U.K. government brings state pension reform forward to 2016

Up to 400,000 more workers will qualify for new flat-rate state pension

LONDON (Reuters) — Up to 400,000 more Britons will qualify for a new higher flat-rate state pension, the United Kingdom government said after it announced it would introduce the reform one year earlier than expected.

The Conservative-led coalition said the simplified scheme providing a flat-rate payment of 144 pounds per week, would benefit low earners, the self-employed and women who have taken time out from work for child care.

The change — one of the biggest overhauls of Britain's pension system in decades — was expected to come into force in April 2017 but has been moved forward to April 2016, the government said.

The current system includes a basic pension, a second state pension and the ability to top up pension contributions with pension credits. This will all be merged into the universal flat-rate payment.

Critics of the new scheme say Britons would have to work five years longer to qualify for a full pension — 35 rather than the current 30 — and end up with less than they get today.

The government has sought ways to stem the soaring cost of its universal basic pension provision — which is projected to hit 8.1 per cent of economic output by 2060 .

It has already said the pensionable age will rise to 67 for both sexes by 2028, from 65 for men and 60 for woman.

In a bid to try to force more Britons to start saving for retirement, the government has also introduced an "auto-enrolment" scheme, under which employees will be automatically enrolled into their company pension scheme or a state scheme, while having the choice of opting out.

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