Pensions Board celebrates a year of good returns

01 August 2014

SHUTTERSTOCK

THE Church of England's Pensions Board has hailed 2013 as a "very good" year, as its investments outperformed their target once again.

Its annual report, which was published on Monday, said that the Board holds funds worth £1.5 billion, and achieved an 18.6-per-cent return on their assets last year, beating their benchmark figure by one per cent.

Over five years, the fund has grown 11.2 per cent, and over ten years it has achieved a 7.1 per cent return. The report states: "2013 was a year of very good returns for equities, with only emerging markets posting a disappointing performance."

The Board's chairman, Dr Jonathan Spencer, said that the deficit on the Church's pension scheme rose only slightly to £293 million, and was on track to be eliminated within ten years.

Last year, the Board provided pensions to 10,118 retired clergy, 2518 former employees of cathedrals, dioceses and other church agencies, and 533 workers with the National Church Institutions. Last year, the number of retired clergy being assisted stood at 9917.

Of the Board's main raft of funds, its "return seeking pool", 85 per cent is invested in stocks of companies both in the UK and abroad, and a further eight per cent in property. Its second, smaller, pool of funds, the "liability matching pool", is solely invested in bonds - 23 per cent of which were corporate, and the rest in government bonds.

The Board reported that it continues to follow the guidance of the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group and restricts investment in companies involved in military products, firearms, tobacco, pornography, gambling, alcohol, high-interest lending, and human cloning.

It was also an active shareholder, voting at more than 2000 company meetings, rejecting 70 per cent of remuneration reports at AGMs, and holding 42 meetings with companies on ethical or governance issues.

The Church Housing Assistance for the Retired Ministry (CHARM) scheme, which is proposed to be radically changed, last year rented 1200 properties to retired clergy. The Board also shared ownership of a further 120 homes with retirees, and housed 250 former ministers in its seven retirement homes.

About 70 workers at these retirement homes are currently paid less than the Living Wage, despite a General Synod motion from 2012 calling on National Church Institutions to pay staff the Wage, currently set at £7.65 an hour outside London. The Synod was told at its meeting last month, however, that these workers' pay would be gradually lifted up to the Living Wage, starting in April next year.

Another potential problem for the Board is a fall in donations. The report states that the Board would not be able to meet all of its commitments without topping up its income with donations, so it will be a concern that they have fallen from £653,000 in 2012 to £560,000 last year - a drop of 14 per cent.

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