The Pension Professor's Blog | Pension Drawdown Company

The Pension Professor's Blog

29th September 2017

Statistic of the week

Following on from my comments earlier in the month (15 September) about the importance of saving for retirement, the Office for National Statistics said total membership of occupational pensions schemes in the UK grew to 39.2m people in 2016. This represents a 17% increase on the previous year when membership stood at 33.5m. The body revealed that via auto-enrolment, nearly 80% of eligible savers are now paying into a workplace pension scheme. The amount being saved into a pension has not increased.

A step in the right direction, but still more to do to educate the population to save for their twilight years.

20th September 2017

Mark Carney: Rate hikes will be 'gradual' and 'limited'

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said he expects interest rate increases in the UK to be "gradual" and "limited" as he estimated inflation would remain above 2% for the next three years.

In a speech to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)in Washington DC, Carney said there would likely be "some withdrawal of monetary stimulus" in order to bring inflation back to the BoE's 2% target, according to the BBC.

Inflation beat expectations in August rising 0.3% to 2.9%, its highest since 2012, as it continued to feel the effects of the sterling devaluation following the UK's vote to leave the European Union last year.

In the Monetary Policy Committee last week, the MPC held rates at 0.25% but minutes revealed "slightly stronger than anticipated" UK economic growth could lead to a rate rise. When it comes, it may be a shock to some borrowers - especially those who have taken out a mortgage or a loan in the last 10 years and are yet to experience roller coaster borrowing rates. Whatever happens, I doubt the rises will be anything like as spectacular as those in the past. Back in the mid 80s for example, when I was a humble Building Society Manager, and rates were at 8%, I remember one very worried mortgage borrower coming into my branch saying to me “rates can’t go to 9% can they?” They eventually peaked at 15%. Sometimes, it’s important to keep things in context.

15th September 2017

The Importance of Saving for Retirement

Pensions Awareness Day passed on September 15th, largely unreported due to more concerning news events in London and worldwide.

It has been over two years since the pension freedoms were introduced, allowing people to do what they like with their retirement savings rather than be tied to an annuity. Now, data has revealed the positive impact of the changes. According to a report by retirement specialist Aegon, the result has been that 5.5 million people are saving more for their retirement. This is significant as it suggests people are putting renewed faith in the pension system. As a result of the rise in the number of people contributing more to a private or workplace pension, the average pension pot has increased significantly. In April 2015, the average pension pot was £29,000 but this has now risen to £50,000, says Aegon. The 2015 pension reforms put many more retirees in the driver’s seat for the first time. Giving retirees the freedom to do as they please with their money is having an impact not only on those who are taking advantage of that freedom today, but the trickle effect is positive down the generations.

Whilst this is seen as encouraging data, £50,000 would mean an annual income of just £2,500 a year for a person aged 65 or older. Combined with the full state pension of £159.55 a week, this would give a total annual retirement income of around £10,800. This is still woefully short of the average annual retirement income people aspire to which is £32,270, despite the average UK salary being £28,000. As the awareness level of pension saving has improved over the past few years, it is obvious even more needs to be done across the financial services sector to better educate people on the importance of putting away as much as they can towards retirement. In particular, we must better engage with the younger generation through technology and information that can be made readily available and easy to digest.

For the statistics geeks amongst you, the 12 million people aged 30 to 65 who are not saving for a pension are equivalent to the population of Rwanda; or put another way, enough people to fill 141,183 double-decker buses - themselves sufficient to stretch bumper-to-bumper from Land's End to John O'Groats.

30th August 2017

Inheritance Tax (IHT) is affecting more and more of you – what can you do to avoid it?

Positive market conditions coupled with the frozen nil-rate band have helped to significantly increase government inheritance tax (IHT) receipts this year according to figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). These showed that IHT income surged by more than 20% in the first four months of the tax year with almost £2bn being taken from people's estates between April and July.

Analysis from NFU Mutual found the total had gone up faster this tax year than in any other since 2010. The provider said it signalled a more aggressive approach from HMRC and it would appear that HMRC are paying closer attention to people’s estates.

The UK housing market remains generally buoyant as demand continues to outstrip supply. In these conditions, a positive market increases the value of client assets therefore, with the knock on effect that estates play a role in the rise of IHT levels.

Even though the government has introduced the residence nil-rate band, that is negligible in the grand scheme of things, particularly with the growth of property values in the south-east.

Gifting

This is a simple and efficient way to mitigate liability.

The annual gift allowance, which stands at £3,000 and regular pension income gifting, which allows people to gift as much of their pension income as they wish as long as it does not affect their lifestyle.

Don’t ignore the annual gift allowance just because it seems quite small – a gift of £3,000 per annum for 10 years will add up to £30,000 of an estate. Meanwhile, with regular income gifting, if someone has a pension income of £60,000 a year but all they need to live on is £20,000, in theory they can gift that additional £40,000 a year.

Pensions

Any money held in, or put into a personal pension is deemed to be outside an estate for IHT under current legislation. For some, their pension pot is now their largest asset and it can be a useful vehicle for squirrelling away funds from the tax man. There are limits as to what you can put in of course, but there is the added benefit of tax relief at your highest marginal rate on all contributions made.

There are various ways of mitigating IHT and a good financial adviser should look at tax efficiency as part of their advice.

19th July 2017

The Golden Decade

The whole purpose of saving for retirement is to be able to afford to enjoy life. I’m sure we all aspire to live comfortably and to make the most of all that leisure time.

Many of our clients tell us that the best ‘golden time’ years for achieving maximum enjoyment in retirement is from about age 58 to age 68. This is because they are finally free from the shackles that have held them back in past – lack of time, debt and family and work commitments for example. During these years there is also a good chance that one’s health will still be favourable and there will still be enough energy left in the tank to undertake long distance travel or commit to voluntary work or new pastimes. For some, but by no means all, after age 70 the mind and body may start to slow down and there could be less inclination to be busy with stressful activities.

There is a rising trend towards ‘pretirement’ – this is where people scale back on work by doing reduced hours or days, rather than stopping work suddenly altogether. Waking up on a Monday morning ‘retired’ after stopping work completely the previous Friday can sometimes have a catastrophic effect on both body and soul. We advocate a gradual easing into retirement if possible, which we believe is good for one’s well-being and health. The mix of work and pleasure will be less of a shock to the system. It seems that more of you feel the same way, as the trend has persisted for 5 years in a row now.

Of course not everyone is lucky enough to be able to make this sort of choice, however – many will find themselves having to work on for financial reasons while others may be forced to give up work for health reasons or redundancy. Recent independent on-line research on 10,605 non-retired UK adults aged 45+ found that people remained in work for reasons other than financial benefit. Some would be happy to work on beyond state retirement because they didn’t like the idea of ‘being at home for so long’ or just didn’t feel ‘ready to retire’. A small proportion said they needed to carry on working to boost their pension pot.

This brings me back to the ‘pretirement’ scenario. If you are funding your well-earned leisure time from your pension, a part-time job or perhaps both, and you are young enough and fit enough to enjoy life then go for it while you can. Time may be of the essence. Clearly this must be within your means, so nothing too reckless! Advice from a good independent financial adviser will help you to manage your pension income to ensure that it lasts for as long as you need it to.

14th July 2017

MPAA reduction effective from April 2017, government confirms.

The government has confirmed the pre-election policies in its 2017 Finance Bill that were due to take effect from April this year, including the cut to the money purchase annual allowance (MPAA), will apply as intended.

This means savers who have accessed their pension from age 55 will see the annual tax-free allowance (ie what they could contribute back in) cut from £10,000 to £4,000 for the 2017/18 tax year. The original limit of £10,000 was introduced in April 2015 to stop people claiming further tax relief on any new contributions made to their pots.

Many retirees were hoping that the decision would be delayed until next year, but at least we have some clarity now.

19th June 2017

British workers are missing out on ‘buy one get one free' pension offer

This was the headline in an article in the financial press over the weekend. Basically, for those of you that have the pleasure of working for a large company, and that company matches your own pension contributions, you are encouraged to double-check the maximum percentage of employee pension contributions your employer is willing to match. According to the piece, there are around 3.2 million UK workers who work for larger employers who are failing to take up an average of £650 each year.

The article focuses on a major high street supermarket, which like many responsible employers, operates a scheme where an employee's basic pension contribution is 4% of salary, matched by a 4% employer contribution. Employees are, however, able to opt to increase their contributions, which the company will then match up to a maximum of 7.5%. Often though, firms are somewhat tardy in their willingness to publicise this to all their employees meaning that some workers may be blissfully unaware of this option. In effect they are passing up ‘buy-one, get-one free' cash the piece argues, adding: "Royal London estimates a 40-year-old on average earnings, who chooses to take full advantage of an additional 3% employer-matched contribution, would have an income in retirement nearly £3,500 a year higher than someone who only contributed at the minimum level." This could make the difference between an income of £19,050 without the extra contributions, and one of £22,500 for those who took up the full employer match." Of course some firms may have only recently introduced enhanced employer contributions following the closure of their more generous defined benefit or ‘final salary’ schemes.

Anyway, it’s worth checking with your employer to make sure you are making the most of what’s on offer. The article also gives some other helpful information reminding readers that there are also other ways to top up your pension such as via Additional Voluntary Contributions, the new Lifetime ISA product and Added Years.


12th June 2017

Hung, drawn, but not quite quartered

Just like other recent elections such as Brexit and Trump, the unpredictability of the electorate remains alive and kicking. It just goes to show that past performance really isn’t a guide to future performance and we can no longer rely upon what held true in the past. However, as far as how some commentators are interpreting the election result this morning, the Brexit majority last year was far more an expression of general discontent with the political establishment than a rejection of EU membership. Otherwise Mrs May should indeed have been unable to lose the way she did. It seems that the cosmopolitan townies this time got their act together and actually turned up to vote, whereas the discontented masses outside the towns and cities have endorsed their message that they are fed up with the status quo – but that they understand that Brexit may actually worsen not improve their positions.

This is important, because it means that the Conservative’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” and even perhaps “Brexit means Brexit” are no longer a winning formula for the government. It is possible that this therefore points to a much softer Brexit than expected over the past 9 months. Yes, it can be argued that May’s negotiating position with the EU has weakened, but the lack of hard Brexit support by the British people should also mellow the EU establishment who can no longer argue wholeheartedly that the British public can only blame itself for hardships from a hard Brexit outcome.

At first glance, one might think that a weakened Conservative government increases uncertainty, and uncertainty is bad for business, markets and investors. That may have been true in the past, but is not necessarily true under the perspective of Brexit. Some analysts will argue that the economic future of the UK will be far more decisively shaped by the UK’s future trade relations with the EU than even a Jeremy Corbyn led ultra-left UK government would ever have.

Of course there is still much to unravel and many issues for politicians to discuss and agree upon. We do not know if, and how long for, Theresa May will remain as leader of her party. With this in mind, as we have often said, and just as was the case after all the other recent political surprises, the best advice for investors is to keep calm and carry on. And not to be overly surprised if markets head into a slightly different direction than perceived wisdom first suggests.


2nd June 2017

Stock markets buoyed by strong economic data in the UK and US

The FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 have hit new all-time highs, as strong economic data at home and across the pond buoyed investor confidence.

The UK blue-chip index hit a new all-time high of 7,599 before falling back to nearer 7500 but still up on the day. It was a similar story for the FTSE 250, which hit 20,081 before falling back to 20,027, up 16 points on the day.

The UK followed the lead of the US, where markets closed at record highs last night, after private sector jobs figures to be released today. This news has fuelled further speculation of an interest rate rise later in June according to market analysts. Adding to the cheer was a jump in the UK construction purchasing managers' index figures, which hit 56 in May, up from 53.1 in April, and confounding investor expectations of a dip to 52.7. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Here at Pension Drawdown we remain cautiously optimistic for investors’ steady growth over the medium term. However, there are still many ‘known unknowns’ going on in the World (Brexit, Trump, General Elections in the UK and Germany, the Greek debt crisis, terrorist events and North Korean pyrotechnics). Who knows what the impact and outcomes might bring so there is still the expectation of some sort of a market correction – but when, and by how much, well that remains to be seen.


17th May 2017

Beware of the unscrupulous

The Defined Benefit (final salary pension) advice market is growing as cash equivalent transfer values continue to hold up at very high levels. In addition, a softening of approach from both the Regulator and the financial media regarding the merits (or not) of leaving a gold–plated final salary scheme, has seen an increased demand for financial advice in this area.

Whilst Pension Freedoms are providing more choice for savers, unfortunately they have also opened up the market to conmen and fraudsters who prey on the vulnerable and those hoping for early access to their pensions.

Pension scam losses hit a monthly post-pension freedom high of £8m in March, according to figures from the City of London Police.

The record £8.6m losses came from just 24 victims, and totaled more than the previous 12 months' reported losses combined.

The previous post-pension freedom high was a reported £4.9m loss from a total of 78 victims in May 2015. Savers have now reported £42.5m worth of scams since April 2014.

The City of London Police said loss figures are reported by victims themselves, so human error needed to be taken into account when assessing the statistics.

Pension scams have been a major concern since the advent of Pension Freedoms and research from earlier this year indicated two-thirds of advisers fear industry efforts will not do enough to stop scammers. We have warned clients and potential clients before of this modern day scourge, and like a local Neighbourhood Watch scheme, we can all do our bit to prevent financial crime. Our message remains simple:

Do not respond to cold calls, do not be rushed into anything and if the offer sounds too good to be true then it probably is! You cannot access your pension until age 55. Make sure you know who you are dealing with - what is their level of qualifications and expertise? Can they demonstrate a long track record of providing pensions transfer advice? Finally, do consider getting a second opinion before taking action.


4th May 2017

Pension Freedom withdrawals exceed £10bn

Pension freedom opportunities have been very popular.

Since their introduction in April 2015, more than £10bn has been accessed flexibly the latest HM Revenue & Customs statistics have shown.

In the first 3 months of 2017, a total £1.59bn was flexibly withdrawn - the most in any quarter since Q2 2016 and the second highest figure seen. More than 390,000 flexible payments were made in the quarter.

The first quarter of 2017 also saw the highest number of individuals access their pensions flexibly with 176,000 people doing so - 14,000 more than the previous high of 162,000 in October, November and December last year.

However, despite the high total amount withdrawn in the first few months of this year, average withdrawals per person have continued to fall - a trend seen since pension freedoms' introduction two years ago.The average amount of money withdrawn per person has plummeted to £9,034 in Q1 2017, (from £18,571 in 2015).

Hopefully this downward trend is indicative of savers managing their retirement incomes sensibly and making withdrawals at levels that will be sustainable over the long term.


17th March 2017

Fall in cost of Lasting Powers of Attorney registration

COURT OF PROTECTION: LPA registration fees will fall in April

On 1 April 2017, the registration fee for a lasting or enduring power of attorney in England and Wales will be cut from £110 to £82. The fee for a repeat application to register an LPA will fall from £55 to £41. The Office of the Public Guardian says the increasing volume of applications means the income it receives in registration fees now exceeds the cost of the service.

Whilst this is probably something that is not high up on your ‘to do list’ we would encourage all clients with assets under management to put in place an LPA for property and finance. This is an ideal opportunity to take advantage of the reduced costs. Health and welfare LPAs should also be considered at the same time. The best time to do it is while you, or your relatives still have the ‘capacity’ to arrange it.


10th March 2017

Spring Budget 2017

Thankfully, in his Spring 2017 budget, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond largely left pensions alone and there were no surprises. There is another budget in the Autumn so any more tinkering to pension legislation may have been deferred until then. We will have to wait and see. From an industry point of view, the fewer changes the better, as this helps to build confidence in the system and investors can plan ahead with greater confidence. One important change that is coming in from April 6th 2017 is the reduction in Money Purchase Annual Allowance from £10,000 to £4,000. This was announced last year and has been ‘under consultation’ - well it’s definitely happening. In plain English, if you are already taking an income from a pension but want to add more to it, the amount you can put back in and get tax relief on is reducing drastically!

Please see this attached link to a full budget summary.


22nd February 2017

High earners may be able to get help from this little-known pension rule

You may not be aware that there is a little-known ‘carry forward’ rule that could allow you to invest up to an additional £130,000 into your pension (and receive up to £58,500 tax relief). This year's pension annual allowance is as low as £10,000 for some high earners but it may worth talking to your tax adviser or financial adviser to ascertain if there any headroom that would enable you to utilise unused allowances from the last three tax years:
Tax Year Annual Allowance
2013/14 £50,000
2014/15 £40,000
2015/16 £40,000

For the tax year ended 2014, this is your last chance to carry forward anything unused from the £50,000 annual allowance – if you don’t use it by April 5 2017, it will be lost forever.

Basically, if you haven’t used your full annual allowance in any of these previous tax years then carry forward allows you to make up for that and contribute up to an extra £130,000 in this tax year.

However, there are some restrictions such as having had the earnings of at least the amount you wish to contribute. There are other considerations so we recommend that you take the appropriate advice before taking any action.

The deadline is for action looming

The deadline to make pension contributions and receive up to 45% tax relief is fast approaching on 5 April. Tax relief has been cut in each of the last four tax years for some groups of people. However, it may be wise to consider making any planned contributions before The Budget on 8 March in case the Chancellor announces any changes or restrictions.

If you have more than one pension, or have been a member of a final salary scheme, you should also allow more time, as you might need to obtain information about your contributions from your pension administrator.

Remember, tax rules can change and the value of tax benefits depends on your individual circumstances. Investments can go down as well as up so there is always a danger that you could get back less than you invest. Nothing here is personalised advice, if you are unsure, you should seek advice from an independent financial adviser.


6th February 2017

The clock is ticking for savers wanting to make the most of this year’s “use it or lose it” Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowances.

ISAs are now more generous, and more flexible. This year savers can put £15,240 into an ISA and this will increase to £20,000 per person in the new tax year from April 6.

Savers can switch from Cash to Equity holdings – and vice versa – within this tax wrapper, useful for when your circumstances, or economic conditions, change.

You can also take money out of an ISA and pay it back within the same tax year. This change only came into effect last year, so if you’ve used it to withdraw funds, you’ve only got a few weeks if you want to top them back up.

Those who can afford to should look to maximise this allowance. This allows couples to save more than £30,000 a year, tax-free. Remember all future growth is free of capital gains tax (CGT).

Even if you don’t have these sums spare, it’s worth saving what you can into an ISA. Look at existing investments: if these aren’t held in a tax-free wrapper now may be the time to transfer them. According to the Prudential £342m is wasted this way every year.

Long-term investing still makes sense

The past few years have been challenging for investors. In fact, some people may question the ability of markets to help them meet their financial goals. History has demonstrated that a long-term investment strategy is more often than not rewarding. For this reason we believe it’s important that investors utilise their ISA allowance. Please remember past performance is not a guide to the future and the value of investments can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you invest.

A great opportunity to protect your money from the taxman

The current tax year provides each individual with an ISA allowance of £15,240 – that’s a total of £30,480 for a couple, all protected from the clutches of the taxman. From 6 April 2017 this rises to £20,000 for each individual, so totalling £40,000 for a couple. It is also proven that the earlier you start investing in an ISA, the sooner your tax efficient investment begins to work for you. If you’ve not yet invested in an ISA this year, don’t worry as it’s not too late. What’s most important is that you fully utilise your allowance where possible, as once the ISA deadline passes you lose any unused allowance forever. The value of tax savings and eligibility to invest in an ISA depends on personal circumstances and all tax rules may change.

And the taxman can’t touch it

When you invest in an ISA, you will have the benefit of not having to pay tax on your investment returns. This means you could build up a substantial sum over the years by investing in cash, equities or corporate bonds to provide growth or income, which you can withdraw whenever you want. Alternatively, if you don’t want to make a decision immediately about where to invest, but equally don’t want to lose your allowance for this tax year, some providers offer you the option to ‘park’ the whole Stocks and Shares allowance in cash until you are ready to invest in the qualifying fund of your choice.

Are the tax advantages really worth it?

Only you can answer this question and it depends on your personal circumstances. However, for many people, an ISA is one of the most generous handouts they will receive from the Chancellor. Over the years, an ISA could save you thousands of pounds that you would otherwise have had to pay in tax. In an era when the upward pressure on tax seems to be relentless, this is doubly important. Every time taxes rise, the ISA tax break gets even more valuable. For example, two separate £15,240 investments – one held in an ISA and the other outside an ISA – invested yearly could be worth after 10 years £5,302.30 more in the ISA.

Source: Fidelity, using growth rates of 4.5% (non-ISA) and 5% (ISA). The calculations assume no initial charge and an Ongoing Charges Figure of 1.17%. It does not include any fees charged by the fund distributor or your adviser. This is a projection of the returns you may receive back. Cash amount is not guaranteed as it will depend on the performance of the investment. Any additional charges will have the effect of lowering what you might get back.


25th January 2017

5 Ways to save tax without getting into trouble

This time last year I was writing about the turbulence being experienced in world stock markets. Thankfully, 2017 has started somewhat serenely which is a little surprising considering all the speculation and uncertainty around when and how Brexit will happen, and what sort of President Donald Trump will turn out to be.

Without that distraction, now may be a good time to take stock and to start thinking about how you can save tax without upsetting the taxman. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are very keen to ensure that people understand the distinction between tax avoidance (which is legal, and to some, an art form); and tax evasion, which is illegal.

Here are a few tips that you might wish to consider:

  1. Use the Pensions allowance – Pension contributions currently receive up to 45% tax relief. A £10,000 investment into a personal pension benefits from £2,500 basic rate tax relief added automatically. Higher rate tax payers can claim up to a further £2,500 in tax relief via their tax office whilst 45% tax payers can claim back up to £3,125.
  2. IHT Planning - Funds invested in a pension is outside of your estate for inheritance tax.
  3. Pension for a spouse – If your spouse is non-earning or on a low income, investing in a pension for them is a great way to maximise the higher personal allowance. Non-earners can make a pension contribution of £2,880 and the Government will add a further £720 even if the individual pays no tax.
  4. Use your ISA allowance – for higher rate tax payers in particular, it still makes sense to shelter your savings from the taxman within an ISA. Individuals can invest £15,240 into an ISA before 5th April 2017 and then £20,000 from 6th April 2017.
  5. Make the most of the new personal savings allowance – under the personal savings allowance, the first £1,000 of savings income (eg. interest and dividends) will be tax free for basic rate tax payers and £500 for higher rate tax payers. Bank and building society accounts now pay interest without any tax deducted. With this in mind, when was the last time you reviewed your bank and building society accounts to make sure you are getting best returns? Don’t just look at the obvious term deposit and ISA rates, often the best rates are hidden away within current account deals.

As with all important financial planning matters, it is sensible to have a discussion with your financial adviser or tax adviser before making a decision.


21st December 2016

Merry Christmas from The Pension Drawdown Company

As we pause at the year end for the traditional Christmas and New Year festivities it is also a time to take stock and reflect on 2016 as a whole, and how the pensions industry has fared.

Even though there was startling news about BHS, Tata Steel and the record final salary transfer values, it was a bigger year for other news. From Leicester City to Brexit, from Trump to Andy Murray, 2016 has been a year of the unpredictable.

2016 has provided a good lesson that none of us should rely on opinion polls, newspaper predictions or the views of high profile politicians. Of course this all makes for a tough time when making investment decisions. What it does highlight though is that calmness is key and this is no time to panic. We all know that pensions is a long-term game and in all probability the long-term outlook hasn’t radically changed. Markets will continue to go down as well as up.

But what we do know is that whatever happens, 2017 is panning out to be very interesting.

Merry Christmas


25th November 2016

Have you set up a Power of Attorney?

The Daily Telegraph has reported that there has been a huge increase in the number of Lasting Powers of Attorney registered in recent years. In 2015 over 440,000 were registered compared with just 36,000 in 2008. The recent rise in the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's disease - now the cause of death of one in eight people in the UK - is one major factor. If relatives have not put an LPA in place before someone loses the mental capacity to make decisions, they have to apply to the Court of Protection, which is a lengthy and expensive process. It is therefore sensible and prudent to do this at an early stage as part of your financial planning actions.


24th November 2016

AUTUMN STATEMENT

Impact on Pensions

The new Chancellor's first Autumn Statement didn't contain any major tax or pensions changes that have any immediate impact for our clients. It appears that now is still not the time for a major pensions shake up so it will be nice to have business as usual for a while so that you can plan ahead with confidence and clarity.

There was welcome news that pension tax relief remains untouched, so it could be the perfect time to maximise funding and secure higher rate tax relief.

Philip Hammond announced just one cut to pension allowances. The Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) is set to be cut from £10,000 to £4,000 from April 2017 (subject to consultation). This only affects those clients who have accessed their defined contribution (DC) pension scheme under the new pension flexibilities and continue to pay into their pension. HMRC introduced the MPAA in 2015 to ensure that there are no potential recycling issues with individuals claiming further tax relief on any new contributions made having just taken their pension benefits under the new flexibility rules. For many, a drop in the annual allowance is of no significance. However, for those who have phased their retirement, perhaps by working part-time, they need to wary if they still wish to continue funding, or more importantly are benefiting from employer contributions via auto enrolment. As ever, we recommend discussing any concerns with your financial adviser.

The General Economy

Philip Hammond announced that this will be the last Autumn Statement. From 2018, the Budget Day will switch from

Spring to Autumn, with a toned down financial statement on the economy delivered each March. Next year though, there will still be two Budgets. This will give welcome breathing space between the announcement of budget changes and their introduction. Perhaps this somewhat surprise announcement was an attempt to regain some of the limelight currently being enjoyed by one of his predecessors - Ed Balls.

It seems that it will take a little longer to balance the books for UK PLC and there was an upward revision of the country’s borrowing requirement. The £23bn that has been pledged for infrastructure spending is welcomed so long as there is action and not just words. Here in the South West, the vital (and only) rail link with the outside world has once again been severed due to the effects of bad weather. The irony is that it comes at a time when the Peninsula Rail Task Force, a regional campaign group set up to lobby the Government for improvements, was forced to drive to London for their meeting rather than being able to take the train!


9th November 2016

Trump and beyond

No, it wasn’t a dream...

The surprise US election victory by Donald Trump has greatly increased uncertainty, yet markets are now back at similar levels to a couple of days ago when a Clinton victory looked more likely. The parallels of the UK’s Brexit vote with the US presidential elections are obvious, but financial markets have responded rather differently this time. Though Asian markets posted stronger losses, the Euro Stoxx 50 and the FTSE 100 have recovered their losses during the day, and European bond yields have hardly responded either. But, trading volumes are average, the FTSE 100 is calm and there has been no rush to the stock market exit doors. After the turmoil of Brexit, this has not been a "plus, plus, plus" day in terms of volatility, so far, this is Brexit minus.

However, it's still going to take a significant amount of time to assess the implications beyond the short term.

It seems that Investors are in wait and see mode and probably many plan to sit out the uncertainty created by Trump’s victory, apparently in the hope that some of his more outlandish plans such as repealing trade agreements and deporting immigrants will prove to be mere campaign talk. But policy uncertainty is undoubtedly higher now. Given Trump’s lack of governing experience and outsider status, his election will indeed mean far more uncertainty about the future direction of US policy than Hillary Clinton.

The strengthening of the US economy which was further evidenced over the last week by improving corporate profitability, rising employment, better business sentiment readings and the central bank indicating a December rate rise, is highly likely to bring market emotions quickly back to a very different reality. One of persistent, steady economic growth, which so far has withstood so many headwinds over the past years that an overpromising Donald Trump is unlikely to significantly derail it either – certainly in the short to medium term.

Those who are fearful about the prospects for their investments in the short term, should think back to the summer and all the doomsday market scenario predictions ahead of the EU referendum and take note that there was much less of this type of comment before this election.

In his acceptance speech, Donald Trump already changed his tone significantly from his trademark divisive style to a far more conciliatory one. He invited the whole nation to come together and unify to move the country forward with great tasks ahead, mentioning among other things the rebuilding of US infrastructure. Notably his more aggressive campaign statements of building walls and expatriating illegal immigrants were absent. Perhaps he will come across as more ‘presidential’ sooner than many of us think and with less flamboyance.

Keep calm and carry on, is my advice in these interesting and sometimes disturbing times. The global economy is going strong and there is little reason to believe that the recent strength of the US economy will falter over the short term. As the markets discovered with Brexit, a vote doesn't actually change anything immediately.


7th October 2016

FTSE 100 breaks 7000 barrier

The fact that the FTSE 100 index has risen above the 7000 threshold for the first time since May 2015 is worth a mention.

Who are the winners and losers?

That depends on whether or not you are an investor. It’s certainly good news for pension drawdown investors and other stock and share investors who will have seen the value of their portfolios rise over the last few months. It should also be good news for beleaguered endowment plan holders once these returns start to filter through.

On the flip side, the value of the pound against many other foreign currencies has plummeted so it may be bad news for those pensioners and others who like to travel abroad. Their pound isn’t buying as much foreign currency as it used to before the summer. There are approximately 6 savers for every borrower in the UK many of whom are people of pension age and there seems little prospect of deposit interest rates rising anytime soon. A weak pound is good news for companies that export goods abroad but not for importers. As a country, the UK imports 40% of all that we eat so a weak pound will means upward pressure on some food costs and possibly higher inflation at some point.

That said there are plenty of positive economic signals out there and only this week Mrs May told us that the UK economy was in good shape, with employment at a record high and inflation at a record low.

So, post Brexit the UK hasn’t turned into a third world economy, life goes on despite the headwinds being thrown at us by a pessimistic media, and a (rightly so) cautious Chancellor. It’s up to us to look ahead with positivity - is your glass half empty or half full?

Earlier this year, Old Mutual Wealth commissioned research on the benefits of taking professional financial advice. Their findings show that planning pays and that taking financial advice and setting goals can make a real difference. This makes good sense to me and emphasises the importance of have a good financial adviser to guide you through the markets.


5th September 2016

Defined Benefit Pension Scheme Deficits are in the headlines again

Once more Defined Benefit Pension Scheme Deficits are in the headlines as the Daily Telegraph reports today that they have hit a record high of £710 billion - these schemes pay a guaranteed income for life on retirement which is linked to a person's final salary. Every time interest rates are cut, the yield on long-term bonds tends to fall which causes the funding deficit to increase. The long-term outlook for interest rates is lower to unchanged and as such it looks likely that these pension deficits could continue to increase. This means large companies are faced with decisions about how to fund their pension deficits which could well affect their long-term profitability.

Longer term it could lead to changes in the way the pensions are paid - such as pension increases being limited to CPI rather than RPI.

There are currently 1.7 million people who are active final salary scheme members, whilst 4.9 million people are deferred members of such schemes. It is these deferred members who may be interested to find out the Cash Equivalent Transfer Value of their pension - as post Brexit these have risen to unprecedented levels - as they too are linked to long-term gilt yields. With the post Brexit fall in interest rates, many transfer values have increased to reflect the fact that the market is pricing in lower long-term returns. In some cases the transfer values are now reaching 30 times the projected annual incomes of the final salary schemes.

To transfer out of a final salary scheme requires financial advice, as the pension member is giving up a guaranteed income for life and taking on investment risk, but for some people it is something that should be considered. There has been a huge increase in the number of people exploring cashing in their final salary schemes - because this means that they can take advantage of the new Pension Freedoms and access their pensions from the age of 55, sometimes with larger tax-free cash lump sums than those available from the scheme. It also means they have the flexibility to vary their income to meet their varying income requirements, and it also means they can pass their pension in its entirety to their spouse, children or any other named beneficiary when they die, tax-free should they die before age 75, or at the recipient's marginal tax rate if they die post 75. Most Defined Benefit Schemes pay a spousal pension of only 50% and do not allow these funds to be paid to other dependents.

Sources: Daily Telegraph 01/09/2016, Financial Times 6/7 August 2016


19th August 2016

Retirees prove more prudent than expected after pension freedoms

Total payouts in the first year of pension freedom reached £8.2bn, according to data from the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

This is a vast sum of money but British workers reaching retirement have proved to be more prudent than many believed they would be after receiving new pensions freedoms a year ago.

The Pension's minister at the time, Steve Webb, said pensioners could buy Lamborghinis should they wish to do so after the rules forcing people to buy annuities were swept away in April 2015. This fanned fears that pensioners might blow their cash on cruises or pour it all into buy-to-let properties.

A year later, however, six out of 10 pensioners are withdrawing money from their pension pots at a rate of around 4% a year.

The figures cover the first complete year of pension freedom, which began in April 2015.

Annuity sales have taken a hammering, falling from a peak of £12bn before the new freedoms to £4.2bn in the year to the end of April 2016, and they are expected to fall further in 2016-17.

Most of the money that previously went into annuities is now lying as cash in people's pension plans, or has been transferred into drawdown plans that allow pensioners to choose when to take out their money.

Drawdown sales were £6.1bn in the year to April 2016, with the typical saver putting £67,500 in to their scheme.

Freedoms 'Are Working'

ABI director of policy, long-term savings and protection Yvonne Braun said: "The data shows that the freedoms have been implemented successfully, and are working as intended. New data released shows that more than half of pots are having less than 1% withdrawn a quarter, which seems to indicate most people are taking a sensible approach.

"However, the data also suggests a minority are withdrawing too much too soon from their pension pot - 4% of pots are having a tenth or more withdrawn - and many other customers are taking their entire pot in one go.

"There may well be other factors at play here, such as people having other retirement income, for instance, final salary pensions or multiple pots. But this is a warning sign that requires further investigation. We need a full picture of these customers' circumstances and income, which is something we urge regulators and the government to work with all stakeholders to examine.

"The fall in annuity sales in the most recent quarter reflects ongoing pressure on rates, which will not have been helped by the recent decision to lower interest rates to a 300 year low, and further quantitative easing measures."

Another commentator said: "A picture is beginning to emerge of savers adopting a sensible approach and using the pension freedoms wisely.

"However, there are a minority who it would appear have forgotten the reason they saved in the first place, to pay them a salary in retirement. Let's hope these people have other sources of income for retirement, as at the withdrawal rates the numbers suggest, they will very quickly deplete their funds."

I imagine that the recent cut in the Bank of England base rate and the introduction of further quantitative easing will place even more pressure on annuity sales and the ability of companies to sustain their final salary schemes. Deficits in these schemes are already increasing at an alarming rate, this month, the deficit for companies within the FTSE100 has widened further to £63bn (source: BBC). That said, the pension industry is not in dire straits, the vast majority of funds are robust and well run, and most deficits are being managed accordingly. In recent times there has been unprecedented change and challenge within the pensions industry which makes it even more important for the consumer to consider all possible retirement options by seeking professional financial advice


12th August 2016

Interest rates fall further

The Bank of England has trimmed rates for the first time since 2009 to a fresh record low of 0.25% as it seeks to fend off the apparently deepening shockwaves of Brexit.

In addition, it has approved £60 billion in further asset purchases and for the first time, the Bank of England will follow European and Japanese central banks into purchasing commercial bonds, committing a further £10 billion to buy corporate debt.

So, although short term interest rates have just halved, the real concern for investors is the dramatic decline in long term interest rates, which have led to a further fall in annuity rates, and providers withdrawing from that marketplace.

Most investors seek long term certainty in retirement income which is challenged by the sequence of returns in volatile investment markets. The concern now is to know what to invest in – how does one balance risk, reward, diversification with simplicity and cost-effectiveness?

Investors don't necessarily have to climb the risk ladder in search of higher returns. Metlife has a proposition which is worth a look at. They offer guaranteed INCOME FOR LIFE, whilst keeping the fund fully invested and accessible.

This proposition is available in Pension, Investment Bond and ISA formats. With the pension drawdown proposition it provides the best of both worlds by taking the advantages of the flexibility of drawdown and access to capital, together with the certainty of income that you get from an annuity product.

Because they are a leading global insurer, they are able to offer a full table of Guaranteed Income Percentage rates for ages 55-75+

 

Their rates which are fixed at inception have not reduced despite the fall in long term interest rates.

Here are a few examples:

Age Guaranteed Income for Life Rate
60 3.5%
65 4%
70 4.5%
75+ 5.25%

Met Life's products are fully covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, with fully invested funds managed by BlackRock and Fidelity.

Uniquely, MetLife locks in any investment gains above the secure value daily, so a rising income has already been a reality for some clients since launch.

As the value is locked in, the new secure income level becomes the income for life.

These propositions are only available via an IFA so before taking action, it is sensible and prudent to take independent advice.


11th July 2016

Final Salary pension values soar post-Brexit

The UK's decision to leave the EU has pushed gilt yields to historic lows, sending defined benefit transfer values to record highs (source: Xafinity).

Following the historic referendum on 23 June, UK 10-year gilt yields tumbled to below 1 per cent for the first time ever, increasing the cost for final salary pension schemes (DB schemes) to meet their liabilities. This has automatically increased the value of DB transfers, better known as Cash Equivalent Transfer Values, which are calculated according to the cost of meeting liabilities.

For example, Xafinity calculated that on 30 June, a 64-year-old with a DB pension worth £10,000 a year could expect to receive a cash sum of £223,000 if they transferred now. This was £20,000 more than the value on 1 January this year and £25,000 higher than in March 2015.

I see that FTAdviser report that post-Brexit, it had become more expensive for DB pension schemes to meet their liabilities, because their favourite type of investment - UK gilts, were no longer doing the heavy lifting. But unfortunately for DB schemes, this also meant the value of Cash Equivalent Transfer Values had gone up, because they are calculated according to how much of today's money it will cost the scheme to make good on promises to members.

While this is good news for members looking to take a transfer value of their defined benefits I would stress that it should not necessarily be read as advice to transfer out of a DB scheme.

Whether now is a good time to transfer, or whether to wait is where the view of an independent financial adviser is really important – and it is essential that you seek good quality independent financial advice from a pension specialist before taking any action.


30th June 2016

Let the dust settle

The people of Britain have voted to leave the European Union. This clearly represents a very significant decision for the UK, for the European Union and indeed for the wider global economy, how the UK's long-term economic future will be affected by it is still somewhat unknown.

There will be challenges in the short and medium term as we now face a period of uncertainty whilst the exact terms of Britain's exit from Europe are negotiated.

Here at Pension Drawdown our portfolios have already been aligned to cope with the challenges facing these markets. Our recent strategy has been to reduce exposure to UK and European markets. Although markets have fallen in line with their equity content, they will be down much less than pure UK stock market investments and the FTSE 100. Overseas funds have benefitted from the falling pound which has helped to offset the European equity falls.

Now that we have the result we intend to 'keep calm and carry on'. In practical terms this means that while the market storm rages over the shorter term we will not be tempted to make any sudden moves. This prevents crystallising temporary losses, when there is a strong possibility that after the initial reaction markets will recover somewhat and stabilise as we all await detailed plans of how to make the best of the changed framework.

Despite these headwinds, we remain confident that in the medium to long term, our portfolios will continue to deliver positive returns that we continue to focus on.


3rd June 2016

FCA announces early exit charge cap proposal

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has announced that early exit charges for existing contract-based pensions, including workplace pensions should be capped at 1% of the value of a member's pot.

Britain's financial watchdog is taking action after the chancellor, George Osborne, pledged in January to tackle the “ripoff” charges levied on people aged 55 and over who want to make use of the pension freedoms introduced in April last year. The charges can run into thousands of pounds. Although the cap will not come into force until next April, this is a good first step.

Under the proposals, firms will not be able to apply exit charges for personal pension contracts from the date the new rules come into force (which is yet to be determined).

The FCA is consulting on the following measures:

  • a 1% cap of a consumer's policy value at exit. This will prevent a rise in charges for existing contracts with early exit penalties set at less than 1%
  • a 0% cap on early exit charges of consumer policy value in new contracts entered into after the rules come into force.

Christopher Woolard, director of strategy and competition at FCA, said:

“This is an important step so people feel able to access their pension savings should they wish to.”

Minister for pensions, Baroness Ros Altmann, commented:

“These changes are about giving everyone who has worked and saved hard for their retirement a fair deal by removing the final barriers to the pension freedoms.”


24th May 2016

If the Bank of England does not understand the pension system...

Well it appears that even the best of us may struggle to make sense of the great British pension system. Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, has said that the British pensions system is so complicated that even he struggles to understand it. In a speech at the New City Agenda annual dinner on May 18th, Mr Haldane said he is “moderately financially literate” but due to the system is “not... able to make the remotest sense of pensions”. He said that growing freedom and individual responsibility combined with a lack of knowledge would become an increasingly pressing problem. In some ways he is quite brave to make such an admission – something that could have undermined his credibility. As I've said before, early financial education for the younger generation is one solution but the importance of getting good quality financial advice from the people that know cannot be under-estimated either. My colleagues at Pension Drawdown are well qualified with years of experience behind them and they will happily explain things in plain English for you.


5th May 2016

The Bank of Mum and Dad enters the top 10 mortgage lenders in the UK

Parents are expected to give their children an average of £17,500 this year to help them get on the property ladder, according to Legal & General (L&G) data.

Low or no interest rates, long or infinite repayment periods and a personal service: It's not surprising the Bank of Mum and Dad is Britain's best-loved financial institution. It's a little more surprising what a major player it is in the UK housing market as data suggests that it will be at least part-funding a quarter of all UK mortgages. Family members are helping 300,000 people onto the housing ladder this year.

But it warns this method of lending is coming under increasing pressure.

Whilst The Bank of Mum and Dad plays a vital role in helping young people to take their early steps on to the housing ladder, it highlighted a number of important issues, including house prices being "out of sync with wages". Older “lenders” will increasingly need to ensure that their own income and care needs in retirement can still be met even after providing housing support to their children. For many the option remains of releasing equity from the family home to supplement pension income. Equity release or lifetime mortgages remain under-used, with only £1.6bn of transactions in 2015, though more people are giving them serious consideration. However, Bank of Mum and Dad cannot continue to grow indefinitely: parents and grand parents are living longer, and many will face expensive and often unexpected care costs in old age.

What is very clear from research is that Bank of Mum and Dad on its own cannot solve the crisis of housing supply and affordability. It is neither available to enough people, nor sufficiently sustainable over the long term as care costs rise.

The Government has made a number of attempts to address the issue of affordability for first-time buyers: Help to Buy and, most recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's planned “Lifetime ISA”, which will be available both for retirement savings and for first-time house purchases in 2017. These may help some, but ultimately they introduce more money into the system, stoking up housing demand when the real issue is about the supply of housing.

Some societal changes will help relieve pressure. The way we “do” mortgages in the UK is changing and will have to change further: it is likely that the traditional approach to repayment and outright ownership in time to retire will change. Mortgage terms may get longer.

Then again, more people may choose to rent, for lifestyle reasons, and because the transaction costs (such as stamp duty) are too expensive for someone climbing the traditional housing ladder.

But the challenge for young people is wider than this. It's one thing to have a roof over your head but another, quite different matter in securing financial stability in the golden years of retirement. My biggest fear is the pensions revolution lacks the fundamental roots to tackle the need to provide people with a secure pension and guide the next generation to a better financial future. A solution could be to put in place a far-reaching financial education programme to build the financial capability of our children – tomorrow's workforce.

The savings challenge for the next generation is not just about investment returns and tax-efficient savings wrappers. It is about engagement and education. We must talk to them and encourage them to make full use of the savings schemes available. http://pension-drawdown.co.uk/invest


21st April 2016

Lifetime Allowance & Auto Enrolment

Are you at risk of exceeding your lifetime allowance?

Everyone with a pension in the UK is subject to something known as the Lifetime Allowance (LTA). This is the maximum amount of money you can accumulate in your pension pot(s) without triggering an extra tax charge. The current LTA has just been reduced to £1m.

Why the change?

The reduction was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his recent 2015 budget and was done so because the old £1.25m lifetime allowance was ‘unsustainable' according to the Chancellor, and by reducing it will not affect 96% of the population, only the 4% of very top earners being affected.

Surely it won't affect me - I'll never be able to save £1m into my pension pot

You'll be surprised. Younger people especially have the potential to be affected by the reduction in the Lifetime Allowance. Take for example, a 21 year old earning the minimum wage. If that person works fulltime and puts 20% of their earnings away every month, they could easily have reached this limit. This could be somewhat offset by the fact that George Osborne has now linked the LTA to inflation, but consider that the young person could be earning substantially more than the minimum wage as they get older and you can see that it will affect more and more people as time goes on. In fact, it could very well affect more and more people who are now in the middle of their working lives. If you are in your 40s or 50s and have contributed to a pension since age 18 then you may have built up a substantial pension pot. From 2012 if your employer is subject to the automatic enrolment duty under the provisions of Pensions Act 2008 they will automatically enrol you into a qualifying workplace pension scheme. If and when this happens then these further contributions to a pension via Auto Enrolment may unwittingly tip you over the Lifetime Allowance. In those circumstances, it may be necessary to have a thorough review of your pensions.

If I think I may be affected, what can I do?

The first thing to do is take advice from a specialist pensions independent financial advisor, who can make the necessary calculations to check whether you are likely to be affected by the reduction in the LTA. There are various options but they will depend upon the exact amount of your pension pot, the scheme you are in, your age, lifestyle expectations and numerous other factors to decide the best course of action. It's because of this complexity that professional advice is a must to ensure you make the right decision for you and your circumstances.


15th April 2016

Jonathan Walker's achievement

On Sunday 10th April the Sunday Times published their first supplement listing the Top 250 IFAs in the UK based on reviews on the independent consumer ratings website VouchedFor.co.uk. We are proud, but not at all surprised, to say that Jonathan Walker was featured.

To be included Jonathan was highly recommended by 20 of his clients. All had rated his services over 4 stars out of 5, which is a fantastic achievement. We'd like to thank all of the clients who took the time to share their positive feedback on VouchedFor.co.uk.

Adam Price, Founder of VouchedFor.co.uk: commented “At VouchedFor we're passionate about helping people find great financial and legal advice. At certain points in life the majority of us would benefit from expert help with complex issues such as pension planning, securing a mortgage or for advice on a legal issue. Listing professionals alongside verified reviews from their existing clients makes it easy to find a respected and trusted expert like Jonathan to help. We would like to congratulate Jonathan on being one of the Top 250 - it's a great endorsement of the service Jonathan provides at The Pension Drawdown Company”

You can see his reviews by going to https://www.vouchedfor.co.uk/financial-advisor-ifa/torquay/24046-jonathan-walker.


8th April 2016

Nice one!

In these volatile and sometimes tricky times, it's reassuring to receive positive endorsements from clients. This one came in today and it did make me smile.

“I have just opened the portfolio valuation dated 4th April. It would seem that you DO know what you are doing. What a good decision to move everything to the Pension Drawdown Company. I may even recommend you to friends!”


24th March 2016

Altmann: “Create a culture where it pays to save”

I see that the pensions minister Baroness Ros Altmann has added her approval to the Chancellor's Budget announcement of more measures to encourage saving at all ages and improvements for guidance and advice. It is good to see that earlier in the month the milestone of 6m workers have now signed up for a workplace pension. Whilst some may see this as a burden now, it will provide much need flexibility for them in the future and will mean less reliance upon the State pension which is being pushed further and further into old age.

Allowing employers £500 tax and national insurance relief, instead of the £150 if they arrange advice, and consulting on the pensions advice allowance are important steps towards helping more people plan properly for later life. All of these changes reinforce the Government's commitment to supporting savers and creating a culture where it pays to save.

With this in mind, don't forget that if you are thinking of topping up your ISA before the end of the tax year on April 5th, time is running out so you need to act quickly, call us if you need advice, you may be able to use our on-line facility.


16th March 2016

Spring Budget 2016

It's business as usual for pension saving as the Chancellor confirmed there will be no imminent changes to pension tax relief. And the introduction of the new Lifetime ISA saving vehicle from April 2017 adds another attractive complementary option to the savings landscape.

Taken together with cuts in CGT rates, new ISA limits, further boosts in income tax thresholds and some welcome tidying-up of pension anomalies, it's been a good Budget for savers. Anything that encourages the 50% of the population that don't save or do not have savings, to start putting something away, is to be applauded. Time to celebrate with a fizzy drink before the price rises.

1st March 2016

Following on from my comments

Following on from my comments about Final Salary schemes on 19 February, I see that some of the weekend papers were picking up on this story again.

To further illustrate the difficulties faced by some of these schemes, last week we received an enquiry from a female client from the Midlands who has a British Home Stores (BHS) pension. Her length of service was only a few years so her pension fund is only worth a modest £45,000. However, due to under-funding, and a shortfall in assets to back it up, for her to transfer out, the BHS pension fund will impose a whopping 28% penalty. This means that the transfer value is reduced to £32,400.

Is this fair to the individual, or fair to the remaining savers within the fund? Whatever you think, The Pension Protection Fund could be quite busy over the coming years.


1st March 2016

Countdown to the Budget

March is traditionally Budget month. There has been much speculation on what the Chancellor is going to do (if anything) to square the circle of needing to make £35bn in pension benefits cost savings whilst still enticing individuals to save for their retirement.

Currently pension savers are given tax relief at the point of saving and during accumulation and they are taxed when they start withdrawing funds.

The Treasury has been consulting on new options for awarding pensions tax relief over the past few months, suggesting it may want to change the current system to one similar to ISAs. This would see pension savings taxed before they reach the pension pot and tax-free at withdrawal. A third, and some think the preferred option, is to introduce a flat rate of tax relief for all. As often happens in a Budget, there may also be some unexpected (and unwelcome) surprises too.

Whatever happens, if you are a higher rate tax payer earning more than £42,000pa, then potentially you only have a couple of weeks left in which to act to safeguard current levels of tax relief. But don't leave it until March 15th, the day before the Budget as many providers are reporting that thousands of savers are rushing to move their money into pensions so they will need time to process your cheque.

Pensions can be fiendishly complicated, surely if the Chancellor is serious about encouraging savers to plan for their retirement then instead of moving the goal-posts, he should be looking to make the whole process simpler and clearer.


19th February 2016

Can you really rely on your final salary pension?

I suspect that few of you have taken much notice of the occasional press comment around the massive deficits in some of the country's top company final salary (defined benefit or DB) pension schemes. Well here's one from Pensions World to think about...

‘The aggregate deficit of the 5,945 schemes in the Pension Protector Fund 7800 Index is estimated to have increased over the month to £304.9 billion at the end of January 2016. This is up from an estimated £46.4bn at the end of January 2014. There are 4,923 schemes in deficit and 1,022 schemes in surplus'.

Recently, the Financial Times reported that BT Group, BAE Systems and International Airlines Group are among a number of large UK-listed companies to have come under renewed criticism over the size of their pension deficits. BT, the telecoms company, tops a list of FTSE 100 companies ranked by the size of their pension deficits, which is the difference between what a pension fund must pay out to retirees (liabilities) and its assets. BP, Shell, Tesco and Royal Bank of Scotland also appear in the top 10 whereas Marks & Spencer's pension fund has recently returned to surplus.

The general public at large is blissfully unaware of the uncertain nature of their defined benefit pensions. Many are smugly pleased that they have a final salary pension, but millions would be clamoring for action if only they knew that their pensions were at risk. I would add that the deficits are not necessarily the fault of the companies concerned – for years investment returns have been lower than expectations and with ever increasing age longevity, this has put a significant strain on the ability of these funds to keep producing the goods. Whilst companies have pumped billions into their schemes to tackle the deficit, there are still a significant number of FTSE 100 companies for which the pension scheme represents a material risk to their business. This is something that members of final salary schemes need to keep an eye on and consider just how secure and ‘guaranteed' these schemes are. Of course there is always the option for some to transfer out of a final salary scheme but the benefits of these schemes should not be abandoned lightly. Cash Equivalent Transfer Values (CETVs) are currently at the higher end of the scale but these are set to fall if and when interest rates start to rise. If you are thinking of transferring your pension then there are attractive alternatives on the market such as Aegon and Met Life's Guaranteed Drawdown plans. These provide the certainty of income like a final salary scheme but with the added advantage of the potential for any remaining capital in the fund being passed onto beneficiaries upon death (unlike a final salary scheme). Before taking any action though, it is vital that you seek independent financial advice.

(The Pension Protection Fund's main function is to provide compensation to members of eligible defined benefit pension schemes, when there is a qualifying insolvency event in relation to the employer, and where there are insufficient assets in the pension scheme to cover the Pension Protection Fund level of compensation. The Pension Protection Fund is a statutory fund run by the Board of the Pension Protection Fund, a statutory corporation established under the provisions of the Pensions Act 2004).

hhttp://www.pensionprotectionfund.org.uk/DocumentLibrary/Documents/PPF_7800_underlying_data.pdf


12th February 2016

Advice or guidance?

Pensions minister Ros Altmann made a very good point this week that she is concerned ‘people don't understand what advice means' when they make decisions about their pensions, and called for greater clarity. Speaking at a Trades Union Congress (TUC) about workplace pensions, Ms Altmann said the public were not aware what advice meant when it came to dealing with their pension. ‘Many people don't understand what advice means in a regulated sense,' she said. The public needed greater clarity to understand what advice and guidance could offer. 'People need more clarity on what is advice and what is guidance and what they can both do for you,' she said. Altmann was addressing the confusion that has risen since the introduction of government-backed guidance services to support pension freedom rules last April.

The government established Pension Wise to provide guidance to people who wished to access their pension before they turned 55.The face to face guidance is provided by the charity Citizens Advice, and over the phone guidance is provided by The Pensions Advisory Service. Meanwhile the separate Money Advice Service also offers financial information and guidance online. Two of these services have the word 'advice' in their titles but none of them provide regulated financial advice. Altmann said she was concerned people did not understand the difference between these services and regulated advice. 'We have the Money Advice Service and Citizens Advice Bureau, which don't offer advice. But who actually understands that?' she said. She echoed concerns raised by the Work and Pensions Committee of MPs in a report published last October into guidance and advice following pension freedoms.

In the report the committee recommended the government and Financial Conduct Authority introduce a greater distinction between guidance and advice.

The Treasury's response to the report confirmed it would look at making this distinction clear as part of the upcoming financial advice market review.

We think it is really very simple. Guidance is what you can do and advice is what you should do. More often than not, you have to tell people what they can do, before you can tell them what they should do. Furthermore, guidance may be free but advice is usually chargeable.

So what will the new rate be? This could range from 20%, 25% or 33% depending on how much money the Treasury is looking to save. Whatever the new rate is, higher rate tax payers should review their pension contributions and consider topping them up before the tax benefits start to erode. Talk to us or your financial adviser about this.


5th February 2016

There's talk that in his March 16 budget...

There's talk that in his March 16 budget, George Osborne will announce a major shake-up of pension taxation. It is widely expected that he will introduce a flat rate of tax relief for all pension savers. The Treasury is apparently working behind the scenes with sharpened pencils to finalise the details as I write this. A flat rate of relief would replace the current system in which tax payers receive relief at the highest marginal rate of tax they pay; so basic rate tax payers get relief of 20% on their pension contributions, and higher rate tax payers enjoy 40%.

So what will the new rate be? This could range from 20%, 25% or 33% depending on how much money the Treasury is looking to save. Whatever the new rate is, higher rate tax payers should review their pension contributions and consider topping them up before the tax benefits start to erode. Talk to us or your financial adviser about this.


1st February 2016

Reduction in the lifetime allowance - take out protection

There's been a great deal of coverage on pensions in the press this weekend - particularly in the Money section of the Saturday Telegraph and we would like to draw your attention to some of them.

The Lifetime Allowance will be reduced from £1.25 million to £1 million from 6 April 2016. Many middle income earners will be potentially affected by this change and may well be eligible to apply for Individual Protection 2014 or 2016 depending on the amounts already invested in their pensions. If you have already reached the £1.25 million level you should consider stopping funding your pension and applying for Fixed Protection 2016 to protect your Lifetime Allowance at £1.25. If you pay more than £1.25 Million into your pension then you will be subject to a Lifetime Allowance charge of 55% on any excess. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/pensions/12109710/1.5-million-savers-face-55pc-pension-tax.html

Maximise your pension contributions to take advantage of tax relief ahead of potential reductions

If you're not close to your Lifetime Allowance then there is a one-off opportunity to maximise contributions to your pension this year because there are two pension input periods this year - effectively giving your two annual allowances - so you could pay up to £80,000 into your pension this year. Using Carry Forward from previous years means you could pay even more into your pension this year and this may be your last opportunity to benefit from higher rate tax relief on contributions, as rumours are rife that pension tax relief will be reduced to a flat rate or even completely removed in the Chancellor's Spring Budget Statement. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/pensions/12115198/52-days-left-of-66pc-pension-tax-relief-boost-This-is-what-you-need-to-do.html


25th January 2016

What a difference a couple of days can make!

After sharp falls in the markets earlier in the week stocks are up, there's a huge rally in oil which is back up to $31 a barrel, quite a roller-coaster week! So where next for the markets? There are so many diverse messages coming out - top investors were expecting further falls in U.S. stocks. George Soros warned a China hard landing will deepen the rout in stocks. On the other hand, Heather Arnold, director of research at Templeton Global Advisors Ltd says the gloom has gone too far and European stocks are expected to end the year 20 percent higher according to the average strategist estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Some experts already think that the pessimism may have been overdone. "For instance, the global economy is growing around 3%, and whilst China's economy - which is the focus of so much of the recent sell-offs - has slowed, there's still growth, strong consumption, and indeed the world's second-largest economy does look relatively stable," says Nigel Green, chief executive of the advisory De Vere Group. China will keep intervening in its equity market to "look after" investors and has no intention of further devaluing the yuan, Vice President Li Yuanchao said.

The only certainty amongst all this is that there will continue to be uncertainty. Our message remains consistent though – now is not the time to panic, markets do go up and they do go down so sit tight and ride out the storm. This demonstrates the importance of having a cash buffer.


18th January 2016

Revealed: The top three watchwords in pension liberation

Since Government reforms became effective last April, the threat posed by unscrupulous pension scammers has grown. Here are three words that you should be wary of if your are approached about your pension.

Legal Loophole - If anyone tells you there is a "legal loophole" that allows you to access part or all of your pension before the age of 55, and that there will be no tax to pay, they're lying and you should disengage immediately, said Angela Brooks of ACA Pension Life, a campaign group currently trying to recoup pension losses on behalf of savers.

Sophisticated Investor - Red flags should be hoisted when being told you are a sophisticated investor or you could be taught to become one for the purposes of accessing your pension, , Brooks said. 'Sophisticated investor' is a term used to describe more experienced investors and it involves getting a certificate needed to be able to invest in unregulated, alternative products. Being unregulated, these products do not afford you protection from the ombudsman of Financial Services Compensation Scheme, so you would lose all your money if things go wrong.

"If you are told you can transfer your pension free of charge, make sure you find out exactly what the long-term charges entail. There is no such thing as ‘free'," said Brooks. Typically pension transfers will involve charges for advice, if taken, as well as asset management charges, which should be explicitly stated. There will also be a tax implication as only 25% of your total pension savings are tax-free to withdraw.

My message is beware of unsolicited approaches and make sure you take professional advice from a reputable adviser.


12th January 2016

I see that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has said it will support a move of Pension Wise towards providing a more personalised service for its clients.

Pension Wise is the government's free at-retirement guidance provider that was introduced in the wake of the Pension Freedom reforms to help consumers make informed decisions at point of retirement.

The government's reforms introduced many savers who would have previously bought an annuity to new complex products such as income drawdown. Pension Wise is not allowed to give personal recommendations, which would be classed as financial advice and come under stricter rules. However, MPs argued in a report out last October that the service needed to be given more freedom to help consumers avoid the next "major mis-selling scandal".

In its response to the report in January the FCA told MPs it was in favour of widening the service and hinted at the possibility of adapting its rules.


8th January 2016

The New Year has started with a jolt with the FTSE 100 index down by over 4% already. There is a mixed economic outlook, but with various good things to report this is not a time to panic. The stock market is likely to quickly regain its losses before the next bout of volatility.

Tensions in the Middle East plus a Chinese slowdown could cause the oil price to fall further in the weeks and months ahead. With the FTSE 100 index still having considerable exposure to the resources sector, such commodity price falls could cause the stock market to drop further as well. It should be put in context that the Chinese rate of growth is merely slowing down and China is not going into recession. Measures put in place by the Chinese authorities are aimed at reducing domestic gambling. The price of Brent crude continues to fall meaning oil prices are at an 11-year low. It should be borne in mind that the low price of oil is intrinsically linked to higher growth potential for the world.

In the UK, businesses remain optimistic heading into 2016 as demonstrated by a record rise in tax return submissions. Business optimism and growth in the private sector grew at the end of 2015 - 2,044 people decided to submit their tax returns on Christmas day!


7th January 2016

Now that 2015 is behind us, we can reflect on a mini revolution in pension drawdown kick-started by the Pension Freedom legislation of 2014.

This is already creating more choice for pension investors and we are pleased that pension providers are responding with new and innovative products. We would like to endorse the contribution made by the Pensions Minister, Ros Altmann. Although she sometimes gets caught in the firing line, she has nonetheless championed pensions by bringing them to the fore and by achieving reductions to charging structures and transparency and simplicity around costs for the ultimate benefit of pension holders.

There is still a lot of work to do but judging by the number of enquiries currently being generated via this website many more people are waking up to the fact that in order to get the best deal for their hard-earned pension savings, they really need to take quality financial advice.




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