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USS – 2014 Valuation and Proposed Changes to Benefit Structure

The 2014 valuation and its implications

The recent formal and independent valuation by the Trustees of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) of the assets and liabilities has shown that a substantial deficit persists. The Trustees have assessed a shortfall of over £8 billion.

The USS Trustees must ensure that there are sufficient funds available to pay the pensions already promised and to ensure that future benefits are adequately funded. They have informed all employers who are members of USS that this will require significant additional contributions if benefits at their current levels are to remain. The USS Trustees have been informed by the Pensions Regulator, a statutory body, that they must come up with a robust financial plan, which is both satisfactory and feasible to them, and which addresses the future funding of USS.

Proposals to manage the scheme deficit

The USS Trustees have informed all employers that to maintain the current level of benefits for members going forward, there would need to be a large increase in the level of contributions. At present, employers including UCL pay an employer contribution rate of 16% which was increased from 14% in 2009. The USS Trustees have been informed by their actuary that in order to maintain the current benefits and support a de-risking investment strategy, the employer contribution rate would need to increase by up to 9%. This would cause additional annual cost to UCL of up to £27 million.

Employers in the USS scheme want to continue to provide a defined benefit pension scheme for their employees. However, the higher education sector as a whole cannot afford the level of increase proposed by the Trustees and is in an exceptionally difficult position.

For this reason, employers have worked together through Universities UK (UUK) to devise a plan that raises the employer contribution to the scheme to 18%, but maintains a defined benefit structure for employees, albeit at a reduced level. Details of this proposal can be found in the following documents:

Further information can be found by visiting the Employers Pension Forum webpage:  http://www.employerspensionsforum.co.uk/

The USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), a committee on which the University and College Union (UCU) has equal membership with employer representatives, will determine any benefit changes to be made, and they will submit them to the Trustees for consideration and implementation. In October and November, JNC meetings will be held where UCU member representatives will meet with the UUK representatives, to consider initial proposals from the employers, and if UCU wishes, they too can present an alternative proposal to ensure USS remains affordable.

When will I be consulted?

In early 2015, the USS Trustee Board will consider the JNC decision and ask scheme employers to launch the statutory employee consultation with affected employees on proposed USS benefit reforms. The consultation will last for at least 60 days. All active members of USS as well as employees who have opted out of USS or other USS eligible non-members should by law be included in the consultation as well as certain representative bodies. This consultation must be undertaken by each scheme employer with their own employees. The JNC and USS Trustees will then receive feedback from the consultation before making final decisions by June 2015. It is anticipated any changes will become effective from April 2016.

Is my pension safe?

Accrued pension rights are protected in law and remain secure, as they are backed by the robust covenant of the scheme's participating employers. The benefits a member has built up before the date that any changes are implemented will be protected and will be calculated based on their service and pensionable salary at the date of change. It is also important to note that this is not a cost-reduction exercise; even with the potential changes to pension benefits being explored, the employer contributions to USS on your behalf are expected to increase significantly above the current level of 16% of salary, probably by a minimum 2% increase in employer contribution, equating to £6 million additional cost for UCL.

Proposed UCL Q&A on USS