Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Churchgoers 'face pension bill'

Canterbury Cathedral
The pension scheme for clergy is in deficit

Churchgoers will have to plug the deficit in the Church of England's pension scheme for clergy, according to an independent consultant.

The scheme put all of its investments into shares, leading to a £360m deficit by the end of last year, research by consultant John Ralfe found.

Most pension schemes mix their investments between shares, bonds and gilts to manage the risk.

A number of UK pension schemes suffered from share price falls in 2008.

'High-risk'

Mr Ralfe said that the pension scheme for clergy was among the most aggressive funds in the UK in terms of asset allocation, as many schemes had about 50% of funds invested in bonds which gave a guaranteed return.

The [Church] seems to have been taking money that is put in the collection plate on a Sunday and on a Monday morning putting it into the stock market
John Ralfe

Investments in shares can offer the highest returns, but are at the mercy of fluctuations in the market.

Figures at the end of last year showed that the scheme had £500m of assets, but a £360m deficit.

Share values have recovered somewhat since then, but Mr Ralfe said that there was still a hole of about £300m to plug, and this would ultimately be funded from local parishes.

"The [Church] seems to have been taking money that is put in the collection plate on a Sunday and on a Monday morning putting it into the stock market," he told the BBC.

The Church's clergy pension consultation paper from June said that the Church "faces difficult choices" over the future of the scheme. Diocese already have to increase contributions to the scheme from 2010.

"Unless action is taken, far larger increases look unavoidable from 2011, even if the financial markets recover somewhat before the next formal valuation of the pension fund at the end of 2009," it said.

Possibilities include younger clergy getting a lower rate at which they accrue benefits and raising the pension age.



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