Managing my financial journey
Managing my financial journey

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Managing my financial journey

3.2.5 The UK pensions revolution

In this video, Martin Upton and Jonquil Lowe answer questions posed by learners on pension schemes and the reforms to pensions that have given those approaching retirement greater freedoms to access and use their pension ‘pots’. The video was recorded shortly before the reforms took effect in April 2015.

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MARTIN UPTON
Interesting observation you made there about occupational schemes versus private schemes. It seems to me you get a better deal if you're in an occupational pension scheme, as opposed to just paying for it all yourself. Has to be the case, doesn't it. If your employer is putting in something then it's a better deal for you than actually doing it all yourself through a private pension.
JONQUIL LOWE
Absolutely, yes. Now employers, traditionally, provided occupational schemes and particularly if you work in the public sector, so for the NHS, local authorities, emergency services and so on, then you're going to be in a scheme that's called a defined benefits scheme that promises you a certain amount of pension. Although you're paying in quite high levels of contributions for that, your employer is paying in even more. And so the total that goes into providing that pension for you is probably something getting on for a fifth or a quarter of your pay but a large chunk of that, two-thirds of that, is being paid by your employer. So those are pretty generous schemes. What we've seen since 2012 is the rollout of automatic enrolment which means that all employers by 2018 are going to have to provide some kind of pension through the workplace, but most of them are not going to be these defined benefits schemes, they are more likely to be the alternative, which is called defined contribution where contributions are paid in and you build up your own pot of savings that you then use at retirement, to provide your pension. Now those are far less generous. So under automatic enrolment there are some transitional rules, but once we're past those, the total that will go into that pot is 8 per cent of your own contributions and your employer only has to pay 3 per cent. You pay 4 per cent and then 1 per cent comes from tax relief. A lot of people have said that's well and good; that's a great place to start, but that 8 per cent is not enough for most people to provide the kind of pension that they want in retirement, so you probably need to look at saving more.
MARTIN UPTON
OK. So we looked at the first stage which is how much do I need in retirement, then the process by which you work back to what pensions provision have I got to do now, and how I go about it. Let's just say you've now got your pension products running, you're not retired yet, but then somebody tells you or somebody advises you or you make up your own mind that actually you would be better off moving from your current pension products to other pension products which seem to offer a better deal. How easy is it to switch pensions? If I were to move money from one pension into another pension, does the taxman get in the way and take a slice in the process?
JONQUIL LOWE
Let's start with that first. No, when you transfer from one pension to another, it's all done behind the scenes and you're still inside that pension wrapper so there shouldn't be any tax to pay. Just a small warning there, though, there are scams around where people try and persuade you to cash in your pension. Some of those scams are offshore, and if you do transfer to those, not only do you run the risk that you'll probably lose all your money but then, your money actually has come out of the pension scheme and you might find that the revenue and customs are after you for tax as well, so don't fall for scams and be very, very wary if someone comes to you and says you ought to transfer your pension. It should be a decision that comes from you and you need to think it through. With transfers, usually yes there are charges.
MARTIN UPTON
What sort of level are we talking about?
JONQUIL LOWE
I can't really answer that. It does depend on the scheme. There are some stakeholder pension schemes that are specifically set up to be portable and can't make a charge for transferring out, but with other schemes, it really depends what kind of scheme you've got. For example, quite a lot of self-invested personal pensions might charge, say, £25 for each holding that you have within the scheme, so every fund, or every shareholding you have, there would be a charge, so it's going to vary a lot. The advice really has to be, check before you transfer what those charges will be.
MARTIN UPTON
OK, so something really to take notice of there, particularly given the changes which are coming to the pension scene in the UK. There's a potential for scams to emerge and for people to make imprudent decisions about the movement of their pension money. So, you've really got to keep your eye on the ball, everybody. On a related subject, you may say, ok, I'm happy with my pension arrangements, but what if my pension provider goes bust? Obviously, not necessarily in the recent past but several years ago, we did see stories of pension funds basically going bust and pensioners losing their pension income as a consequence. What protection have people got?
JONQUIL LOWE
You are protected these days, really because of those past scandals. If you're in one of those defined benefits schemes that we talked about, where you're promised a certain level of pension, there's a scheme called the pension protection fund so, all schemes, they pay a levee to fund this compensation scheme and if your employer went bust and couldn't pay the promised level of pension, then you would get most of that pension, in some cases all of that pension, up to a certain limit. I can't remember the limit off hand but I think it's somewhere around £32,000 is the maximum that you would get from the compensation scheme. Another type of fraud we saw, way back, was with Maxwell.
MARTIN UPTON
Absolutely, yeah. Early nineties or late eighties, wasn't it?
JONQUIL LOWE
Yes, that's right. That was when basically money was just stolen from the pension scheme. There is another fund called the fraud compensation fund which exists to replace assets that are lost, and provides replacement pensions, up to a certain limit.
MARTIN UPTON
OK. A questionnaire came in from Sue Coddling and Faith Warren and I shall do a name check for the people who asked about the ability to swap from one scheme to another. Helen Hemington, Joanne Salters, Carol Rand and Ian Picstone. So, we're moving on now through working life towards retirement. Maybe there's a few decisions people have to make about their pensions arrangements. One question which has come in from Angela Townsend is that you may find when you're approaching retirement that you've got a large number of relatively small pension pots. Does it make sense to consolidate them, and in particular, if you've got some very small pension pots, can you just take all the money out of that without there being a tax liability? I think if it's a very small pot that you've got, that you've actually got considerably more ability and flexibility to take some of that money out of it, haven't you?
JONQUIL LOWE
You have, yes. So, as you know, the rules are changing from April, so from April, if you're aged 55 or over, you can take money out of defined contribution pension pots at any time and in any way you like, in any case, yes, you can take them as lump sums. But there are separately some other rules which work at the moment. They will carry on after April, and they apply to all types of pensions, so defined benefit pension schemes, as well as defined contribution. These are the small pot rules. So, you have to be at least 60 rather than 55 to use the small pot rules. But basically, if all your pensions together come to no more than £30,000, or you have individual pots that come to no more than £10,000 you can take the whole of those as lump sums with the caveat that with personal pensions it's limited to three small pots in your lifetime. So that's to stop people from having a big pot and then just carving them up into lots of little ones and saying, well, I'll just take them all as a lump sum. When you take your money out of these small pots as a lump sum then the first 25 per cent is tax free and the rest is taxable. Should you combine small pots if you're going to buy a pension income? Usually, you can get a better deal with a bigger pot than you can with a little one, so usually it is a good idea to combine.
MARTIN UPTON
OK, so as you're approaching retirement, then, a few decisions about making your overall pot an efficient size and giving you the best value from the money which you've accrued over your working life and paid into the pension fund. Ok, ou're getting quite close to retirement now, and you actually may take the view given that for most occupations in the UK there is no statutory retirement age, so you may take the view well I'll give it a few more years and I'll defer my pension or delay it, particularly because if I delay it, I know that the annuity I'll get, the annual income I'll get from my pension pot must surely be more than if I don't delay it. Is that worth looking at, for a lot of people? It seems to be that now, people are working longer and annuities haven't been fantastic in terms of levels, in recent years, because of interest rates. Is this something people should be looking at closely? Delaying and getting a bigger annuity when you eventually do say, 'I've had enough of work and I am retiring now'.
JONQUIL LOWE
Again, thinking about the changes from April, there's a lot more flexibility with pensions anyway, and I think we're going to see fewer people buying an annuity, so even when they do want to start taking an income, they might use a different arrangement. They might leave their pension pot invested and either draw off an income or just lump sums as they need them. Deferring is usually going to be better in the sense that you're then investing your money for longer so it has more time to grow, more time to build up, and it's going to be paid out over a shorter period. If you did buy an annuity, that's reflected in the annuity rate which is then higher, at older ages. With annuities, I would just be slightly cautious though because the annuity rate is very highly associated with long-term interest rates, which we know are very low at the moment.
MARTIN UPTON
Rock bottom.
JONQUIL LOWE
So looking to the future, they're more likely to be higher. That would help annuity rates.
MARTIN UPTON
But, longevity.
JONQUIL LOWE
Exactly. They're also associated with the general population living longer. That still seems to be increasing, so that puts a dampening effect on annuities. I think what we might see is a lot of people perhaps using their pensions flexibly between their state pension age which is around 65 to 68, depending on when you were born, up to about 85, and then perhaps buying an annuity at that kind of age. I think we might see a pattern like that, but it's really too early to say yet how it's going to pan out from April, and what new products we're going to see. I don't think we're going to have this bilateral split that we seem to have at the moment of either leave your money invested or buy an annuity. I think we will see a lot more products in the middle ground that give you some guarantees and some flexibility.
MARTIN UPTON
OK, that's a good question that came in from Paul Hogan. When you were talking about annuities, you were referring understandably to the new arrangements coming into the UK which kick in in April which give people that are looking at their pension pots, greater flexibility in terms of using and accessing those pension pots. An interesting question has come in from Steven Cockcroft. He says, 'do the pension companies have to comply with these new, flexible arrangements for pensions'. Are there basically rules that say you as a pension company, you've got to provide this flexibility, or is it up to the companies?
JONQUIL LOWE
It is up to the companies. These are permissive rules in the legislation, but it's up to different providers to decide whether or not to provide all of these options. If they don't, then you would be in the position of needing to transfer your pension, if you wanted to take advantage of the options. And particularly I think this is difficult for company schemes. They were never designed to be run like bank accounts basically. Some of them might not offer the options at all, others, perhaps they will but I'm not sure they're going to be ready for April. All of these pension changes have been rushed in over the space of 13 months. It hasn't given providers a lot of time to adapt and get new systems up and running.
MARTIN UPTON
OK. Two more questions about this pension cycle which we've been talking about in this series of questions. What if unfortunately I die before I start my retirement and start to receive my pension income? What happens? Was it just a complete waste of money or does somebody benefit?
JONQUIL LOWE
Let's again talk about April because we're so close now and the rules are changing. If you're under 75, anything you leave in your pension pot, whether it's a pension you've started to draw or not then that can be passed on tax free to anybody, and it doesn't have to be someone who is dependent on you. If you're aged 75 or over, be precise here, then again you can pass it on to anybody, but then it's taxed at the normal tax rates that the person who is receiving your pension pot normally pays, with the exception that just for one year, this 2015/2016 year coming up, if they take it as a lump sum it's taxed at a rate of 45 per cent. Again, that's just a transitional arrangement to give providers time to put new tax arrangements in place.
MARTIN UPTON
These new arrangements then give much greater flexibility for pensions, to effectively, pass on to people who can inherit the money from you.
JONQUIL LOWE
Absolutely, that's exactly right. They become really quite a tax efficient way of planning for inheritance, which is quite surprising because in the past, we've had a lot of legislation that has been designed to stop you using a pension scheme as a form of inheritance, a big turnaround.
End transcript
 
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Activity 3.2 Risks arising from the pensions revolution

What risks do you think are associated with the reforms to pensions introduced in 2015?

How might these risks be mitigated?

Discussion

A number of potential risks come to mind:

  • pension pots may be spent quickly, leaving people short of income in retirement
  • decisions may be made that are tax-inefficient (significant parts of the pension pots could be lost to income tax)
  • the access to pension pots may result in some pensioners falling prey to investment scams
  • the alternative assets that pension money is invested in (e.g. property or shares) may fall in value.

Risk mitigation can be achieved by seeking financial advice and from taking guidance from such resources as Pension wise [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] The Money Advice Service (MAS) and Age UK.

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