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Taxing times for trustees

One significant aspect of the simplification regime has received less attention than it deserves.

This is the new concept of a scheme administrator. From April 6, 2006, every registered pension scheme will have to have a scheme administrator. This is not somebody acting in an administrative capacity. Nor is it the same as the current definition of a scheme administrator in the rules of approved pension schemes.

The registered scheme administrator will be jointly or individually liable for paying tax – and any interest on that tax – due from the scheme, as well as carrying out duties which I describe below.

The scheme administrator must be one or more named individuals or a corporate body, must be resident in the UK, the EU or another European Economic Area state and must make a required declaration to HM Revenue & Customs. Note particularly that it will not be possible to register the scheme administrator under a generic title such as “the trustees of the XYZ pension scheme”.

The required declaration confirms that the person or persons registering as the scheme administrator understand that they will be responsible for carrying out their duties and intend to do so at all times during which they are resident in the UK, the EU or another EEA state.

For existing approved schemes and contracts, unless a new scheme administrator is registered before April 6, it will be deemed that the trustees or provider will fill the role.

The scheme administrator will be responsible for accessing the HMRC’s online report- ing system, registering new schemes, operating relief at source and claiming tax relief. Other responsibilities include accounting for and paying tax, making returns of inform- ation to HMRC and providing certain information to scheme members and others.

The penalties on the scheme administrator for non-compliance are significant. Failure to submit a return when required incurs an immediate penalty of 100, plus 60 a day until it is submitted. Any return which is inaccurate because of the scheme administrator’s fraud- ulent or negligent behaviour can incur a penalty of up to 3,000. Failure to keep proper records can also incur a fine of up to 3,000.

The really interesting aspect of this is what it means for the pension market. For contract-based pensions, it is pretty obvious that the provider will be the scheme admin- istrator. For occupational schemes, the default is that it will be the trustees, even where annuities have been bought but are still in the name of the trustees. Perhaps the trustees will be able to pay someone else to take on this onerous role or help them fulfil their duties.

Given that there are apparently a lot of people who do not even know they are trustees, I can imagine their reaction when they get a communication from HMRC informing them of their fine for non-compliance. This will be yet another reason for defined-contribution occupational schemes to switch to contract-based pensions.

For large defined-contribution occupational schemes, it will be quite a lengthy job to switch to group personal pensions or stakeholders but it should be more straightforward for executive pension plans , since there are only small numbers of members involved and they tend to be senior in the company.

Obviously, there are transitional issues to consider, for example, where tax-free cash is more than 25 per cent. This could be a reason for urgency since, if section 32 is the right long-term vehicle for the existing pot, such a protected transfer needs to be completed before April 6, 2006.

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