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Money Alert: Church pension scheme at risk

A vicars' pension scheme could be facing a precarious future unless church chiefs face up to a potentially massive deficit. John Ralfe, an independent pension expert, claimed this week that the pension scheme for some 16,400 Church of England clergy is "the riskiest in the country in terms of asset-type".

He has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury to warn him of the problem. The scheme says its deficit stands at £293m. Mr Ralfe reckons the figure is £391m.

"They're not telling the whole truth," he claimed, adding that the way in which the Church of England presents its scheme to the outside world is not like other pension plan in the country. "That's because it's not a company so it presents its report and accounts on a much weaker basis than standard schemes."

The Church said Mr Ralfe had failed to take into account that the scheme is still open to new members, giving it a healthy contribution inflow. But Mr Ralfe said that was irrelevant: "You can't use money coming in today to pay pensions promised a year ago."