University of Glasgow response to UCU proposal

Dear Colleagues

The University recognises the significant concern staff have over changes to USS pensions. Throughout the consultation we have sought to share information on the proposed changes including colleague webinars in both May and November of last year to share full information and briefings on the consultation and how it may affect staff.

The University supported the UUK changes to the scheme. There were concerns expressed by UCU Glasgow that the University had not set out in sufficient detail why we did not support UCU’s proposed changes to the USS scheme.

The information provided below summarises the UCU proposal and our main areas of concerns.

UCU Proposal

The UCU proposal formed three main parts:

1 – An updated moderately prudent valuation as at 31 March 2022

2 – A short term increase in contributions with no change to benefits. Contributions to rise as follows:

 

Employers

Employees

Current

21.6%

9.8%

From 1 April 2022

23.7%

11%

From 1 October 2022

25.2%

11.8%

From 1 April 2023

26.5%

12.5%

Beyond this period both employee and employer contributions would then steadily rise every six months up to 1 April 2024 when contribution levels would peak to an employer contribution rate of 29.1% and employee contribution rate of 13.9%.

To ensure longer term increases do not come into effect there is a long-term commitment outlined below to limit employer and employee increases to 25.2% and 9.8% respectively from April 2023.

3 – A long term commitment

UCU and UUK to agree that contributions would not exceed an employer rate of 25.2% and employee rate of 9.8% in beyond April 2023. If benefits changes were needed to reach these levels, a mechanism would be put in place to allow either UCU or UUK to put forward necessary benefits reforms.

University considerations

UCU proposal did not meet the principles the University set out at the start of the consultation

As part of our consultation with colleagues the University set out our principles and criteria that we would use to assess any changes to the scheme from the outset. We have maintained these principles and related criteria throughout the intervening period which formed an essential part of our consultation with colleagues. We shared these in our communications to colleagues and within our webinars in both May and November 2021.

These principles and criteria were:

  • Pension provision that is affordable and meaningful for colleagues and universities 
  • Retention of a defined benefit element 
  • Support measures that provide longer term sustainability of the scheme
  • Preparedness to support modest increase in employer contributions
  • Recognise that any proposal must be acceptable to the USS Trustee and The Pensions Regulator 
  • Protect the University from adverse financial impact
  • Encourage Universities UK and UCU to come together to agree a mutually agreeable way forward as soon as possible 

While the UUK proposal met all of these criteria, the UCU proposal did not. The table below provides feedback and commentary on each of these key principles:

Principle / Criteria

Comment

Pension provision is affordable for both members and Universities

The University has continually expressed concern at opt-out rates of colleagues (16%) who have elected not to be part of the USS with regards to their pension savings for their future retirement. We were concerned that this trend would become worse if employee contribution rates rose further. In terms of employer contribution rates, employers had already responded to earlier consultation exercises expressing their concerns that previous rates of 21.1% were at the limits of sustainability, while the University of Glasgow had advised we had made budgetary provision for increases up to 23.7%. The University was concerned that the proposed increases were significantly above previous rates which would not be sustainable for many employers.

Retention of defined benefit

The proposal satisfied this criterion.

Long term sustainability of the scheme

The increases are significantly beyond current rates and what the sector has previously confirmed was affordable. We were concerned at the long-term sustainability of future increases, which could be up to 25.2%.    

Prepared to support modest increases in employer contributions

The proposed increases went beyond modest increases.

Proposal must be acceptable to the Pensions Regulator and the USS trustee

No specific concerns – this would have had to form part of any consultation process.

Protect the University from adverse financial impact

The proposal would have had a significant impact on University finances, with cost estimates of an additional £130m over the next 15 years.

 

An updated valuation may not improve the current position

The University has been concerned at some of the misrepresentation of the health of the USS scheme which may lead some to conclude that contribution increases and benefits changes are not required.

There have been reports that have only focused on the position of asset values without looking at liabilities and there have been others which reported a reduction in the deficit but used the deficit after benefits changes had been implemented.

There have been calls during the consultation for an updated valuation. The USS trustee had previously considered a 2021 valuation and issued an update on 23 July 2021 concluding that an updated valuation would not have a materially different result.

The current economic climate has seen significant volatility and adverse market movements that mean this may not be the best time for a further valuation.

 

Future financial seminars

We are committed to assisting you in understanding the impact of the changes to your pension benefits and have arranged a further series of financial wellbeing seminars to be held on campus. These will be conducted by a firm of independent financial consultants who will provide reliable, objective advice on benefit changes. Please take advantage of these sessions, details of which will be shared in the coming weeks.

Further details

We understand that you want to hear directly from us on these matters and we want to strengthen the dialogue with you, both to give you a chance to express your concerns but also to be completely transparent about the University’s approach and position in relation to the current disputes. To this end, we have created a special mailbox – pensionqueries@glasgow.ac.uk – which you can use to raise queries or offer comments and we will aim to respond within seven days. 

We recommend members of USS seeking individual information on the impact of the Scheme changes on your pension use the modeller specifically developed and provided by USS for this purpose: https://www.uss.co.uk/for-members/calculate-your-benefits

 

USS Sub-Group of Senior Management Group

University of Glasgow

25th March 2022

The recent University webinars on the UUK Consulatation on the 2020 USS valuation can be found here these have been slightly enhanced to include some impact of the potential changes.

2020 Valuation Presentation

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

How USS works

There are two sections of USS that work alongside each other.

USS Retirement Income Builder

When you become a member of USS you automatically join the USS Retirement Income Builder. This provides you with an income when you retire based on how long you’ve been a member of USS and your salary, up to an annual threshold, which is set each year. The salary threshold for 2020/21 is £59,585.72.

The USS Retirement Income Builder gives you:

  • The security of a regular income for the rest of your life when you retire
  • The ability to take some money as tax-free cash when you retire
  • Incapacity benefits cover if you become unable to work
  • A payment of three times your annual salary to help support your family if you die while still working for the University
  • An income paid to your dependants when you die
  • Tax relief on contributions

USS Investment Builder

If you earn over the salary threshold (£59,585.72 for 2020/21), you and the University, will automatically pay contributions into the USS Investment Builder. If you don’t earn above the threshold, you can choose to join the USS Investment Builder by making additional contributions.

All contributions are invested and at retirement you can use the value to supplement your income from the USS Retirement Income Builder.

The USS Investment Builder gives you:

  • The ability to top-up your retirement savings
  • Your investments managed by USS, with ready-made solutions designed to meet your retirement needs, or a range of funds with the freedom to choose your own investments
  • An online service provided for you to manage your membership of the USS Investment Builder
  • Flexibility over how you can take your savings when you retire
  • Tax relief on contributions

Your and the University's Contributions

You pay 9.6% of your salary into the scheme towards the cost of providing your benefits. You can choose to increase the value of your retirement savings by paying more.

The University pays a monthly contribution of 21.1% of your salary up to an annual threshold (£59,585.72 for 2020/21). If your salary exceeds the threshold, the University pays 12% of your salary over the threshold into the USS Investment Builder.

Further information

Further information on USS is available on their website at www.uss.co.uk.