New guidelines for employee pension schemes announced this month by finance minister Charlie McCreevy will boost pension providers.

McCreevy announced that employees can now put up to 30% of their net earnings into additional voluntary contributions (AVC) for occupational pension schemes. The previous limit was 15%. This brings AVCs into line with retirement annuity contracts (RAC) available to the self-employed.

New rules, introduced in the Finance Bill, will also allow the self-employed to keep RACs open even if they become employees of a company with an occupational pension plan.

One new rule that could have a mixed effect on the market relates to maximum benefits following death. Currently, spouses receive two-thirds of the full pension available to the policyholder at retirement age. Under new rules, spouses will be entitled to the full pension. While this would increase costs for pension providers, it may also increase the number of people attracted to taking out a pension, said one pension provider.

New Ireland Assurance has topped the annual Brokers' Attitudes to Life Companies poll.

The poll, conducted by Lansdowne Market Reasearch on behalf of the Life Assurance Market Research Association, looked at brokers' perceptions of life assurance companies and the life industry.

New Ireland was ranked the highest for the investment performance of both its pensions and life products.

Marketing director Dave Swanton said New Ireland was delighted to have rated so highly. "It's our objective to continue to improve this for the benefit of both our brokers and customers alike," he said.