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Is The Treasury Understating Pension Liabilities?

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Belatedly, I've got round to looking at the Treasury's recent decision to change how it calculates the necessary contributions that have to be made to cover the future costs of unfunded public service pensions.

My interest was sparked by a letter sent to the chancellor by 23 pension experts, organised by the consultant John Ralfe. They argue that the Treasury has made a mistake in its choice of a new so-called discount rate.

If you think this is tedious abstruse stuff that has no relevance to you, think again. The aggregate public-sector net liability for pensions is so huge - perhaps £1 trillion - that it matters to all of us as taxpayers, especially those likely to be paying tax in 10 and 20 years time, that the government has a reliable and accurate valuation of pension promises.

Pensions represent, to coin the phrase, a massive off-balance-sheet debt. And as we've all learned to our cost from the financial crisis of 2007-8, it is a bad idea to carry on blithely pretending off-balance-sheet liabilities don't exist.

So what is this blessed discount rate? Well in the private sector it can be seen as the number used to translate into today's money a commitment to pay £650 a week pension (for example) for 30 years or so to a retired employee (till he or she dies), so that we can see whether there's enough money in the pension fund to pay that employee (and all the other employees) during his or her long retirement.

The point of the discount rate is to assess whether there's enough money in the pension fund - or whether it needs to be topped up.

Which is all very well, except that for most of the public sector, there are no funds or pots of money to pay for future pensions. Most of the pension promises are unfunded, payable out of employees' current contributions and out of general taxation.

Much more at the link.

Luckily none of this will matter as it's a problem way way in the future.

Although if economic collapse does come none of this will matter....

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