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More than half of workers are "totally unaware" that they will be auto-enrolled into a pension plan when changes to the law come into force next year, according to a survey.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) quarterly 'Employee Outlook' (12-page/370KB PDF) revealed that young people and those in non-management roles were least aware of the changes, with fewer than a third of workers aged between 18 and 24 indicating awareness.

Knowledge of the introduction of the scheme increases with age and seniority, with 45 per cent of 45 to 54-year-olds and 57 per cent of workers aged 55 and above aware of the changes.

Simon Tyler, a pensions expert with Pinsent Masons, described the response as "no great surprise", citing recent research commissioned by the Pensions Regulator into employer awareness of the changes.

"There are still many employers, particularly smaller employers, who are not yet aware what auto-enrolment will mean for them. It comes as no great surprise that workers don't yet realise what's in store," he said.

Between October 2012 and September 2016 employers will have to start auto-enrolling their workers into a pension scheme which meets minimum requirements. Employers will be required to automatically enrol "eligible jobholders" aged between 22 and the State Pension age who are earning more than £7,475 a year.

Workers can choose to opt out of the pension scheme, and other members of the employer's workforce will be able to choose to "opt in" even if they are not eligible for automatic enrolment. The employer will have to arrange membership of the scheme for those workers if they choose to do so.

The CIPD described the changes as "the biggest reform to pensions for a century".

Recent research commissioned by the Pensions Regulator (48-page/2.3MB PDF) revealed similar gaps in awareness from employers. As few as two in five employers are aware of the reforms, the research claims, while only 1 per cent know that the age from which auto-enrolment applies is 22.

Three-quarters of employers also mentioned some form of challenge to compliance with the new scheme, with the most common concerns being the cost implications and administration issues.

"These findings suggest that both the government and employers need to take a nuanced approach to communicating pension reforms to employees. With less than a-year-and-a-half to go, employee awareness is generally quite low," said Charles Cotton, CIPD adviser for performance and reward.

"From our survey, we can see the greatest challenge to communicating the reforms is among the young. A more targeted effort in communicating the changes to this group is needed to ensure they understand how the reforms will directly benefit them. The danger is that a cheap and cheerful one-size-fits-all communication approach could end up costing the government more in the long term through a lower understanding and appreciation of retirement savings."

The CIPD survey also found that nearly three-fifths of workers were worried about paying for their retirement, with 65 per cent of women anxious about funding their retirement compared with 53 per cent of men.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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