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Thursday, January 19, 2023

Examining grievances and redress for pension products

by Vimal Balasubramaniam, Aishwarya Gawali, Nancy Gupta, Renuka Sane and Srishti Sharma.

In a previous article, Examining grievances and redress for banking products, we studied the nature and extent of grievances for banking and payment products in India. We also evaluated whether grievance redress mechanisms worked, and what impact grievances had on the usage of products. In this article we study similar questions for contributory pension products. The analysis is based on a survey of 21,355 respondents that we conducted in five states including Maharashtra, Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

Measuring grievances

In the survey, we first ask if the respondent is using or has ever used contributory pension products. These would typically include the General Provident Fund (GPF), the Public Provident Fund (PPF), Employee Provident Fund (EPF) and the New Pension System (NPS). The study explicitly excluded various defined benefit pension plans, such as old age pensions, widow pensions, and disability pensions. We then ask the following questions:

  1. If the respondent had faced an issue with any of the contributory pension products in the last 12 months?
  2. If yes, what was the latest/most recent issue with the pension product?
  3. Did the respondent complain after encountering the grievance?
  4. Was the issue resolved after the first complaint?
  5. If no, was the complaint escalated further?
  6. If the complaint was escalated, was the issue resolved upon escalation?
  7. If the respondent did not complain, what was the reason for not complaining?
  8. Finally, what was the impact of the grievance on their usage of pension products?

We only consider complaints registered with the financial service provider or pension regulators. We do not include complaints filed in the police station or consumer courts as this is not in the ambit of the regulatory grievance redress system. Our questions do not pertain to any specific pension product. The results, therefore, are a reflection of the overall system of grievance redress, and not of any particular scheme.

Before we describe our results, it is useful to present the existing grievance redress mechanisms in the pension ecosystem. It is also important to note that while certain pension regulatory bodies report the incidence and resolution of grievance, there is no official consolidated statistic on the number of grievances for contributory pension schemes in India. Table 1 provides a snapshot of the governing regulatory bodies and grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) of some of the major pension products that are relevant to our study.

Table 1: Pension products, regulatory body and GRMs
Pension Product Regulatory Body Grievance Redress Mechanisms (GRMs)
General Provident Fund (GPF) Department of Pension and Pensioner's Welfare under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Online Grievance Lodging and Monitoring System at the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India
Public Provident Fund (PPF) Department of Post of India Centralised Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS) along with a dedicated Grievance Handling Cell accessible via call and email
Employee Provident Fund (EPF) Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) EPF i-Grievance Management System (EPFiGMS)
New Pension System (NPS) and annuity schemes Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) A multi-leveled Grievance Redressal System

Our analysis thus pertains to the use of contributory plans, which include, but are not limited to the schemes mentioned above.


Our sample comprises of 21,355 respondents. 622 (2.92%)individuals reported having used a pension product. This is not surprising given that coverage through mandatory occupational pensions is low. However, there appears to be growing demand for micropension among poor families. This is reflected in our sample as well. Respondents with annual family income of less than one lakh rupees formed the largest share of pension users. 50% (314 out of 622) of pension users had an annual family income of less than one lakh rupees. 30% (187 out of 622) of the pension users had an annual family income between 1 to 3 lakh rupees. The remainder 20% had an annual family income of more than 3 lakh rupees.

Extent and nature of grievances

Of the pension users, about 11.4% (71 out of 622) reported having faced grievances related to pensions in the last 12 months. 61% (43 out of 71) of the grievances pertained to irregular or delayed pension payments, while 34% (24) of individuals claimed having not received their monthly pension during the last 12 months. About 6% (4) respondents faced grievance related to paper work issues.

From grievance to complaining and resolution

Table 2 presents the life cycle of pension related grievances - this helps us understand the working of the redress mechanisms, both at the level of financial service providers (FSPs) as well as the regulators. As described earlier, 622 respondents owned a pension product, while 71 had a grievance. Out of the 71, 59 (83%) complained to the FSP. The FSP was able to resolve 33 (56%)complaints. This implies that 26 complaints were not resolved. Of these only 8 (31%) were escalated to a higher authority, leading to a resolution of 5 (63%). Overall, this suggests that 33 grievances (46%) were not resolved - either because the respondent didn't complain at all, or because the problem was not resolved either at the FSP or regulatory level.

Table 2: Grievances, complaints and resolution
Pension Product N
Own the product 622
Had a grievance 71
Complained to FSP 59
Resolved by FSP 33
Escalated to higher authority 8
Resolved upon escalation 5

We also explore the reasons why people do not complain when faced with a grievance with pension products. We focus on those respondents who didn't complain to the financial service provider/regulator. This doesn't include those who did not escalate their complaint after it was not resolved by the FSP. As seen in Table 2, 12 out of the 71 respondents who had a grievance chose not to complain. Of these 12 respondents, four felt that their problem would not get resolved sometimes because they didn't know if their problem was valid in the first place, while four were reluctant to access the process - either because they didn't have enough knowledge of the same, or because they felt the process was too costly and complex. These are very small sample sizes, and hence the results may not be generalisable.

Impact of grievance on usage

In Table 3, we present the impact on usage for those who had faced any grievance while using the pension products.

Table 3: Impact on usage of pension schemes
Impact on usage of pensions N %
Changed the provider 36 51
Stopped using the product 11 15
No change 11 15
Reduced the use of product 5 7
Do not know/wish to answer 5 7
Increased the use 3 5

Regardless of the respondent's course of action, the experience of having faced a grievance is bound to have an impact on the usage. As a result of encountering grievance, a majority of the respondents chose to change their service provider. 51% of those who had a grievance (36 out of 71) changed their service provider. 7% (5 out of 71) users having faced grievance reduced the usage of the pension products, while 15% (11 out of 71)stopped using the product.


GRMs in the pensions sector seem to be performing better than the banking and payments sectors. The incidence of grievances is lower, and the complaint rate is higher. However, banking and payments have a substantially larger number of users, and the products also get used more frequently than a pensions product. So it is not surprising that frictions in the banking space are higher. While the incidence of complaints may be lower in pensions, the impact of poor service may be higher on users, especially as the nature of grievances suggests that these occur later in life, when people may have limited means to solve the problem. This makes the numbers reported in the survey large enough to matter.

Vimal Balasubramaniam is a researcher at Queen Mary University, London. Aishwarya Gawali and Nancy Gupta are researchers at NIPFP. Renuka Sane is a researcher at Trustbridge. Srishti Sharma is a PhD student at Texas A&M University.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Coping with stress: Household borrowing for debt repayment

by Aishwarya Gawali and Renuka Sane.

There are concerns that household balance sheets are under stress due to rising levels of debt. An important contributor to the composition and levels of household debt is the ability to repay loans on time. Difficulty in repaying debt is also potentially a useful indicator of stress on the household balance sheets. There is already some evidence which indicates that households, and in particular rural households, are borrowing for debt repayment to cope with this stress. We present evidence on the same, from a large-scale panel survey.


Our analysis is based on data from the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS), a pan-India panel household survey of about 174,000 households carried out by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. In order to capture the latest available information from the CPHS, we use data from May to August (Wave 2) of 2022 and trace back to the same months of the preceding years. That is, we study data collected in the months of May to August (Wave 2) in each year between 2015 and 2022.

The data on sources and purposes of borrowing is sourced from the Aspirational India database within CPHS. This is our primary source of data for understanding credit access. Households are asked questions on their borrowing status across multiple sources and purposes. The responses are recorded as Yes/No, that is whether households have debt outstanding, and if so, whether households have borrowed from a specific source for a specific purpose. For example, if a household has borrowed for debt repayment, we would also get information on which source they borrowed from for debt repayment.

The data on income comes from the Household Income database which we use to create income deciles. The deciles are based on average monthly income of the five years prior to 2022.

We use household weights to get population level estimates of the share of households that have outstanding debt for the purpose of debt repayment.

Q1: How many households borrow, and how many borrow for debt repayment?

Figure 1 shows the number of households with debt outstanding, and number of borrower households who have borrowed for debt repayment. The number of borrower households increased from 17 million in 2015 to 165 million in 2022. The number of households borrowing for debt repayment rose from just 0.75 million in 2015 to 23 million in 2022. The share of borrowing for debt repayment in overall borrowing rose from 4% in 2015 to 14% in 2022.

Figure 1: Borrowing for debt repayment as a proportion of overall borrowing

The pandemic year of 2020 is interesting because we find that there was a decline in the number of borrower households. However, there was an increase in the number of borrower households for debt repayment. Borrower households dropped from 154 million in 2019 to 141 million in 2020; however households borrowing for debt repayment increased from 12 million in 2019 to 14 million in 2020. As of August 2022, 165 million households in India had debt outstanding. Of these, 23 million had taken a loan to repay debt.

Q2: What is the rural-urban variation in borrowing for debt repayment?

The CPHS data suggests that rural India has a larger share of borrower households than urban India. This is also borne out by the All India Debt and Investment Survey conducted by the NSSO, which shows that 35% of rural households are indebted compared to 22% in urban centres.

Figure 2 examines the rural-urban distribution of borrowing for the purpose of debt repayment. It shows two data points: the total number of borrower households in both rural and urban India, and the number of borrower households that have debt outstanding for reasons of debt repayment.

Figure 2: Rural-Urban distribution of borrowing for debt repayment

In 2015, there were about 16 million households in rural India and 9 million households in urban India that had debt outstanding. Of the 16 million in rural India, 2.26% had borrowed for debt repayment reasons. Of the 9 million in urban India, 1.35% had borrowed for debt repayment reasons. This number had increased to 12% of rural borrower households and 14% of urban borrower households in 2022. However in terms of absolute numbers, there are a lot more borrower households (overall and for debt repayment) in rural India than in urban India.

Q3: What are the sources of borrowing for households with borrowing for debt repayment?

CPHS provides information on the source of borrowing for each purpose. Figure 3 presents the share of the main sources from which households have borrowed for debt repayment between 2015 and 2022.

Figure 3: Sources of borrowing for debt repayment

There are two interesting patterns that emerge. First, in the earlier years, the biggest source of borrowing for debt repayment were the money-lenders. In 2015, 84% of households borrowing for debt repayment had borrowed from a moneylender. This has now flipped to self-help groups.

Interestingly, we also find that borrowing for debt repayment comes largely from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Perhaps the reliance on self-help groups is just a reflection of the largest share of borrower households for debt repayment being located in these regions which have a higher presence of self-help groups.

The next major source is relatives, friends and family followed by banks. It is important to note that these shares may not always add up to 100 because a household can take a loan for repayment of existing debt from more than one source.

Q4: What is the relation between income and borrowing for debt repayment?

Figure 4 plots the number of households with borrowing for debt repayment, in each income decile for Wave 2 of 2015-2022. Borrowing is higher between the fourth and eighth income decile households.

Cumulatively, the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth deciles accounted for almost 60% of the total number of households that borrowed for debt repayment in 2022. In the eighth decile, 3.93 million households borrowed for repayment in 2022. This indicates that 17% of the households that borrowed for debt repayment belonged to the eighth decile. 15% of the total household borrowing for debt repayment was from the sixth decile, with 3.47 million borrowers. The seventh and fifth deciles followed closely with shares of 14% (3.33 million) and 13% (3.10 million) respectively.

The number of households in these deciles have also grown over the years and 2022 has the highest number of households in each decile. The lines for 2015 and 2016 are almost flat which indicates the low level of borrowing for debt repayment. The rise becomes prominent from 2017 as the gaps between the lines start to widen. This is most visible in the case of 2022, where all deciles, but especially the sixth and eighth decile saw a huge rise in borrowing for debt repayment.

Figure 4: Debt repayment and Income


In this article we have established some basic facts about household borrowing for debt repayment in India. First, there has been an increase in the number of borrower households, as well as the number of households who borrow for reasons of debt repayment. Second, the increase is greater in rural areas as against urban areas. Third, self help groups seem to be the most prominent source of borrowings for debt repayment. Fourth, households between the fourth and the eighth decile have the highest number of households with borrowing for debt repayment. These facts are building blocks of a larger research agenda on understanding debt and distress.

Renuka Sane is a researcher at Trustbridge and Aishwarya Gawali is a researcher at NIPFP.