USS pension ballot


What’s the ballot about?

This ballot is related to the proposed changes to your pension, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The proposals put forward by the employers mean that your pension benefits are very likely to be reduced.

These changes to your pension scheme are due to take effect from April 2022.

Not only this, the amount you contribute per month (known as your pension contribution) has gone up. You have been paying 9.6% of your salary in contributions, this has just increased to 9.8%.

UNISON is concerned that these detrimental changes will mean that many USS members don’t get the pension that they expect, that they signed up for, that they need and deserve. A decent pension should be provided for all and be affordable to all.

The time has come to stand up with colleagues and show your employer that you are not willing to face cuts to your pension.

We recommend you vote YES for strike action to send a strong message to USS, and to the university employers that these detrimental changes are unfair and to protect the pension that you signed up for.

A ballot paper will be sent to your home address and UNISON recommends that you vote YES to strike against unfair changes to your USS pension.

Remember to make sure your vote is returned in good time before the ballot closes – there are different dates depending on whether you live in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Check the FAQs below for details where you are.

Some members are also being balloted on their pay. Find out more on the pay campaign page.


What are the proposed changes?

The changes have been proposed to address the deficit of approximately £15.2 billion. USS states that the changes below will ensure that USS remains viable as a pension scheme.

The full list of proposed changes to the USS pension scheme can be viewed on the USS website, but a summary of the changes include:

  • To reduce the cap on the defined benefits pension scheme to £40,000 (currently just under £60,000). For all future earnings over £40,000, employee and employer contributions will be made into a defined contribution pension scheme.
  • The accrual rates at which defined benefits will be built up will reduce from 1/75 of salary (up to the threshold) to 1/85. For example, 1/75 of £40,000 is about £530 whereas 1/85 of £40,000 is £470.
  • Members’ contributions have increased from 9.6% to 9.8% (0.2% rise).
  • Capping of the annual uplift applied to future benefits at 2.5%. Benefits already earned will increase every year in line with previous rates. (Benefits earned before October 2011, receive inflation in full, benefits earned since 2011 receive inflation uplifts in full up to 5%, and by half if inflation is between 5% and 15%).
  • Improved benefits for short-term scheme members.

The scheme will remain the same in other respects and benefits accrued up until April 2022 will be protected. This means that all of your pension contributions up until April 2022 will not be affected by these changes.

You can read about the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme on the USS website.


FAQs for members

Who is being asked to vote for strike action on the pay offer?

All HE branches where USS is one of the main pension schemes and where at least five UNISON members are in USS, were asked if they wanted be included in a ballot on the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme due to take effect from April 2022.

Branches covering 18 universities opted to run ballots for strike action against the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme.

If you work for one of the universities on the list below and you are a member of USS, then you are going to be sent a postal ballot:

University Of Cambridge
University of Leicester
Loughborough University
University of Nottingham
Brunel University London
Goldsmiths University of London
University of London (Senate)
University of Dundee
University of Stirling
University Of Birmingham
University of Hull
Birkbeck College
S.O.A.S. University of London
University College London
Queen Mary University of London
Trinity Laban
University of Leeds
University Of Sheffield

When does the pay ballot open and how long is it open for?

The ballot runs from 6 December 2021 – 28 January 2022.

How do I vote?

You will receive a ballot paper, sent to your home address. To vote you’ll need to complete the ballot paper and return it in the freepost envelope provided.

Look out for your envelope containing your vote – it looks like this:

How about taking a selfie when you pop your vote in the post box? You could share it on your social media using the hashtags #USS #ProtectYourPension.

It’s so important that every member uses their vote so make sure your colleagues know about the ballot too!

Is my vote anonymous?

Yes. No-one knows how you voted but you. The ballot is run for UNISON by an independent body called Civica Election Services (CES), formerly the Electoral Reform Society.

What if I haven’t received my ballot paper?

Call UNISON Direct on 0800 0 857 857. They will verify your membership and contact CES to issue you with a replacement ballot paper.

The ballot hotline is open from:

5 January to 12pm on 24 January 2022

I don’t seem to be receiving emails from UNISON – how can I check you have the right contact details?

It’s so important that we have an up to date email address, phone number and home address for all our members. That means we can get in touch with you about issues that affect your job, like this pay ballot.

You can check and update your details and the permissions you give UNISON to contact you using MyUNISON.

Update my details

If you haven’t yet registered on MyUNISON you can register here.

I’m not a member of UNISON – if I join will I get a vote?

Yes. If you join UNISON by Monday 17 January you’ll get a vote in this ballot.

When will I find out the results?

Your branch will be informed of the results after the vote closes on 28 January 2022.

Your branch will be able to inform you of the results.

What will the next steps be if a majority vote to strike?

UNISON’s higher education service group executive (HE SGE) will meet to consider the outcome of the ballots to decide how best to take the campaign forward and to provide national coordination for action. Branches will be kept informed and involved in these decisions.

What will the impact be on my pension?

UNISON has worked out some examples of how the changes could, potentially, affect you. Please note that these are not individual forecasts but are intended as a general guide to help you assess the impact.

There are lots of unknown variables including, amongst others:

  • future rates of inflation
  • future pay increases
  • whether you have a promotion or move to a different employer
  • whether you retire early

However, we hope these examples below give you an idea of the sort of impact these changes may have on your pension.

In particular it is worth noting that those earning over £40,000 will face a proportionally greater impact as earnings over that threshold will no longer be in the defined benefits scheme. Instead, the pensions contributions on earnings over £40,000 will be put into an ‘investment builder’ defined contribution (DC) scheme. This DC scheme will have a contribution rate of 20% of salary with the member paying 8% of wages and the employer paying in 12% of wages.

Example scenarios

The three examples below look at what your future pension contributions would deliver in terms of future pension benefits as past service already accrued in the scheme will not be affected under the proposals. This means that all of your pension contributions up until April 2022 will not be affected by these changes.

Example one – programme administrator

Currently on pay point (SCP) 20 – £25,627

Aged 38, has worked in the university for 5 years – planning to work there another 30 years to normal retirement age 68

Expected future pension under current USS scheme rules

  • £25,627 x 30/75 = £10,250 a year
  • Plus one off cash sum = £30,750

Expected pension under proposed changes to USS scheme rules

  • £25,627 x 30/85 = £9,045 a year
  • Plus one off cash sum = £27,135

Shortfall on annual pension = £1,205 a year
Shortfall on pension lump sum = £3,615

Example two – engineering technician

Currently on pay point (SCP) 29 – £33,309

Aged 48, has worked in the university for 20 years with another 20 to go.

Expected future pension under current USS scheme rules

  • £33,309 x 20/75 = £8,882 a year
  • Plus one off cash sum = £26,646

Expected pension under proposed changes to USS scheme rules

  • £33,309 x 20/85 = £7,837 a year
  • Plus one off cash sum = £23,511

Shortfall on annual pension = £1,045 a year
Shortfall on pension lump sum = £3,135

Example three – business and operations manager

Currently on pay point (SCP) 40 – £46,042

Aged 52, has worked in the university for 15 years, planning to work there for another 15 years.

Expected pension under current USS scheme rules

  • £46,024 x 15/75 = £9,205 a year
  • Plus one off cash sum of £27,614

Expected pension under proposed changes to USS scheme rules

  • £40,000 x 15/85 = £7,059 a year
  • Plus one off cash sum of £21,177

Shortfall on annual pension = £2,146 a year
Shortfall on pension lump sum = £6,437

As earnings in this example are over £40,000 also add in the ‘investment builder’ defined contribution scheme

This member’s pension shortfall will be reduced to some extent by the benefits earned under the investment builder. In this case the amount of pay covered per annum would be £6,024 (£46,024 – £40,000).

The combined contribution would be 20%. The total for 15 years without any increases in wages would be:
£6,024 x 20% X15 = £18,072

Clearly the amount would grow just as pay will increase and there is no certainty what the rate of investment return will be. For comparison purposes no growth has been added. Annuity rates (annual pension payments from the invested DC scheme) for someone aged 67 at the point of retirement vary. For single life with no post retirement increases could be 5% or 6%, for a joint life with a couple of 5 increase the rate could be 3%/4% which is more like for like with USS DB. So the amount without any growth could be £18,072 x 4% = £722 a year that would reduce the pension shortfall to £1,424 a year with cash sum shortfall remaining £6,437.

Resources for branches

  • Branch guide to getting out the vote
  • Social media, website and email graphics