New pensions minister: key priorities for Emma Reynolds

Emma Reynolds, MP for Wycombe, has become the new pensions minister. We look at what’s waiting in her in-tray, and the main priorities and challenges that lie ahead

Piggy bank next to coins and sign saying Pension Plan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Emma Reynolds has become the new pensions minister, in a role that will span the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Treasury.

The Wycombe MP is the 17th pensions minister, taking over from Paul Maynard. She joins Liz Kendall, the secretary of state for work and pensions, in the DWP, and Chancellor Rachel Reeves, in the Treasury. 

Prime Minister Keir Starmer has been busy announcing key appointments in his cabinet along with ministerial positions, since winning a landslide victory in last week’s election.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Last night, Reynolds posted on X (formerly Twitter) that she was “delighted to spend my first day meeting other ministerial colleagues and officials in my new role as Pensions Minister in the Department of Work and Pensions”.

Reynolds is a parliamentary secretary in the Treasury and the DWP, meaning she will work across both departments, raising hopes that future pension policy will be more “joined up”.

Steve Watson, director of policy and research at Cushon, a pensions and savings firm, comments: “Under the last government, a lot of pensions initiatives were being pushed by the Treasury. With a foot in both the DWP and Treasury, I expect we will now see a more joined-up approach to pensions policy, which can only be a good thing for this crucial sector.”

Jon Greer, head of retirement policy at the wealth manager Quilter, adds: “This appointment does give the view that Labour will treat pensions with the thought and consideration that is required, not least because the role is a joint appointment with the Treasury and DWP. 

“After a number of years of pensions being used as a political football, we hope Labour’s huge majority will give it enough cover to sensibly plan reform and improve upon the current regime where possible.”

Who is Emma Reynolds?

Reynolds was first elected to Parliament in 2010, representing Wolverhampton North East and served for nine years before losing her seat in 2019.  

She stood again in the 2024 election, this time in Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and won with a majority of just over 4,500 votes.

After studying politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Oxford, Reynolds worked in Brussels as a political adviser. She also set up a lobbying company and has been a special adviser to former MP and MEP Geoff Hoon, as well as working at public affairs consultancy Cogitamus.

Greer notes: “While [Reynolds] has little pensions experience to speak of, she has previously served in Parliament for nearly a decade prior to her re-election last week. 

“Furthermore, her most recent experience being at TheCityUK financial services trade association should give her a good starting point from a knowledge perspective and provide potential to grow into the role. With experienced hands such as two-time Minister for Pensions Sir Stephen Timms also being appointed at the DWP, we hope this will give stability to an industry that is so vital to the health and economy of this nation.”

Since 1998, when the pensions minister role was created, there have been 17 pensions ministers, with Timms serving twice.

Sir Steve Webb and Guy Opperman served the longest, at about five years each.

What are the main priorities for the new pensions minister?

Set up a pension review

The Labour manifesto promised a review of the pensions landscape, “to improve pension outcomes and increase investment in UK markets”.

Reynolds may need to start working on this quickly, as a pension review could be announced in the autumn Budget.

The review may look at boosting the amount of capital that pension schemes invest in UK companies, particularly high-growth private companies.

But it could also cover how our retirement savings are taxed, focusing on pension tax relief or perhaps the 25% tax-free cash that retirees can typically withdraw from their pension pots.

Having a pension minister straddling the Treasury and the DWP will help with a wide-ranging review like this.

Rachel Vahey, head of public policy at the investment platform AJ Bell, comments: “The new government is relying on growth in the UK economy to help meet spending commitments. In its manifesto, it promised a review of pensions, with the aim of improving outcomes and encouraging greater levels of investment in UK plc. The latter will likely mean a continuation of the ‘Mansion House’ agenda started by the previous government, which has placed a focus on boosting private equity holdings in occupational pension schemes.

“And whilst the review is ongoing and the bonnet is up, the Labour government may take the opportunity to consider other changes, such as to pensions tax. Reynolds’ dual role will make it much easier to bring that into the fold of one overall review.”

Launch pensions dashboards

Pensions dashboards promise to bring all your pension pots together into one place, allowing you to see how much you have, and making it easier to plan for retirement.

But they have been repeatedly delayed. In theory, they should be up and running by 2026.  

According to Greer, Reynolds has debated on the implementation of pensions dashboards so has some knowledge of them.

Vahey says this is an issue “crying out for the new minister’s attention” and warns that the timeline must not slip again. 

“Dashboards have the power to help pension savers understand what they have saved so far, and, importantly, they can then be nudged into saving more and consolidating pension plans to get the best deal for their retirement.”

Extend automatic enrolment

Automatic enrolment has been successful at creating millions of new pension savers. 

The previous government looked at expanding the initiative with its Auto-Enrolment Extension Bill, which will lower the minimum age to be automatically enrolled into a pension scheme from 22 to 18.

But there is no timetable yet, and Reynolds will need to think about when these changes should happen - and whether anything else could be done to improve retirement outcomes for employees. 

Vahey argues: “People need to save more if they are to have the financial retirement they want. These things take time, so a plan needs to be put in place now to raise the contribution rate.”

Make it easier to transfer pensions

There’s a growing call from the pension industry for the government to step in and make pension transfers simpler and faster.

According to research by pension provider PensionBee, some transfers can take more than two months to complete. 

Becky O’Connor, director of public affairs at PensionBee, says: “A handful of providers continue to misuse the DWP’s anti-scam legislation; delaying transfers by raising unnecessary amber flags or refusing electronic responses, instead forcing slow paper forms. 

“To create a safe, fair and well-functioning pension system for everyone, the new pensions minister must look to strike a balance between robust protections against scams and a smooth and expedient transfer process. It’s time to move away from self-regulation and implement a ‘10-day Pension Switch Guarantee’, a time period already independently enforced by the Ombudsman.”

Consider the pot for life reforms

The Conservative government was planning a ‘pot for life’ pensions reform, and this is something that Reynolds and her colleagues will need to decide whether to continue.

The pot for life idea was first mooted by former chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the 2023 Autumn Statement, and then confirmed again in this year’s Spring Budget.

The scheme would allow employees to choose which pension pot their employer pays contributions into - a model that’s currently used in Australia. Workers could then take their pension pots with them when they change job.

It would avoid the current messy scenario of having lots of different pension pots, which can be forgotten about.

Get to grips with the state pension

The state pension is incredibly complicated, but it’s also hugely important - both to millions of pensioners, and politically.

Labour has previously committed to the state pension triple lock. Reynolds would be wise to learn everything she can about the state pension, and start thinking about the future of the triple lock.

Greer comments: “The state pension triple lock is likely to come under more and more pressure, particularly given the state of public finances and demographic trends. With such a healthy majority we would want to see bold action from Emma Reynolds to start a debate about the future of the triple lock and just how sustainable it can be.”

Deal with the Waspi compensation

The question of compensation for women born in the 1950s who lost out due to changes in the state pension is also awaiting the new government.

Back in March, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found the DWP guilty of “maladministration” and called on Parliament to secure funding for up to £10.5 billion. 

This would allow for a payout of between £1,000 and £2,950 for the women affected – though this is lower than what the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) group was hoping for.

So far, no money has been paid out.

While Labour have lots of other competing priorities in their first few months in office, Sir Stephen Timms, a former pensions minister and now a minister in the DWP, told MoneyWeek in May that he expected Waspi compensation would “be close to the top of the in-tray for the incoming government”. 

Ruth Emery
Contributing editor

Ruth is an award-winning financial journalist with more than 15 years' experience of working on national newspapers, websites and specialist magazines.

She is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times. 

A multi-award winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service. 

Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, while also serving as a magistrate and an NHS volunteer.