The Spring Statement fell some way short of top billing in Parliament today; that honour goes to the vote on whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal. The Chancellor explained that, to free up time for debate on the vote, he would cut short his speech (35 minutes), supplementing this with a written ministerial statement. Even then, the latter is a mere seven pages …
Of course, Spring Statements aren't full fiscal events, rather they are the occasion on which the Chancellor responds to the Office for Budget Responsibility's economic forecast. And they're not intended to launch major policy announcements. This year's Statement stuck closely to that script, containing no new pension initiatives.
The tax regime for pensions remains unchanged, with the same controls (eg annual allowance(s) and the lifetime allowance) at the same levels.
RPI as the measure of inflation
Many pension schemes have liabilities which are linked to the Retail Prices Index (RPI) through RPI-based increases to pensions (in deferment or payment). In addition, many pension schemes hold index-linked gilts, which are linked to RPI. In January this year, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, following an inquiry into use of the RPI to measure inflation, published a report recommending that "flaws” in the calculation of RPI be fixed. It also suggested that the government should stop issuing new RPI-linked gilts and adopt a single general measure of inflation within five years. The government has now said that it is considering the report, committing to respond to it in April.
The Debt Management Report was also published alongside the Spring Statement. This showed a 2% reduction in the proportion of index-linked gilt issuance (as a share of total issuance) planned for 2019-20 (19.1%) compared to that previously planned for 2018-19 (21.1%). This is the same planned reduction as applied in 2018-19, and so continues the government's drive to reduce the proportion of gilts which are index-linked in a measured fashion over the medium term.
Brexit-readiness for the financial sector
The government will consult on how to ensure that, after (if?) the UK leaves the EU, the country can maintain world-leading financial regulatory standards, remain open to international markets and tap into new trading opportunities. Before the summer (which presumably means by 21 June), the government will set out how to ensure the Financial Services regulatory framework adapts to our new constitutional position outside the EU, looking at how to "ensure financial stability is delivered through an effective regulatory framework, with the responsiveness necessary for a dynamic and open financial services sector and an appropriate level of democratic accountability”.
Amending tax returns
There will be a "call for evidence on simplifying the process of amending a tax return". Assuming this relates to self-assessment returns, it isn't directly relevant to pension schemes, but as annual allowance (AA) charges are reported through the annual return and may be misreported (eg tapered AA charges), any change that helps simplify the amendment process is likely to be welcomed.