Nova Scotia MLAs now only have to serve for two years to become eligible for a pension after a panel that examined how members are compensated recommended the change in a report released Wednesday.

A three-member panel said the pay for members of the legislative assembly should stay the same, but pensions should come sooner.

Until November 2013, politicians had to be elected twice and serve for five years before being eligible to earn a pension. Now, one election win and two years of work is enough.

The report said MLA pension plans continue "to capture the attention of people in Nova Scotia, as was evidenced by almost every public submission made to the panel as part of this review."

It reasoned that civil servants in Nova Scotia are eligible for a pension after being employed for two years. 

"Generally, with some exceptions, civil servants 'control' the length of their employment with the province of Nova Scotia. Elected MLAs do not have the same ability," the panel concluded.

Backbencher MLAs who serve eight years will now get a pension of $25,480 a year once they turn 55.​

"They cannot determine their length of service as our democratic political system places that determination in the hands of the electorate on election day."

Former auditor general Roy Salmon, who was the chairman of the three-member panel, said reducing the eligibility to two years is reasonable given the average time an MLA remains in the House of Assembly is seven to eight years.

"Fewer members simply get a refund of their contributions. They're in the pension plan but they don't get a pension after two years — except if that's all they serve. And they don't get it until they're 55," he said.

"If you want to look at a pension for a member who serves two years and at 55 gets a pension, he gets seven per cent of his salary."

The changes presented by the panel — which also included Janet Hazelton, the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union and consumer advocate John Merrick — are binding because of legislation passed in the fall that said the recommendations will be law.

The panel also issued binding advice to change the rules on eligibility for renting a downtown Halifax apartment as a second home. The monthly accommodation allowance is $1,499.

Instead of needing to live 40 kilometres from the legislature to be eligible, MLAs now must live at least 100 kilometres away to be eligible.

Housing allowances became an issue last year after the province's auditor general said the 40-kilometre limit should be increased, calling it outdated.

The changes are retroactive to Nov. 1, 2013.