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Pension reform faces delay

The deadline of the year 2000 for women to share ex-husbands' pension schemes as part of divorce settlements, announced last week by the Government, may have to be delayed.

The Institute of Actuaries warned that the plans set an ambitious timetable, with a complex piece of legislation required, involving the input of many disparate parties.

Alan Martin, a consulting actuary, who sits on the pensions sub-committee of the Institute, said: "The timescale looks to be on the optimistic side. The Department of Social Security (DSS) has a huge workload on its hands at present. It will be difficult."

He said changes to rules on National Insurance contributions and pensions, coming into force in April, would be a major factor.

Other aspects which may contribute to the slowdown include the diverse range of interested parties that will be involved in the consultation process. These include actuaries, family lawyers - who may have little knowledge of the complicated legislation surrounding pensions - women's rights groups and the Inland Revenue.

However, a spokesman for the DSS, Barra McGachy, disputed any suggestion that the department may be unable to rise to the task. "I don't believe this opinion is correct at all. The DSS has a wealth of experience, with wide-ranging experience of consultation. We had said the legislation would be brought in by at least the year 2000; now we are saying it will be by the year 2000, so effectively we have brought the timetable forward, which is a measure of our confidence."

He added that the staff working on National Insurance would not be the same as those involved in drafting the pensions legislation.

Mr Martin said that while the new legislation was "warmly welcomed" there were several anomalies which remained. Women would still lose out when after a separation a husband went on to develop a highly successful career, and enhanced his pension substantially.

At present, the split is based on the value of the pension at the time of the separation.

Conversely, husbands whose careers plummet after divorce, while those of their former wives blossom, may also feel cheated if their pension is split.