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Standard claims the law is an Asp

The Government is encouraging pension trustees, providers and advisers to breach anti-discrimination laws by screening the use of alternatively secured pensions on religious grounds, claims Standard Life.

The Government is becoming increasingly concerned that Asps are being used to avoid inheritance tax. Treasury Economic Secretary Ed Balls prompted fears of an Asp crackdown when he told Parliament last month that Asps were originally designed for people with principled religious objections to annuities such as the Plymouth Brethren.

But Standard has pledged to ignore pressure from the Government to restrict the use of Asps as it says restriction of Asps through workplace pensions schemes would represent a clear breach of anti-discriminatory European Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.

Head of pensions policy John Lawson says: “What Ed Balls suggested is unlawful, with absolute certainty for occupational schemes such as SSAS. We and every other pension provider are disobeying Ed Balls and not restricting Asps to Plymouth Brethren.

“The regulations do not cover personal pensions but I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a Government to make laws relating to personal pensions which resulted in religious discri-mination against followers of non-Plymouth Brethren religions.”

But Treasury sources say it has no plans to enshrine the restriction in law as this would constitute a breach of European human rights legislation.

A Treasury spokesman says the Government is considering all options for ensuring that ASP funds are used only for their intended purposes.

Reynolds Porter Chamberlain partner Jonathan Davies says: “If pension companies are restricting Asps simply because of a ministerial statement, they are treading on very thin ice legally.”

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