The ratio of people who failed to pay national pension premiums hit a record-high 37.2 percent in fiscal 2002, surpassing the previous record of 29.1 percent in fiscal 2001, the Social Insurance Agency said Thursday.

The increase signals further woes for the troubled national pension plan intended mainly for the self-employed, farmers, fishermen and students aged between 20 and 59, making it certain that public distrust in the system will grow.

An estimated 1 trillion yen in premiums went unpaid in the year to March 31, according to the agency, an entity under the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Ministry officials attributed the increase to the transfer of premium-collection duties to the national government from local governments in fiscal 2002 as well as the prolonged economic slump.

They said that although there was a decline in the number of low-income people who are exempt from premium payments as a result of tightened exemption restrictions, the nonexempt did not come forward and pay.

In fiscal 2002, the number of people with premium exemptions nearly halved to 1.44 million from 2.77 million in fiscal 2001, pushing up the number of those obliged to pay to 18.36 million from 16.83 million, according to the agency.

Of those who were exempt in fiscal 2001 but subsequently lost their exemption, 85.5 percent did not pay their premiums in fiscal 2002, it said.

Under the system, future pensioners must pay a fixed monthly premium of 13,300 yen. Those who contribute for more than 25 years can receive pensions starting at age 65.

The ministry and the agency plan to set up a special task force Aug. 1 to study measures to lower the payment default ratio to 20 percent in the next five years, the officials said.

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