Pension consolidation

Bringing your pensions under one roof

Most people, during their career, accumulate a number of different pension plans. Keeping your pension savings in a number of different plans may result in lost investment opportunities and unnecessary exposure to risk.

However, not all consolidation of pensions will be in your best interests. You should always look carefully into the possible benefits and drawbacks and, if unsure, seek professional advice.

Keeping track of your pension portfolio
It’s important to ensure that you get the best out of the contributions you’ve made and keep track of your pension portfolio to make sure it remains appropriate to your personal circumstances. Consolidating your existing pensions is one way of doing this.

Pension consolidation involves moving, where appropriate, a number of pension plans – potentially from many different pensions’ providers – into one single plan. It is sometimes referred to as ‘pension switching’.

Pension consolidation can be a very valuable exercise, as it can enable you to:

– bring all your pension investments into one easy-to-manage wrapper

– identify any underperforming and expensive investments, with a view to switching these to more appropriate investments

– accurately review your pension provision in order to identify whether you are on track

Why consolidate your pensions?
Traditionally, personal pensions have favoured with-profits funds – low-risk investment funds that pool the policyholders’ premiums. But many of these are now heavily invested in bonds to even out stock market volatility, and, unfortunately, this can lead to diluted returns for investors.

It’s vital that you review your existing pensions to assess whether they are still meeting your needs – some with-profits funds may not penalise all investors for withdrawal, so a cost-free exit could be possible.

Focusing on fund performance
Many older plans from pension providers that have been absorbed into other companies have pension funds which are no longer open to new investment – so-called ‘closed funds’. As a result, focusing on fund performance may not be a priority for the fund managers.

These old-style pensions often impose higher charges that eat into your money, so it may be advisable to consolidate any investments in these funds into
a potentially better performing and cheaper alternative.

Economic and market movements
It’s also worth taking a close look at any investments you may have in managed funds. Most unit-linked pensions are invested in a single managed fund offered by the pension provider and may not be quite as diverse as their name often implies. These funds are mainly equity-based and do not take economic and market movements into account.

Lack of the latest investment techniques
The lack of alternative or more innovative investment funds, especially within with-profits pensions – and often also a lack of the latest investment techniques
– mean that your pension fund and your resulting retirement income could be disadvantaged.

Significant equity exposure
Lifestyling is a concept whereby investment risk within a pension is managed according to the length of time to retirement. ‘Lifestyled’ pensions aim to ensure that, in its early years, the pension benefits from significant equity exposure.

Then, as you get closer to retirement, risk is gradually reduced to prevent stock market fluctuations reducing the value of your pension. Most old plans do not offer lifestyling – so fund volatility will continue right up to the point you retire. This can be a risky strategy and inappropriate for those approaching retirement.

Conversely, more people are now opting for pension income drawdown, rather than conventional annuities. For such people, a lifestyled policy may be inappropriate.

As well as whether the total size of your pension funds make consolidation viable, issues to take into account include whether your existing pensions have:

– loyalty bonuses
– early termination penalties
– guaranteed annuity rates
– integrated life cover or other additional benefits
– final salary pension benefits

Consolidating your pensions won’t apply to everyone
The potential benefits of consolidating your pensions won’t apply to everyone, and there may be drawbacks to moving your pension plans – particularly so for certain types of pension. It is therefore vitally important to carefully consider all aspects of your existing pensions before making a decision as to whether or not to consolidate.

Self-Invested Personal Pensions

Taking control of your money

Some people don’t want a pension company deciding how their pension savings are invested – they want to control where their money goes and how it grows. In this scenario, a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP) offers a solution. Very much a do-it-yourself pension, you choose what investments you want to
put your savings into and keep control of your savings.

More accessibility
A SIPP is a personal pension wrapper that offers individuals greater freedom of choice than conventional personal pensions. However, they are more complex than conventional products, and it is essential you seek expert professional advice.

SIPPs allow investors to choose their own investments or appoint an investment manager to look after the portfolio on their behalf. Individuals have to appoint a trustee to oversee the operation of the SIPP but, having done that, the individual can effectively run the pension fund on his or her own.

Investment institution
You can typically choose from a large choice of funds as well as pick individual shares, bonds, gilts, unit trusts, investment trusts, exchange traded funds, cash and commercial property (but not private property). Also, you have more control over moving your money to another investment institution, rather than being tied if a fund under-performs.

Once invested in your pension, the funds grow free of UK capital gains tax and income tax (tax deducted from dividends cannot be reclaimed).

Tax relief
SIPPs, like all pensions, have unrivalled tax benefits. If you aren’t using a pension to save for retirement, you could be missing out on valuable tax relief. In the current 2014/15 tax year, you could receive up to 45% tax relief (dependent on your marginal rate of tax) on any contributions you make and pay no income or capital gains tax on any investments returns inside your SIPP.

Other considerations
You cannot draw on a SIPP pension before age 55, and you should be mindful of the fact that you’ll need to spend time managing your investments. Where investment is made in commercial property, you may also have periods without rental income and, in some cases, the pension fund may need to sell on the property when the market is not at its strongest. Because there may be many transactions moving investments around, the administrative costs are higher than those of a normal pension fund.

The tax benefits and governing rules of SIPPs may change in the future. The level of pension benefits payable cannot be guaranteed, as they will depend on interest rates when you start taking your benefits. The value of your SIPP may be less than you expected if you stop or reduce contributions, or if you take your pension earlier than you had planned.

A SIPP could be a suitable option if you:

n would like to have more control over your retirement fund and the freedom to make your own investment decisions, or prefer to appoint investment managers to do this for you and are prepared to pay a higher cost for this facility

– would like a wide range of investments to choose from
– want to consolidate your existing pension(s) into a more flexible plan
– need a tax-efficient way to purchase commercial property

Dividends received within a SIPP do not come with a 10% tax credit, so basic rate taxpayers are no better off receiving dividends within a SIPP than receiving the dividends directly. Investors in a SIPP need to be comfortable making their own investment decisions about their retirement. Investments go down in value as well as up, so you could get back less than you invest. The rules referred to are those that currently apply; they could change in the future. You cannot normally access your money until at least age 55. Tax reliefs depend on your circumstances. If you are unsure of an investment’s suitability, you should seek professional advice.

Workplace pensions

Saving for your retirement that’s arranged by your employer

Millions of workers are being automatically enrolled into a workplace pension by their employer. A workplace pension is a way of saving for your retirement that’s arranged by your employer.

A percentage of your pay is put into the pension scheme automatically every payday. In most cases, your employer and the Government also contribute money into the pension scheme for you. The money is used to pay you an income for the rest of your life when you start receiving the pension.

You can opt out if you want to, but that means losing out on employer and government contributions – and if you stay in, you’ll have your own pension that you get when you retire.

‘Auto-enrolment’
New legal duties, from October 2012, now require employers to automatically enrol their eligible employees into a qualifying pension scheme. The reform will be ‘staged’ over a six-year period, depending on the size of the employer.

This is called ‘automatic enrolment’. You may not see any changes if you’re already in a workplace pension scheme. Your workplace pension scheme will usually carry on as normal. But if your employer doesn’t make a contribution to your pension now, they will have to by
law when they ‘automatically enrol’
every worker.

If you are an employer, you need to make sure that your business is prepared as workplace pension reform becomes applicable to you.

When it comes to making contributions, there are two main things to consider, namely:

– the level of contributions you wish to make
– the definition of pay you wish to use

Occupational pensions

There are two main types of schemes

Defined contribution schemes
A defined contribution (DC) or money-purchase pension scheme is one that invests the money you pay into it, together with any employer’s contribution, and gives you an accumulated sum on retirement with which you can secure a pension income, either by buying an annuity or using income drawdown.

Occupational pension schemes are increasingly a DC, rather than defined benefit (DB), where the pension you receive is linked to salary and the number of years worked. As an alternative to a company pension scheme, some employers offer their workforce access to a Group Personal Pension (GPP) or stakeholder pension scheme.

External provider
In either case, this is run by an external pension provider (typically an insurance firm) and joined by members on an individual basis. It’s just like taking out a personal pension, although your employer may negotiate reduced management fees. They may also make a contribution on your behalf. GPPs are run on a DC basis, with each member building up an individual pension ‘pot’.

The amount you receive depends on the performance of the funds in which the money has been invested and what charges have been deducted.

Investment choice
Although your total pension pot usually increases each year you continue to pay into the scheme, there’s no way of accurately predicting what the final total will be and how much pension income this will provide. Unlike those who belong to a DB pension scheme, members of DC pension schemes have a degree of choice as to where their pension contributions are invested.
Many opt to put their money in the scheme’s ‘default fund’, but some will want to be more cautious, investing in cash funds and corporate bonds, while others may prefer a more ‘adventurous’ mix, with equity and overseas growth funds. GPPs also offer investment
choice, often between funds run by the pension provider.

Defined benefit schemes
A defined benefit (DB) pension scheme is one that promises to pay out a certain sum each year once you reach retirement age. This is normally based on the number of years you have paid into the scheme and your salary either when you leave or retire from the scheme (final salary), or an average of your salary while you were a member (career average). The amount you get depends on the scheme’s accrual rate. This is a fraction of your salary, multiplied by the number of years you were a contributing member.

Typically, these schemes have an accrual rate of 1/60th or 1/80th. In a 1/60th scheme, this means that if your salary was £30,000, and you worked at the firm for 30 years, your annual pension would be £15,000 (30 x 1/60th x £30,000 = £15,000).

Your pay at retirement
How your salary is defined depends on the type of scheme. In a final salary scheme, it is defined as your pay at retirement, or when you leave (if earlier). In a career average scheme, it is the average salary you’ve been paid for a certain number of years.

Final salary and career-average schemes offer the option of taking a tax-free lump sum when you begin drawing your pension. This is restricted to a maximum 25% of the value of the benefits to which you are entitled. The limit is based on receiving a pension for 20 years – so for someone entitled to £15,000 a year, the maximum lump sum might be £75,000 (25% x £15,000 x 20= £75,000).

Scheme’s ‘commutation factor’
Taking a lump sum at the outset may reduce the amount of pension you get each year. The amount you give up is determined by the scheme’s ‘commutation factor’. This dictates how much cash you receive for each £1 of pension you surrender. If it is 12, for example, and you take a £12,000 lump sum, your annual income will fall by £1,000.

Closed to new members
Most private sector schemes have now been closed to new members and replaced by defined contribution schemes. A large number remain open to existing members who are still employees, however, or those who have left the firm but built up contributions while they were there and retain the right to a ‘preserved pension’ when they reach retirement age.

Many public sector pensions are still defined benefit schemes, underwritten by central government. This has caused them to be called ‘gold-plated’, as they offer a certainty that few private sector schemes can now match. But, even in the public sector, pension promises are being cut back with a shift from final salary to career average and increases in the normal pension age.

Lifetime Allowance

Limiting the amount of tax relief you’re allowed

You can save as much as you like into a pension, but there is a limit on the amount of tax relief you’re allowed. The Lifetime Allowance for pensions is currently £1.25m (2014/15). In essence, the Lifetime Allowance is intended to cap the level of tax-advantaged pension funds that an individual can accumulate within their lifetime. You usually pay tax on any private pension savings above the lifetime allowance.

You’ll get a statement from your pension provider telling you how much tax you owe if you go above your lifetime allowance. Your pension provider will deduct the tax before you start getting your pension. You still need to report the tax deducted by filling in a Self Assessment tax return – you’ll need form SA101 if you’re using paper forms.

Rate of tax
The rate of tax you pay on pension savings above your Lifetime Allowance depends on how the money is paid to you – the rate is:

– 25% if you get it as a regular payment (‘annuity’)
– 55% if you get it as a lump sum

If you die before taking your pension,  HM Revenue & Customs bills the person who receives your pension for tax you owe on pension savings above your Lifetime Allowance.

If you have Lifetime Allowance protection
Lifetime Allowance protection increases your Lifetime Allowance. Check your protection certificate to work out your Lifetime Allowance if you have:

– primary protection
– enhanced protection
– fixed protection
– fixed protection 2014
– individual protection 2014

You’ll lose enhanced protection, fixed protection or fixed protection 2014 if you don’t opt out within a month of
being automatically enrolled in a workplace pension.

You may also lose enhanced protection, fixed protection or fixed protection 2014 if you:

– make new savings in a pension scheme
– consolidate pension scheme money

You may be able to apply for individual protection 2014 if your pension savings were above £1.25 million on 5 April 2014.

If you have the right to take your pension before 50
You may have a reduced Lifetime Allowance if you have the right to take your pension before you’re 50 under a pension scheme you joined before 2006. This only applies to people in certain jobs (e.g. professional sports, dance and modelling) who start taking their pension before they’re 55.

Your Lifetime Allowance isn’t reduced if you’re in a pension scheme for uniformed services (e.g. the armed forces, police and fire services).