Pensions Auto-Enrolment Hailed As 'Success'
Fewer people than expected have opted out of the auto-enrolment pension scheme since it was launched almost a year ago, according to a report which has identified a new mood of financial stoicism among the public.
The study - by pension provider Nest and researchers the Futures Company - concluded that the tough economy had triggered a fundamental shift in the way consumers handle their finances.
It said that more than 1.6 million people had been placed in workplace pensions since the roll out of auto-enrolment started last October with larger firms.
Three-fifths (61%) of people surveyed for the report, who are yet to be placed in a workplace pension, plan to stay in it, showing a sharp increase from less than half (47%), when similar research was carried out in 2011.
Just under one fifth (18%) of consumers disagree with the idea of auto-enrolment, marking a downward shift from 27% in 2011.
So far, the rate of people staying in schemes once they have been opted in has been higher than many pundits had expected, the study said, with around nine in 10 people who are being auto-enrolled remaining in their pensions.
In trying to explain what was described as the "surprisingly low" opt-out rates, the report pointed to "growing evidence that the recession has changed consumer attitudes towards money".
The survey found that more than half (57%) of people would never spend money as freely as they did before the financial crisis, marking an increase from 48% a year ago and 43% in 2010.
Despite some more optimistic news about the economy in recent months, the report found that people are still keeping a tight control on their purse strings as living costs remain high compared to wage growth, with just 29% saying they do not pay off their credit card balance each month, down from 52% in 2011.
Of the workers questioned who have now been placed in a workplace pension, around half (51%) of those who had remained in said they felt it was time to start saving for retirement while a similar proportion (48%) agreed it made financial sense because the employer also contributes.
However, around one in seven (13%) also said they had remained in their pension because they had been "too busy" to opt out.
The drive to get more people saving for their future aims to head off a looming retirement saving crisis, amid fears that people are living for longer but not putting enough aside for their later years.
Up to nine million workers are expecting to be newly saving into a pension or saving more as the reforms roll out.
Charles Counsell, executive director of automatic enrolment at the Pensions Regulator said auto-enrolment had got off to an "excellent start".
He said: "Automatic enrolment has been successfully rolled out to more than 2,000 of the UK's largest employers and well over 1.5 million people are now saving for their retirement as a direct result."
However, the popularity of auto-enrolment prompted a warning that firms might not be prepared as the scheme is expanded to include medium and small businesses.
Anthony Carty, Managing Director of Clifton Wealth, said: "These latest figures suggest that there could be a nasty surprise for those UK small business owners banking on a significant opt-out rate.
"While the actual time taken to set up auto-enrolment may be relatively short for a single firm, once all the key elements and systems are in place hundreds of thousands of companies will face the same challenges as the deadline looms but the pool of experts remains relatively small."