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University apologises to lecturer after providing incomplete pensions advice

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The University has apologised to a lecturer after failing to provide clear information about staff pensions.

Dr Katherine Newstead, who is disabled, started lecturing as an English & Film Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (PTA) in January. On 2 April, Dr. Newstead took to Twitter to complain about her difficulties exiting the University’s pension scheme, citing discrimination.

In early March, Dr. Newstead discovered her monthly payslip was £35 less than the amount stated in her contract. After receiving her payslips from Human Resources, Dr. Newstead established that the missing £35 was being automatically paid into a pension fund under the University Superannuation Scheme (USS).

University staff on PTA contracts automatically become members of the USS upon employment. Dr. Newstead decided to opt out, citing the recent UCU strikes and her disability as her motivation.

no document or spokesperson mentioned the deadline

Speaking to Exeposé, Dr. Newstead said “It was more financially beneficial to me to opt out from the scheme now and receive the money as pay. I am disabled and I’m not going to earn enough to receive a pension anyway.

“When I am old enough to receive a pension, I don’t think it would be in my benefit, since a pension would knock out any disability related benefits I’ll be earning.”

Dr. Newstead contacted HR requesting to leave the scheme. She was informed that her contributions would be repaid once she submitted the relevant USS form. At this time, no document or spokesperson mentioned the 19th March deadline. Newstead submitted the form at Northcote House on 22nd March.

On 29th March, Newstead received another email advising that her USS form had arrived too late for processing in the March payroll and she would need to contact USS directly. Newstead then took to Twitter to express her frustration.

As a result, the Pensions & Reward Manager phoned Dr Newstead on 3rd April and said the original email was at fault for not including the deadline information. Newstead’s contributions were returned the same day.

However, Dr. Newstead was dissatisfied. ‘It needs to be way more clear, for everyone, the information in these finance contracts. Exeter does not make these contracts clear.”

She also expressed concerns about the location of the Human Resources & Payroll department on Northcote House’s third floor, which is inaccessible to wheelchair users. “That’s part of my issue. It’s a part of university that is so important to pensions, and a lot of students and staff can’t access it.”

“Exeter does not make these contracts clear.”

A University spokesperson said “We never comment on individual circumstances, but most employees in the UK are automatically enrolled into their company pension schemes, depending on how much they get paid and the length of their contract. The University operates four separate pension schemes, each scheme has their own rules on enrolment and opting out. We make sure that colleagues are fully informed of the scheme that they will be joining, when and how to opt out if they do not wish membership. We encourage all colleagues to read their contracts of employment which contain details of the pension scheme they will become a member of, and we have an experienced team who can help if colleagues wish to discuss their own pension situation.

“Colleagues will always get a refund if they decide to leave the USS pension scheme within the first three months, provided they notify the University before the end of that period and before the relevant monthly payroll cut-off date. If three months or more contributions have been paid (subject to the rules of the pension scheme) normally any refund due will be made direct to the member by USS rather than the University of Exeter.”

In response to Dr. Newstead’s concerns about the accessibility of the Northcote House, the spokesperson replied, “Pensions advisors will always meet colleagues in an accessible location if this is requested.”

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