Ontario releases proposed framework on pension plan electronic communications
On August 6, 2019, the Ontario Ministry of Finance released proposed legislative amendments that would permit pension plans to use electronic communications as a default communication method, with appropriate safeguards, to provide pension plan information to their members. This follows on the announcement in 2019 Ontario Budget that the government was considering such measures.
Deemed consent to receive electronic communications
The draft amendments to the Pension Benefits Act (the Act) will permit pension plan administrators to provide notices, statements and other records to members and former members in electronic form based on deemed consent.
In order to provide for deemed consent, the administrator will be required to first provide a written notice to members, setting out the date on which documents will begin to be sent electronically, the recipient’s last known email address, a statement explaining that the recipient may, at any time, instruct the administrator to send documents in a written form other than an electronic form, and any other prescribed information.
If the recipient does not instruct the administrator to send the documents in a written form, he or she will be deemed to have consented to accept documents sent in an electronic form. The recipient may request written documents at any time and the administrator is required to comply with such instructions.
The information must be sent by way of a secure information system that ensures the intended recipient identify themselves before accessing the document and that complies with any other prescribed rules.
The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) will have authority to prescribe additional rules in respect of electronic communications.
The deemed consent provisions apply only to members and former members (i.e., deferred members) of a plan. Retired members in receipt of a pension, surviving spouses and others entitled to pension plan benefits are not covered by the proposals. A pension plan may obtain actual consent for electronic communications in respect of such individuals.
The deemed consent provisions apply to documents sent under the Act, such as notices, statements and other records. In most cases, they will only apply to Ontario members and former members, but may also apply to some notices and statements sent to non-Ontario members and former members of Ontario-registered pension plans.
The proposed deemed consent rules have the potential to significantly expand the scope of electronic communications for Ontario pension plan administrators. Although it is unlikely that all communications will ever be sent electronically, the proposals will make it possible to send a much higher proportion of communications electronically.
The government release does not set out the effective date for the proposed changes.
Public comments were permitted until August 27, 2019.