UCU and USS members await the publication of the Joint Evaluation Panel (JEP) report at the end of September.
The JEP is charged with examining the contested USS valuation and the alleged £7.5 billion deficit, the main driver for current detrimental proposals to our USS pension benefits and contributions.
UCU’s position is clear: we reject the unduly pessimistic way in which USS has chosen to measure the health of the scheme. In our view the 2017 valuation is flawed, particularly when, according to First Actuarial, ‘on best estimate assumptions, we estimate the surplus in the USS could be well in excess of £10bn’.
USS Members will have also received a letter and document notifying them of the USS Employer Consultation (‘Notice of Statutory Consultation by Employers in Relation to USS’), and inviting them to respond. ‘This is your opportunity to tell us your thoughts on the proposals’. Further information can be found here:
The Consultation documents summarise the cost-sharing proposals made by the USS trustees because of UCU and Universities UK ‘not reaching a decision on benefit and/or contribution changes’. These cost-sharing proposals, which are intended to kick in in April 2019, will see individual scheme members’ contributions increase from 8 to 8.8% and employer contributions to raise from 18% to 19.5% of salary. Further rises would follow, with employee contributions reaching 11.7% by April 2020.
These changes are not welcomed by UCU, except to note that members’ current DB benefits package is preserved by these cost-sharing changes, a state of affairs secured by our highly effective industrial action this year.
Please note: the April 2019 proposals are subject to change. Following the publication of the JEP report, as made clear in the Consultation document, ‘the JNC may propose changes to benefits and/or contributions’. With the JEP report, a new USS deal is expected to be struck.
The Consultation encourages members to share their thoughts on these changes as well as on the removal of the ‘employer match’ of the defined contribution element of USS.
For UCU, ‘the decision of USS to press ahead with this consultation even though the report from the JEP is imminent is unfortunate, not least because it will create confusion among members and employers’. UCU suggest members may wish to make the following points in their responses to the Consultation:
- You highly value the current benefits package, support the retention of the defined (ie. guaranteed) pension and believe that USS is an important part of the recruitment and retention package for universities
- The 2017 valuation is contested and is currently the subject of a report from the joint expert panel (JEP). You expect USS to engage seriously with any recommendations made by the JEP
- Because the 2017 valuation is contested, and the JEP is yet to report, you do not consider the case has yet been made for even relatively minor changes in benefits such as the withdrawal of the match payment
- You believe that serious engagement by USS with the work of the JEP is key to improving confidence in the scheme among members
If they were ever implemented in full, the cost sharing proposals would lead to significant hardship for many scheme members such as the low paid or those without contract security.
Members may also be interested in Sheffield UCU’s advice to members if they wish to register more of a protest:
This notes, amongst other points, the case for increased contributions has not been made, that the now widely ridiculed employers’ consultation of last year should be rerun, ‘the poor judgement of the trustee and its executive has been a major factor in avoidable industrial action in #HE’ and that USS should be transparent with regard to its conduct of valuations.
Of note is that the University of Bristol has made several sensible and helpful suggestions in this latest round of discussion and consultation with UCU, JEP and other USS-related bodies. These include an appetite to revisit last year’s valuation, to review the level of support USS institutions are willing to show towards USS (the employers’ covenant) and to make meaningful contingent payments in the event of deterioration in the scheme funding position, over a longer period than had been indicated during the initial USS consultation which fed into the 2017 valuation.
The University of Bristol’s submission to the Joint Expert Panel included a willingness ‘…to extend the period [of contingent contributions] from 20 years to 30 years’; were this commitment taken up across the sector, it would make a substantial contribution to increasing the scheme’s ability to rely on the employer covenant, reducing the need for de-risking of the investment portfolio and thus reducing, or eliminating altogether, the measured deficit.