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Retirement Saving in the UK 2021: Member experience from NEST

Evidence type: Insight i


This report examines the enrolment, working, saving and investment profile of workplace pension savers in the UK based on data from Nest, the National Employment Savings Trust. With almost 10 million members at the end of the 2020/21 financial year, Nest is one of the UK’s largest multi-employer pension schemes.

The UK government introduced workplace pensions auto enrolment in October 2012. Under the legislation, workers must be automatically enrolled in a workplace pension if they earn salary from an employer equivalent to £10,000 or more a year, though workers can ask to be enrolled by their employer if they earn less. Employers may also choose to enrol those earning less as a worker benefit. Larger employers were brought into the programme first, with employers of all sizes participating by February 2018.

The level of minimum mandatory contributions was increased in phases and from April 2019 has been 8%, with at least 3% contributed by the employer.

Because the choice of a workplace pension scheme is tied to the employer rather than the worker, job moves lead to members becoming inactive. Nest operates a ‘one member, one-pot’ model, which means that whenever a worker is enrolled in Nest, the scheme checks for a match of identifying information with an existing account and merges the accounts. This insight looks across active and inactive members.

The study

This insight is derived from Nest’s administrative data (year ending 31 March 2021), this insight also draws on bespoke surveys of Nest members, and data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Member surveys during the period of this study included questions on the perceived impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on members’ financial wellbeing.

This insight report considers how Nest is serving the low and moderate income workers targeted by the government’s auto enrolment reforms, and looks across member characteristics, pension contributions and value. It also draws on earlier quantitative research with members on topics including working lives and retirement expectations.

Key findings

The 2020/21 financial year was marked by a host of public health and economic challenges. Millions of workers spent long periods away from work, and significant numbers of Nest members were furloughed (17% during the first national lockdown).

  • This study found that Nest members continued to save into their pension pots with virtually no change.
    • However, this research found that around one quarter of members expected a long-term negative impact on their finances as a consequence of the pandemic. There was both considerable volatility and variance in members’ responses to this question.
  • Nest membership has continued to grow, with around one-third of UK workers now having a Nest pension pot.
  • Because of the annual earnings threshold for auto enrolment, it was expected that more men than women, by a ratio of around 2 to 1, would be enrolled in Nest. However, the gender balance of Nest’s membership has evolved to be more balanced (47% women, 53% male).
  • It was expected that workers with higher levels of educational attainment were more likely to be already saving in a workplace pension when auto enrolment was introduced, and so Nest members would be more likely to have no more than A-Levels or GCSEs. 38% of NEST members have a degree-level qualification, but are more likely to be inactive members.
  • Reflecting Nest’s focus on low and moderate income earners, the median annual earnings for Nest members was £19.6k (£28.2k for the UK in 2020). There was a wider gap (22%) between women’s and men’s median earnings (UK average 16%). Most employers and members continue to make contributions into pension pots at the minimum contribution rates.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: Nest has been serving employers and workers for 10 years and therefore Nest’s members are skewed towards younger workers who were less likely to be already saving in a workplace pension when auto enrolment was introduced in 2012, and have correspondingly smaller pension pots.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: This insight was gathered in the context of the UK pensions market and therefore may not be directly transferable to other countries where financial and pension legislation and services are different.
  • Relevance: The report is relevant to stakeholders, academics and policymakers with an interest in pensions and retirement planning.

Key info

Client group
Year of publication
United Kingdom