The monthly administration return (MARS)

The ‘MARS’: employer to pension services regular return

Every active employer in the Oxfordshire County Council Pension Fund makes two returns each month to the fund.  One accompanies the monthly contribution return for employee and employer contributions, and the other is the administration report, the MARS. 

Complete and submit both returns to  by 19th of the month following the deduction of contributions     

The MARS return reports every scheme members CARE’ pay, establishes and maintains the pension record for each employment that every member may have with you monthly.

Download the MARS with CARE employer monthly return (xlsx format, 184Kb)

Guidance notes before you start

This spreadsheet is the primary source of information from you to us.

It is essential

  • your information is correct and recorded in the correct column

if you change the order of the columns we cannot accept your return, it will be returned

  • you complete the ‘header tab’ with your employer details every month  
  • you send the details fully protected. Use the Egress switch method. If you password protect your data, send passwords in a separate email.
  • you follow the guide on the instruction page to help you complete the full spreadsheet
  • that for every employment with you the member has a unique payroll reference, this will link the employment to the pension record.     
  • the monthly return captures the full picture of the whole month – all starters, leavers, absences , pensionable pay for the period within the main section and the 50/50 section and you must record ‘assumed pensionable pay’
  • that the details from the payroll extract are correct, that the contributions  collected balance to the payment and have been agreed and signed off at your end             

Be guided by the column headings. There are instructions to help on the spreadsheet’s first tab and there are completed examples on the latest spreadsheet version too.    

Your checklist   

Before submitting the spreadsheet use the vetting checklist to make sure you have covered all the required details.  We have prepared this in response to requests from employers.  

Your feedback

Please keep Pension Services informed of any irregularities you notice between these documents. This will help ensure we capture the relevant information at the right time.    

‘CARE’ pay is the Career Averaged Revalued Earnings; the basis of the LGPS2014. You need the pensionable pay for the period in the correct section, either 50/50 or main scheme and where appropriate add in the assumed pensionable pay.  

‘CARE’ pay data feeds into a member’s individual pension record monthly. It is important that you are able to capture and record all the appropriate CARE pay. This includes understanding and operating ‘pensionable pay’ and ‘assumed pensionable pay’ as well as the times a member may elect to pay into the 50/50 section of the scheme.

Many members keep their links to the 'final salary' basis of the LGPS from their earlier scheme membership. We ask for information about hour changes and whole time equivalent rates of pay for leavers to ensure the calculation is correct. It is important to remember that the link to final salary did not stop at 31 March 2014 for scheme members with pre 2014 membership.      

Guidance about ‘final pay’ and the detail required in the MARS section for leavers.

Leaver input for MARS including guide on ‘PAY’ for leavers and estimates

Other information you may need to know

Telling pension services when someone opts out?

‘Yes’  but the specific details will depend on when a person opts out of the LGPS.   If there are several employments ensure you operate the action against the right employment and recording it against the unique ‘payroll reference’

Opting out immediately after starting employment 

Your employee must be a scheme member before being eligible to make a written election to leave the scheme. If the payroll team know a person has started and opted-out in the first month before processing the payroll, you do not need to complete the starter tab. There should be no CARE pay recorded.  BUT Pension Services must have the completed opt-out form.  

The member’s opt out is recorded.

Opting out within three months of joining, but after first salary payment  

Someone opting out by written application within three months of joining can be classed as if they had never joined. You will make the contributions adjustment through your payroll and Pension Services as folows.

  1. The starter details should already have been supplied. 
  2. When you have a correct opt out form, follow instructions, record your action on the form and send the form to Pension Services
  3. We will match the optout form to the pension record. You will have adjusted the contributions through payroll   

Opting out after three months of scheme membership 

A person opting out after three months is a scheme leaver without immediate pension entitlement.   

Complete the details required in the MARS leaver section confirming the date of leaving the scheme leaving pensionable employment/ opt out.

Send here a copy of the completed opting out form. This is essential data which needs to be kept.

Opting out restricts the member from linking previous periods of LGPS membership should they choose to join the scheme in the future.  

Opting out will not permit a benefit payment – this can only happen on leaving employment.

Opting out and 50/50 at auto-enrolment and re-enrolment

General notes on automatic enrolment for employers and LGPS.

When an employer applies the auto enrolment or re enrolment for pension saving, and the LGPS is the qualifying scheme - employees who previously opted out or who currently pay into 50/50 section of the scheme and who are ‘eligible jobholders’ should be re-enrolled into the main scheme.

Record re-enrolments on Starter tab on MARS as new joiners. 

If you receive an opt out or election to be a member in 50/50 section before you process the payroll - action the election and record.

  • Opting out as in the sections above .. using the notes column to also mention auto-enrolment when appropriate 
  • 50/50 elections where previously not a member record as starter and send through copy of the written election
  • 50/50 elections where previously had 50/50 choice immediately before the automatic enrolment procedure and there is no break to continuity record care pay in the correct section and in the notes column confirm 50/50 election and send a copy of the written election.   

When you receive either of these elections after your payroll deadline you must action for both as new starters for the first month and report on MARS   and the following month action the elections as requested, following the steps in the opting out section above as appropriate.  

The essential message is report on the MARS with the correct CARE pay details and send in copies of forms.

Leaving with immediate pension payment due

If the reason for leaving is either retirement on ill health or death in service, then additional information is required. See the retirement and deaths pages

Complete the leaver tab on the MARS return in full, and show the reason for leaving – helps to ensure we give priority to those where you decide there is entitlement for immediate pension payment.

We do need employee's pension contributions paid for the financial year in which the member left and for the previous financial year. Show the appropriate type of contribution in the correct column, indicating whenever the member paid additional contributions  such as 

  • AVCs to Prudential
  • Added years contracts

Payments after leaving that are pensionable must be reported. Submit as updating leaver details on MARS, clearly marking it as a replacement submission in the comments column . Show revised CARE pay and changes to ‘final pay’ during the final pay period .

Remember CARE pay is pensionable and reportable at the point of payment. For the ‘final pay’ changes (2007 scheme rules) you must allocate the payment specifically to the period it relates to ensure the correct benefit calculation.

If there is anything that you believe Pension Services should know about, please write this in the comments section on the MARS return.

‘Pensionable pay’ under the 2007 regulations

Many of your employees, members of the LGPS, keep their protected right to pension which partly keeps links to ‘final pay’ on membership before 1 April 2014. The final pay period did not end when the scheme changed on 1 April 2014. A member’s protected right to ‘final pay’ will continue while their membership continues and would still, generally, be the last 365 days of the member’s scheme membership

It is the employer responsibility to provide ‘final pay’, although currently Pension Services calculates  the member's final pay based on the breakdown supplied by employers. This is the key part of a pension calculation  applicable for all leavers. .

Each employer must confirm the ‘Final Pay period’. This is  generally the last 365 days of pensionable employment but one of the previous two years can be used if a previous year’s pay is higher.

If in the last 365 days of employment the member has had a period of no pay due to

  • unpaid child related leave
  • strike
  • authorised unpaid leave

and has not reinstated their lost pay through  APC or SCAPC as appropriate, the ‘final pay’ assessment will be different.

Provide us with the details of the whole time equivalent rates of pay that applied for the days the person was in paid work counting back from the last day of service for those paid days in the previous 365. This will make the last years pay less than 365 days.

Any changes in the pay or contracted hours/weeks during the final pay period must be reported.  

Confirm any 'one-off' payments. Show the value  of the payment and the period it relates to. Show clearly how you have applied any proportioning if the payment relates to anytime outside of the relevant ‘final pay period’ for final pay.

Remember: For part-time employees, for the 2007 scheme ‘final pay’ report the whole time equivalent rates of pay, as well as details of the hours worked during that final year of employment, or relevant final pay period.