The Week Unzipped: Employee woe as insurance giants slash contributions to final salary schemes

TWO leading insurance companies, Aviva, which owns Norwich Union, and pensions adviser Aon have slashed their contributions to staff pensions.

Aviva has asked members of the final salary pension to either leave the scheme or substantially increase what they are paying into it. Meanwhile, staff currently enjoying a non-contributory money purchase scheme will have to pay 2% of salary into it next year (1% this year), equivalent to a 2% pay cut.

At Aon 5,000 staff will see their standard employer contribution halved, capping the basic contribution at 6%.

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This is the third time in the past decade Aon has taken steps to curtail the cost of its pension arrangements. Aon closed its original final salary pension scheme to new joiners in 1999, before stopping future accrual to existing members in 2007.

Such a significant move by two major pensions firms is expected to trigger a wave of contribution clawbacks by employers in the private sector, not least because Aon, which advises a large number of big employers, is now including this in its range of strategic options for companies looking to cut costs.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that last year an employee with a typical final salary enjoyed average contribution from his employer of 15.6% of salary, while companies paid less than half that, 6.5%, into money purchase plans.

1bn for first buyers

HSBC is allocating 1bn to give a boost to first-time buyers, with a new range of mortgages available to those with just a 10% deposit. The rates start at 4.99% fixed for two years. You will need to be a current account customer to apply as they are only available to HSBC Plus account and Premier customers. Remortgage customers will be unable to apply for this range.

Yorkshire Building Society has launched a new range of two, three and five-year fixed-rate and offset mortgage products starting from 3.59%. The Building Society has also halved the fees on a selection of new mortgages from 495 to 245 and is offering 250 cashback or free valuation and legal fees to customers looking to remortgage. Loans are available to borrowers with deposits of 15% of the value of the property they are buying.

Christmas is coming

IT may only be Easter, but the Halifax has already launched its Christmas saver account aimed primarily at low-income households, which traditionally use expensive hamper firms or door-to-door credit to spread the financial pain.

By tucking a bit of cash away each week, you can look forward to worry-free festivities.

You can save between 5 and 200 monthly, up to a maximum of 1,200 and earn 3% interest on the way. The account matures in October when you can opt to take the money in cash or shopping vouchers.

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Elsewhere, Yorkshire Building Society has introduced a new range of 'no-risk' guaranteed income and growth accounts that come with a 100% capital guarantee. The building society is working with Credit Suisse to offer these products after sales of their joint Guaranteed Investment Accounts (GIAs) tripled during 2008.

The range includes tracked growth, fixed growth and annual income GIAs which offer minimum returns of 7%, 12% and 1% respectively on top of the capital guarantee.

The Santander Group, comprising Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, has launched its latest range of fixed-term savings bonds paying up to 4.01% fixed for two years on balances over 100,000. The group has also introduced a one-year fixed rate bond paying up to 3%.

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