligation.
- The strength of that covenant, e.g. the covenant of an employer which is the operator of a number of retail outlets for a charity is likely to have a very different covenant from that of the main charity or even its main funding raising operation, etc.
Of course the new funding code now recognises the need for employers (of all types) to be able to continue to invest in the business. However trustees will then need to assess whether those investment plans will restrict the funds that might otherwise be available to the scheme and, if so, how the scheme might benefit from supporting investment in the business.
So the guidance, along with the revised Code of Practice, if used and applied consistently and appropriately, should be helpful - particularly the emphasis on the need for any covenant assessment to be "proportionate to the circumstances of the scheme and the employer".
However, there are also warnings that "the covenant can change quickly" so trustees should have "well-developed contingency plans so they can take decisive action if and when required".
Again quite how this will be applied in the NFP sector is open to some debate. What seems beyond doubt is trustees will have to ensure that the process which they have in place for assessing and monitoring the employer covenant is fit for purpose – what information; how often; what procedures are in place to identify material changes, etc.
So where might this all lead?
Well there are a number of issues to consider for scheme trustees and employers:
- Do trustees have sufficient knowledge to assess the covenant of the different employers? If not then some form of external review may be needed from time to time.
- Are trustees given all of the information they need when they need it?
- Do the trustees and the employers have an agreed strategy for funding the scheme, taking into account of all the risks that are faced, including investment risk, which is often (but not always) the most significant risk?
- Are mechanisms in place to ensure that funding arrangements are capable of adjustment to protect the scheme from downside risks and to ensure that a scheme will receive benefit if the sponsor's financial position improves?
The employer covenant is always considered at the time of an actuarial valuation but the guidance is clearly underlining the need for trustees to make sure that they consider this on an ongoing basis. Of course this is what should have been happening and many trustees will have put in place arrangements, sometimes accompanied by non-disclosure agreements, by which the employer agrees to provide financial information (say every quarter); and to consult with scheme trustees before any significant financial changes are made, etc.
This seems bound to raise the issue of contingent assets again – something which may provide some charities with some breathing space if materially higher scheme contributions are unrealistic.
It is to be hoped that scheme trustees and charities take a constructive and holistic approach to scheme funding and security of benefits. In the light of the continued turbulence in financial markets and the lack of any "helpful" move in gilt yields, all options need to be on the table, and taking a joined up approach to funding, covenant and investment strategy is now essential if scheme and employers are to stand the best chance of addressing what for many is a significant and long term funding shortfall.
One has already noticed a recognition that markets are unlikely to provide any relief in the foreseeable future. The reaction has been different, of course – some have decided to change investment strategy, recognising that those risks need to be more actively managed, others are exploring use of contingent assets, and so on – but the fundamental conclusion is often the same – doing nothing is no longer a viable or appropriate option.
So the guidance, overall, presents a much clearer picture of what is likely to be needed in assessing the employer covenant. It remains to be seen, however, whether it makes the task any easier. The first task may be take stock, including which employers have legally enforceable obligations. And all of this has to take account of each scheme's own circumstances, i.e. the extent to which a scheme is reliant on the employer covenant – so a well funded scheme may be able to have a less stringent process than one which is heavily reliant on substantial future contributions from the employers.
It hasn’t been a great time for defined benefit pensions in the sector despite some early optimism, and many charities remain at considerable risk from their defined benefit pension scheme.
Concern over the Chinese economy has dented investment returns and continuing low gilt yields have seen scheme deficits remain at high and in many cases increasingly high levels, despite often significant increases in contributions. An increase in interest rates might have helped reduce the value of liabilities but we haven’t seen this happen in 2015, and it’s difficult to see the position improving dramatically over the short to medium term.
The difficulty that this presents is that the longer these economic conditions exist the more organisations have to deal with new actuarial valuations and the likely increases in contributions. This over-arching issue affects standalone schemes and multi-employer defined benefit schemes (MEDBS) in much the same way.
New state pension
The move to a single state pension should bring simplicity and hopefully make it much easier for individuals to target the likely pension income they will need in retirement. The change will however mean that from April 2016, employers in contracted out schemes (e.g. local government pension schemes) will lose their 3.4% of band earnings NI reduction and employees will lose their 1.4% reduction. So employers need to be budgeting to pay around £20,000 per annum extra for each £1m of pensionable salary.
Limiting accrual and risk
Not surprisingly many charities with stand alone schemes have looked to limit the impact of further accrual by closing their scheme to new entrants, while many are closing them to all future accrual. However, even then the cost implications are not always that simple to manage.
The living wage
In addition the Chancellor’s recent proposals to increase the living wage could well have implications for charities in defined benefit arrangements as if salaries increase at a rate above that, liabilities, deficits and contributions are ultimately likely to increase as a result.
Charities participating in MEDBS will have to deal with the above issues as well as a number of others. Most charities have identified the risk that DB pension schemes pose to their charities but find that they’re having to try to deal with the issue with one hand (and possibly a leg!!) tied behind their backs. These can be split into two categories, as while the issues are similar they are not identical:
Private sector multi-schemes
In private sector multi-employer defined benefit schemes the Section 75 legislation requires that should an employer cease to have active members in the scheme while other employers are continuing to accrue then they automatically trigger a S.75 debt. Clearly there is a risk of this happening inadvertently!
The debt calculated would be much higher than that calculated on an accounting or funding basis which leaves charities with an unpalatable choice – trigger a debt they can’t afford or keep funding for more liabilities which they are unlikely to be able to afford in the future.
The issue has been around a long time. The longer it’s left, the worse things are likely to become with signs that we are already reaching crunch time for many charities. The limitation of the legislation has led charities and their advisers to seek ever more complex work to attempt to deal with the issues when only reform of the legislation will really fully address them.
While it is going to be hard to achieve change because of so many vested interests, it would eventually lead to a positive impact on charity employers and their schemes. They could then get on top of liabilities and reduce further exposure – these schemes are not looking for special treatment or exemptions; they simply want to see reform.
While justifiable for associated employers, the legislation is frequently at odds with the interests of sponsoring employers, members and indeed the schemes themselves. It is also totally inconsistent with the flexible approach adopted by standalone and segmented schemes, as well as unfunded public sector schemes, where organisations can leave without there being any cessation debt payable.
Early in 2015 the DWP called for evidence to look to consider options, however, reporting back was a bit hamstrung as the likely timetable straddled a general election and ultimately a change of government and Pension Minister. It does however look like an output will be forthcoming over the coming weeks.
Local government schemes
For many charities participating in local government pension schemes the issues have been brought dramatically to a head following 2013 and 2014 actuarial valuations. Many LGPS have chosen to highlight employers where they believe there is a substantial risk of triggering a cessation debt, namely those with a small number of members or with staff who are very close to retiring. Some funds have chosen to move these employers to a low risk "gilts basis" which for some has resulted in very significant contribution increases, with some 4-5 times their previous level.
So for employers who had been effectively managing their participation these dramatically increased contributions have changed their outlook and pressured their finances. Funds unfortunately have provided participants with little flexibility, and through taking a decision to pull forward higher contributions have effectively created contribution, accounting and solvency issues for many charities.
Thankfully there is some recognition of the issues faced as the Department for Communities and Local Government called for evidence earlier this year and a recent report published by PWC has raised hopes that there could finally be some light at the end of the tunnel.
The PWC report was commissioned by the Shadow Scheme Advisory Board as part of its deficit management project kicked off in summer 2014. The Board was established to encourage best practice, increase transparency and coordinate technical and standards issues for LGPS as well as providing recommendations to government for future regulation.
Some key recommendations in the PWC report which will be of specific interest for admitted bodies are:
- More flexibility on when exit debts are triggered. The proposals suggest that debts would not be automatically triggered by the exit of the last member. The paper recognises that some minor changes to regulation will be required.
- Establishing a maximum level of prudence when calculating exit payments. Currently schemes tend to use a gilts basis to calculate the exit cost despite schemes not investing assets in this way. This effectively means that employers paying a cessation are cross funding other employers who remain. This is recognised as inequitable and is also a discouraging factor for charities wishing to look at an exit. This proposal would effectively reduce cessation debts for those looking to exit the scheme, for many to a point which may be affordable.
- Flexible exit arrangements. These could include continuing to pay contributions on an ongoing basis for a prescribed period and for employers to pay their cessation debts over a much longer period. This would offer welcome flexibility for many small employers.
- Employer exit on weaker terms. It is recognised that in some circumstances it could be in the interests of the fund, the remaining employers and the admitted body to allow them to exit on weaker terms and small charities are cited specifically as an example.
These items certainly reflect much of the commentary supplied by charity representative bodies, charity advisers and charities themselves. The paper hadn’t addressed the issues many charities face from transition of prior local government liabilities but a number of funds look to be addressing this issue directly which is encouraging.
Accounting changes will impact
As if all this wasn’t enough, most charities in MEDBS will also have to deal with the introduction of FRS 102. Many LGPS employers already comply with FRS 17; however, most employers in private sector MEDBS will have utilised an exemption which allowed them to disclose as if the scheme was a defined contribution arrangement and only note contributions. For many charities in MEDBS this has meant that they haven’t needed to incorporate deficits directly in their balance sheets.
This will now change as employers will either have to disclose under FRS 102 or place the net present value of their deficit contributions on balance sheet. This will make pension deficits much more visible in charity accounts, potentially impact on fundraising and even in some cases require charities to manage negative balance sheets.
One positive on the horizon is that the new freedoms and flexibilities available in pensions is likely to encourage some staff to transfer out of these defined benefit schemes into a defined contribution environment which could improve the position of the schemes they leave behind. At this stage early in the new legislation it is difficult to quantify the likely impact.
For future pension success
Whatever position charities are in they need to address these issues head on and look to deal with them as options do exist. Charity trustees should look to develop a pension strategy which specifically takes into account the objectives and constraints they are faced with.
"The debt calculated would be much higher than that calculated on an accounting or funding basis which leaves charities with an unpalatable choice..."
"This will make pension deficits much more visible on charity accounts, potentially impact on fundraising and even in some cases require charities to manage negative balance sheets."