PAG2: The Continuing Work of the Pension Advisory Group

Published: 13/10/2022 12:21

In July 2019, the Pension Advisory Group (PAG) was pleased to publish its report A Guide to the Treatment of Pensions on Divorce, partially funded by the Nuffield Foundation.1 This publication was expressly endorsed in the Foreword by the President of the Family Division and had the professional sponsorship of the Family Justice Council.

The 2019 guide was the culmination of over 2 years of intense inter-disciplinary work by a committee which comprised members of the judiciary, experts, academics, solicitors and barristers. Interim reports which had been the subject of wide consultation elicited a range of feedback. Focus groups were also held, with a view to trying to obtain a more in-depth understanding of how pensions on divorce were operating.

The 2019 guide has been downloaded over 9,000 times. It has become a currency and reference point for judges and practitioners alike, engaged in questions concerning pensions on divorce. It has been cited in correspondence and in and by courts, argued over and followed in countless instances. It has been the subject of academic citation and debate with a range of responses. The PAG report is referenced in the Financial Remedies Court Primary Principles document, which was published in January 2022, alongside the Statement on the Efficient Conduct of Financial Remedy Hearings proceeding in the Financial Remedies Court below High Court Judge level.

In 2021, Law for Life, with the PAG and the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation and support from the Family Justice Council, launched A Survival Guide to Pensions on Divorce, which made good on the promise that there would be a litigant in person version of the PAG guide. This has had over 25,000 individual page views.

There is little doubt that the PAG has made a significant impact on the manner in which courts and practitioners alike approach pensions on divorce.

The PAG guide has received a lot of feedback ranging from high praise and constructive suggestions for improvement to downright hostility. Some of the feedback has been of a carefully considered nature, and some might have been assisted by a more careful reading of what the PAG document actually says.

In April 2022, Jonathan Galbraith and Christopher Goodwin launched the ‘Galbraith Tables’, which is a tool to assist parties in the calculation of the gross present value of defined benefit pensions as part of an offsetting analysis. The tables were an express reply to the challenge in Appendix U of the PAG report that such a tool be developed.

The PAG is now therefore in receipt of a significant amount of written and anecdotal feedback on the success or otherwise of the guide. As chairs of the PAG, we came to the conclusion that it would now be helpful to review and update the 2019 guide. This will enable the guide to retain its potency and usefulness and to reflect on what might be improved.

Further to this conclusion, we have reconvened the PAG working groups with a newly constituted committee. Many of the original members have agreed to serve again, but some have retired or gone to pastures new. This has given the opportunity to invite new members, fresh ideas and some of our friendly critics, to assist us, in refining the PAG guide.

The idea for PAG2 is to provide an update and review, not a fundamental rewrite. Although bound by the Chatham House Rule, it would be fair to say that some areas of the original PAG guide were debated fiercely, in coming to a text which all were prepared to stand by. PAG2 is not an opportunity to re-open old wounds. It is not a ground zero re-set. Rather, it is an opportunity to refine, improve, update and build upon what is already there.

The working groups have already set to, in picking over the correspondence the PAG has received since the guide’s original publication in 2019. We shall endeavour to reflect upon the material questions in our thinking as to how the guide may be improved.

We invited judges, practitioners and others who take an interest in pensions on divorce and/or personal finance to answer our short online questionnaire. This was your opportunity to give feedback on your experience of how useful or otherwise both guides have been and whether there are other aspects on which you might seek more guidance. This consultation closed on 30 September 2022. Responses have been pseudonymised and will only be seen by members of PAG2. An aggregated summary of the responses will be sent to participants on request and published without attributing any responses to named individuals.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since 2019 in all of our lives. The advent of the remote meeting within legal consciousness will hopefully make our task a little easier in convening practitioners and judges from around England and Wales. There will thankfully be less chance of committee members becoming ensnared in faulty lifts, which are sadly found too commonly on the court estate.

We hope to complete our work, which will include an update to the Law for Life guide, by the end of October 2023.

None of this endeavour would be possible without funding given by the Nuffield Foundation, which supports the contribution to this project of the charity, Law for Life, and some funding to the University for the academic member, who would otherwise not be able to take part. Nuffield is also supplying support for design and administrative assistance for what is a complex undertaking. The rest of the committee are giving of their time and expertise on a pro bono basis. We salute them. We pay special thanks to our Chief Executive, Hilary Woodward, who volunteers significant pro bono amounts of her own precious retirement in trying to ensure that the family justice system gets pensions right for others.

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