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Providing evidence on survivors’ pension benefits

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The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 required the Government to conduct a review of survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes. The review had to consider the differences in survivor benefits between different groups (such as males and females; those in heterosexual marriages and those in civil partnerships) and the costs and other effects of eliminating those differences. Our policy colleagues worked with HM Treasury to jointly produce the ‘review of survivor benefits in occupational pensions’ and we were very keen to publish the evidence-base alongside this publication


Generating the evidence

The Government Actuary’s Department needed information on what pension schemes are currently providing in terms of benefits to survivors of scheme members in order to calculate the costs of removing these differences. Our research team provided this information by commissioning a survey of private occupational pension schemes to find out whether there were differences in benefits paid to different types of survivors and the extent of the differences.


Working with stakeholders to generate findings quickly

When thinking about gathering this evidence, we needed to balance the need to generate rigorous findings with the need to deliver at pace, and align with the statutory timescales for the publication of the review. For instance, the research on the pension schemes had to be set up very quickly; as a result we set our external contractors demanding timescales. We had to understand the complex legal framework of minimum benefits for different groups of survivors and sought guidance from policy colleagues where we could. We also needed to make the most of other people’s expertise. We liaised closely with the Government’s Actuary’s Department, who helped us design the questionnaire so that we collected the right amount of detail for their calculations. At the reporting stage, we circulated drafts to the Government Actuary’s department, the DWP Legal Department and the DWP Private Pensions policy team.

This project definitely tested our skills - it was challenging to provide detailed evidence for a very specific purpose and to a specified, non-negotiable deadline.


Deciding how to publish the evidence

We worked closely with the policy team on how best to publish the evidence as we needed to make sure that the evidence was published at the same time as the policy review. This meant that the research findings were as helpful as possible in informing the subsequent policy decisions. The policy team published the review with a link to the research report. We also shared all the research findings in the research section of the DWP website.


The benefits of publishing the evidence base with the review

  • The public were able to easily access all the relevant information rather than have to hunt around for it
  • Publishing policy and evidence in tandem allowed the review to have the desired impact at a single point in time.
  • It was clear to readers that the conclusions of the review were based on sound research evidence, which gave the review greater weight and credibility.


What we learnt

  • A lesson we learnt early was the need to establish exactly what information is required for the policy document before commissioning any new research
  • Begin discussions about publication early – don’t leave it too late to decide how the policy document and the research findings will fit alongside each other as part of the publication plans
  • Don’t underestimate the sign-off process - allow a longer period of time than you initially think for getting the report agreed and signed off

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