Only a third of final salary pensions are still open to new members, and workers are being asked to pay in more and work for longer in order to stay in the schemes, a survey showed yesterday.

People in final salary pensions now have to contribute an average of 5.2 per cent of their pay, up from 4.6 per cent two years ago, according to consultancy firm Watson Wyatt.

It confirms a growing trend as the pensions crisis continues to deepen.

At the same time nearly half of final salary schemes in which workers accrue 1/60th of their salary for every year they are a member now require people to contribute at least five per cent of their pay, compared with a quarter just two years ago.

The group said there was also an increasingly wide range of contribution levels, with some companies asking staff to pay in ten per cent of their salary.

It added that the upward trend in contributions was expected to continue to reach an average of six per cent in the coming two years.

Members are also being asked to work for longer, with 78 per cent of companies saying they expected their retire-ment age to be 65 or over in two years time, compared with 65 per cent two years earlier.

But despite the increased amount members of final salary schemes are being asked to pay in, the group said employees were still getting an "excellent pension deal", particularly when compared with typical defined contribution schemes that are replacing final salary ones.

Watson Wyatt said, following the trend for companies to close their final salary pension schemes to new members, some were now turning their attention to closing them to existing ones as well.

Kathryn Armitstead, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt, said: "While closing final salary schemes and halting accrual for existing members remains extremely rare, our survey reveals that many employers would be likely to consider this option if the costs, risks and the regulatory burden continue to increase."

Other changes companies are likely to introduce to their final salary schemes during the next two years include reducing the rate of pension increases, changing early retirement terms and limiting future growth in pensionable pay.

Increased life expectancy was the main reason firms said they were reviewing their pension schemes, as well as the introduction of scheme-specific funding requirements and pressures from the pensions regulator.

Other issues mentioned included changes to the future outlook for investment returns and the introduction of the Pension Protection Fund, into which firms have to pay a levy.

The group said 62 per cent of the pensions open to new members offered by the 159 companies it questioned were now defined contribution ones, under which companies only guarantee how much they will pay into the scheme and not what the pension will be worth on retirement.

It added that nearly three-quarters of these schemes had been created since the turn of the century. n Sales of pensions and life insurance products hit a new high during the first three months of the year.

Sales of the products reached £3.34 billion during the first quarter of 2006 on an annual premium equivalent basis - the standard industry measure.

The figures were boosted by a 49 per cent increase in single premium individual pensions business compared with a year earlier, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Regular premium pensions business also saw a strong gain, rising by nearly 29 per cent to £624 million.

The group said pensions sales had been boosted by people getting ready for ADay, the biggest overhaul of rules governing retirement saving for 50 years.