Select Committee on Social Security Fifth Report


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from Eversheds, Solicitors (PS 9)


  Thank you for your letter of 11 February inviting our comments on the divorce aspects of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill.


  This letter is submitted on behalf of Eversheds, which is the second largest law firm in Europe, with 1,500 legal and business advisors based in 19 locations. The Eversheds' national pensions team comprises of 30 lawyers.

  I declare an interest as author, with Maggie Rae (who is well known to you)[39], of a book on pensions and divorce published by Butterworths, and as Chairman of the Divorce Corporation, which provides services to solicitors and IFAs on the valuation of pension rights in matrimonial cases.


  As already mentioned, our view is that pension sharing is just one amongst several remedies available to the parties and to the court, and because of the valuation process involved, will be used in moderation, certainly in comparison with offsetting and earmarking.


  4.1 Apart from some technical comments, which we are submitting through other organisations, including the National Association of Pension Funds and the Association of Pension Lawyers, we have some general observations.

4.2 Size of legislation

  We have produced a consolidation of the legislation relating to pensions and divorce, and in accordance with the proposals made in the Bill. In "8 point print" this runs to 55 pages; it will be substantially longer once the Regulations and the Finance Act changes are in place.

4.3 Drafting reform

  One cannot but admire the ingenuity and expertise of parliamentary draftsmen, and the speed with which they work. However, in practice, this legislation will have to be applied by solicitors and explained to their clients. Practitioners will need to explain to clients the pros and cons of each of the options, the different tax implications, the different legal aid implications, and the different risks involved. As mentioned in the evidence given before your Committee, other countries manage to produce such legislation in much shorter and more readable form, and it is difficult to believe that the well recognised intellectual ability of the parliamentary draftsmen could not be directed to expressing the intentions of Parliament in a more succinct and understandable form.

4.4 Further complexities

  The legislation will have to be further extended once SERPS begins to be phased out and the new second state pension introduced. No doubt the NIRS 2 computer will be able to record any pension sharing arrangements for several generations to come, but it will be a strain on it. Fortunately it is expected that relatively few Sharing Orders will be made.

  Can I thank you and the Committee for the opportunity to make, or repeat, these comments on reforms which have made what ought to be sensible and simple arrangements into a lawyer's paradise.

24 February 1999

39   Ms Rae acted as specialist adviser to the Committee: HC 869 para 3. Back

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