USS pensions

Although Northumbria is officially locked into the Teacher's Pension Scheme (TPS), members might be surprised to hear that some of their colleagues actually pay into a different pension provider. The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) officially covers academic staff at so-called 'pre-92' institutions; its members who join Northumbria have the option to remain with USS rather than transfer their pension to TPS. There are a number of differences between the schemes, including the percentage of their pay that members pay into the scheme, employers' contributions (both of which are very minor differences), to the pension that we can expect on retirement (which seems to be growing). This outlines a few of the changes as they stood in 2016.

USS has recently received a lot of media coverage for the problems it is reporting over the growing gap between its liabilities and its assets, something that is causing some consternation among academic staff across the nation (although some observers suggest that the concerns was ill-founded). As many members will be aware, UCU is consulting members in pre-1992 institutions over taking action following the suggestion that employee contributions rise by 6.6%. Obviously, this is a little frustrating for staff in TPS-affiliated universities such as Northumbria, because USS-affiliated staff are unable to vote on proposals that relate to USS.

I've dug into this and have a few observations to share with members, particularly those who are in USS. You can read UCU's response to the USS valuation here. It suggests that the methodology used by USS is flawed and is urging branches to take action to publicise the issue. At a higher level, UCU has four negotiators who are working on the USS pension issue. They are paid by UCU and are working to defend our interests. Naturally, anything they win for members at USS-affiliated institutions will also be wins for USS staff at Northumbria. You can read more about UCU and pensions here.

As an aside, USS members should check that the University has correctly actioned any Investment Builder contributions that you have directed the University to make in the wake of the 2016 changes to the pension scheme. I found out recently that my contributions had not actually been registered, so I missed out on the 1% matching contribution from the university. The university initially offered me the opportunity to forget about the missed twelve months but after a very brief negotiation via email, the university agreed to pay its missed contribution as a lump sum into my pension pot and that it would take my 'missed' contributions as twelve staggered payments over the next twelve months (it also gave me the option simply to make its last twelve months' contribution without me needing to pay in my share). If you find yourself in a similar situation, don't take the university's first offer. Negotiate! (Or ask your UCU Rep for advice on how to proceed.)

Joe Street

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