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What can I do to minimise any potential impacts of a tough Brexit process?

By Amanda Johnson - Topics: Article 50, Assurance Vie, BREXIT, Company Pension Schemes, Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, France, QROPS, Retirement, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 11th May 2017

11.05.17

This is a question many expatriates are mulling over, now positioning for the upcoming negotiations has started. First and foremost, I remind my customers that the process to leave the EU is widely anticipated to take the full two years set out in article 50, so the only immediate areas people should focus on are changes in the U.K. and French budgets.

As the negotiations progress however, there are steps you can take which will ensure that any effects to you are minimised:

  1. Does your adviser work for a French registered company, regulated in France?

Working with adviser who operates and is regulated already under French finance laws means that any change in the UK’s ability for financial passporting will not affect you.

  1. Is your Assurance Vie held in an EU country, not part of the U.K.?

Again, any issues the U.K. may have to solve regarding passporting are negated by ensuring your Assurance Vie is already domiciled in another EU country.

  1. Have you reviewed any U.K. Company pension schemes you hold, which are due to mature in the future?

The recent U.K. Budget saw the government levy a new tax on people moving their pensions to countries outside the EU. There is no certainly that this tax will not be extended to EU countries once the U.K. has left the union.

The process of leaving the EU is very much unchartered waters and whilst I certainly do not recommend anyone acts hastily, a review of your financial position in the next few months may avoid future headaches.

Whether you want to register for our newsletter, attend one of our road shows or speak to me directly, please call or email me on the contacts below & I will be glad to help you. We do not charge for reviews, reports or recommendations we provide.

When is a guarantee not a guarantee?

By Derek Winsland - Topics: Company Pension Schemes, Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, France, Pensions, QROPS, Retirement
This article is published on: 15th March 2017

15.03.17

On 20th February, the government issued its eagerly awaited Green Paper on reforming defined benefit occupational pensions, more commonly known as final salary pension schemes. This consultation document invites opinion from the pensions industry for giving the government powers to re-structure the benefits payable from such schemes in instances where the employer (and its pension scheme) are in financial difficulty.

For re-structure, read ‘water down’, as what the government proposes is that the scheme, with tacit government approval, can change the terms by which pensions are paid out to its pensioners.

The catalyst for this green paper is the situation surrounding Tata/British Steel, where the sticking point for any sale hinged on the deficit in the British Steel Pension Scheme. This deficit has been variously reported as between £300m and £700m and under current rules, any buyer would have to take on responsibility for addressing this shortfall. Negotiations between the trustees of The British Steel Pension Scheme, Tata and the government has resulted in the trustees amending the way pensions in payment are increased annually from Retail Price Index (RPI) to the lesser Consumer Prices Index. Experts believe this will save the pension scheme, on average £20,000 per member.

Fast forward to 20th February and the government now believes this would be beneficial for ALL schemes suffering from deficiencies in its funding to be able to water-down its benefits. But is this all bad news?

In the case of Tata/British Steel, the alternative was for The British Steel Pension Scheme, with £14 billion of assets, to enter the pension industry’s ‘safety net’ the Pension Protection Fund. If a scheme enters the PPF, its pensioners are guaranteed 100% of their pension entitlement up to a ceiling of £37,420 (at age 65), but with annual increases limited to 2.5% pa. For those members, yet to reach pension age, they are entitled to 90% of their pension.

The Tata deal gives its pension members better benefits than they would receive in PPF, and so received the approval of government and the unions.

The deal that Sir Philip Green struck with the Pensions Regulator for the BHS Scheme is structured along the same lines – the £363m that he ‘deposited’ alongside the BHS Scheme, which has entered PPF, will allow for the BHS pensioners to receive better benefits than would otherwise have been paid from the PPF. I say ‘deposited’, because it is a one-off, no-strings attached, contribution by this Knight of the Realm, to keep the Pensions Regulator happy, whilst preserving the number of yachts in his possession.

And the BHS deal adds to the uncertainty defined benefit pension scheme members must be feeling right now. Sir Philip’s ‘deposit’ has been labeled, within the industry, as a Zombie Pension Fund. In essence, it allows employers to deposit a chunk of money in a pot, separate to its pension fund, that will be called on to sweeten the pill if the scheme then enters PPF.

But why would an employer do this? Because a move such as Sir Philip Green’s puts a cap on the employer’s liabilities. If an employer can strike a deal where it can walk away from its continuing responsibilities to its pension scheme members, then it’s going to be attractive. We’re all going to hear a lot more about ‘sustainability’ of pension funds, with its open-ended responsibility and liabilities falling on the employer. This green paper is, I fear, going to open the flood-gates to more deals being struck by employers with their pension scheme trustees.

I may be wrong but I suspect Mergers and Acquisitions activity could reach unprecedented levels if the government gives the nod to these pension changes.

If you have preserved pension benefits held in a defined benefits pension scheme and would like to find out more about your pension entitlement and its funding position, then please contact me direct on the number below. You can also contact me by email at derek.winsland@spectrum-ifa.com or call our office in Limoux to make an appointment. Alternatively, I conduct a drop-in clinic most Fridays (holidays excepting), when you can pop in to speak to me.
Our office telephone number is 04 68 31 14 10.

A case study on UK final salary pensions

By Michael Doyle - Topics: Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, France, Luxembourg, Pensions, QROPS, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 28th November 2016

28.11.16

I was recently asked to review one of my client’s UK pensions.

He had what is known as a Defined Benefits Scheme – more commonly referred to as a Final Salary Scheme.

My client had lost touch with this scheme a few years back and the last update he had from them was in 2006. On this statement the scheme offered him a transfer value of approximately £52,928, otherwise he could remain in the scheme until he was 65 and have a pension commencement lump sum (PCLS) of c. £27,000 and an income of £4,700 per annum.

If he remained in the scheme and took the lump sum and income, in the event of his death there would be no lump sum paid to his beneficiaries although an income payment of around £3,000 per annum would have been paid until the 10th anniversary of his 65 birthday.

On completing a review of my client’s pension I found that the scheme would now offer a transfer value just in excess of £180,000. In transferring this to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS), I was able to offer my client an initial PCLS of £45,000. This still left him with a fund of £135,000. Assuming we can provide a rate of return of 3.5% after charges then the client can have the same income as with his Final Salary Scheme.

Assuming the client only draws down the same £27,000 that his UK pension offered then we would only have to provide returns of 3.07%.

In the end, the client chose the transfer because:

  1. In the event of his death after receiving the PCLS, the remaining funds could be passed on to his children.
  2. He only needed the PCLS and not the income at 65. This was not an option under the final salary scheme.
  3. He can control the level of income he needs going forward (subject to the returns in the funds he was invested in).

With annuity rates being very low at this time, final salary schemes are offering a much higher transfer value and this can be beneficial for both you and your beneficiaries.

To review your pension options today please contact me for a no obligation chat and free analysis on your personal situation.

Will BREXIT have an effect on your Pension Plans?

By Susan Worthington - Topics: BREXIT, Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, Mallorca, Pensions, QROPS, spain, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 20th October 2016

20.10.16

 
Brexit could have an effect on your Pension whether it is a Private Plan or Final Salary Scheme that is waiting to be paid. There are many various pension plans these are just two examples

Do you have a Private Frozen Pension in the UK?

Pensions are driven by HMRC ruling not EU Membership and a QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes) which allows you to transfer your pension overseas. This option may not be available in the future as there is talk that HMRC may pull the plug, make restrictions or even insert transfer tax.

Do you have a Final Salary Pension Scheme in the UK?

There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and UK pension world that make a review of any pension(s) essential for those living or planning to live outside the UK.
Final Salary pension schemes (also referred to as Defined Benefit schemes) have long been viewed as a gold plated route to a comfortable retirement, however there are likely to be large changes ahead in the pension industry. The key question is; will these schemes really be able to provide the promised benefits over the next 20+ years?

Why Review now?

Record high transfer values

  • Gilt rates are at an all-time low. This has caused transfer values to be at an all-time high, some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.

TATA Steel/BHS

  • Recent examples show that very large deficits in pension schemes cause a number of problems, in particular no one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on
  • Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers

Pension Protection Fund (PPF)

  • This fund has been set up to help the schemes that do get into financial trouble, two points are key. Firstly it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly the remaining final salary schemes have to pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF in order to fund the insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there are less remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost.
  • It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes, they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for the pensioners
  • In April 2015 unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability for transfers, so schemes for nurses, firemen, army personnel, civil service workers etc. can no longer transfer their pensions. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one is able to respond by transferring out of the scheme

Autumn Statement (Budget)

  • This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked there was a small window of time to transfer, however most people couldn’t get their transfer values in time as the demand was so high. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options

What could happen in the Future?

  • An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes
  • Increase the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension
  • Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)
  • Reduction of Spouse’s benefit
  • Increase of contributions from current members
  • Lower starting income

Act now! Review your pensions

Susan Worthington of The Spectrum IFA Group has been giving investment advice here in Mallorca and Menorca since 1994.
If you wish to have a chat with Susan about any frozen or paid-up pension.
Contact: susan.worthington@spectrum-ifa.com or telephone 670 308987.

Should you consider transferring your Final Salary Pension Scheme?

By Peter Brooke - Topics: Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, France, Pensions, QROPS, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 10th October 2016

10.10.16

There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and UK pension rules that make a review of any pension(s) essential for those living or planning to live outside the UK. Final Salary pension schemes (also referred to as Defined Benefit schemes) have long been viewed as a gold plated route to a comfortable retirement, however there are likely to be large changes ahead in the pension industry. The key question is; will these schemes really be able to provide the promised benefits over the next 20+ years?

Why Review now?

Record high transfer values
– Gilt rates are at an all time low. This has caused transfer values to be at an all time high, some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.

Scheme Deficits
– Actuaries Hyman Robertson now calculate the total deficits on remaining final salary pension schemes as £1 Trillion!

TATA Steel/BHS
– Recent examples show that these very large deficits cause a number of problems, in particular no one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on.
– Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers. There is a strong argument that saving thousands of jobs is in the national interest, if that just means trimming down some of these “gold plated benefits”.

Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
– This fund has been set up to help pension schemes that do get into financial trouble, two points are key. Firstly it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly the remaining final salary schemes have to pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF in order to fund the liabilities of insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there are fewer remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost. Their premium costs will increase as there will be fewer remaining schemes to fund the PPF levy.
– It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes, they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for the pensioners. Additionally the PPF will most likely have to reduce the benefits they pay out.

Pension changes that have already happened
Inflationary increases have already been permitted to change from Retail Prices Index (RPI) to Consumer Prices Index (CPI), this change looks reasonably small, but over a lifetime this could
reduce the benefits by between 25% and 30%.
– In April 2015 unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability to transfer out, so schemes for nurses, firemen, military personnel, civil service workers etc. can no longer transfer their pensions. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one is able to respond by transferring out.
– When this rule change was being discussed the authorities also wanted to block the transfer of funded non-public sector schemes, i.e. most corporate final salary schemes. There is therefore a risk that transfers from all final salary schemes could be blocked or gated.

Autumn Statement (Budget)
– This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked there was a small window of time to transfer, however most people couldn’t get their transfer values in time as the demand was so high. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options.
– Could Brexit end the ability to transfer pensions away from the UK? – this is still unknown, but Pensions are often a soft target of government taxation ‘raids’.

Reasons why schemes are in difficulty:

Ageing population – people now expect to live around 27 years in retirement, when these schemes commenced the average number of years in retirement was 13 years.

Lower Investment Returns – Investment returns have not been as high as expected, also there has been a very large reduction in equity (shares) content in final salary schemes, this is now around 33%, in 2006 the average equity content was 61.1%.

Benefits were too good – Simply, many of the final salary schemes were too good. In 2016, if you became a member of a 1/60th scheme then your company would need to add 50% of your salary to make sure the benefits can be paid. Clearly this is unrealistic.

What could happen in the Future?

– An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes
– Increase the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension
– Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)
– Reduction of Spouse’s benefit
– Increase of contributions from current members
– Lower starting income

Warning – UK Pensions

By Pauline Bowden - Topics: Defined benefit pension scheme, Pensions, Retirement, spain, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 25th September 2016

25.09.16

In the UK the FCA and HMRC have been making frequent changes to Pension rules and the way pensions are taxed. It has been for this reason that many clients have moved their pensions out of the UK. Now with BREXIT around the corner I suggest we may see even more changes.

Transfers out of most public sector schemes have been stopped– but not all, yet! That means that many former public sector workers; Teachers, Civil Servants, Nurses, Doctors, and many Local Government officers, have been unable to transfer their pensions.

More than 100 company pension schemes in the UK are in deficit i.e. they do not have enough money in them to pay out the expected benefits. Some schemes are good and have sufficient funds. Is yours?

In the past our firm have often advised clients to leave defined benefits schemes (final salary schemes) where they are as they usually provided a guaranteed income. Now that view is changing.

Transfer values are at a high at the moment because gilt returns are very low. This is the time to review your pensions before rules are changed yet again. There may only be a short window of opportunity to make sure you can take control over your existing pension funds.

Make sure you review your personal situation BEFORE article 50 is invoked i.e. before the UK start the process of leaving the EU. It is important to find out if your pension pot sitting in the UK is safe and well-funded.

A consultation with me is free. It will cost you nothing but time – I do not charge for a consultation. Although, I might let you pay for the coffee!!!

When is a guarantee not a guarantee

By Derek Winsland - Topics: Defined benefit pension scheme, France, Pensions, Retirement, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 28th June 2016

28.06.16

When is a guarantee not a guarantee? Members of the BHS Pension Scheme must be wondering that after news broke that the scheme, into which both they and their employer diligently contributed into, is £571 million in deficit. Questions are being asked as to how it ended up in this situation, given that the Trustees of the scheme were supposed to operate within quite strict guidelines, within a regulatory regime that doesn’t usually miss much. It is at this point that a short history lesson is perhaps needed.

The more mature reader will no doubt remember the Robert Maxwell Affair. The former owner of Mirror Group Newspapers (under rules that were allowed at that time) regularly dipped into the wonderfully overfunded Mirror Pension Scheme to prop up his ailing business, to the tune of around £500 million. When this didn’t work, he (allegedly) took a swallow dive off the back of his boat, leaving others to clear up the mess he’d created.

Much hand-wringing in the corridors of power resulted in more stringent rules being put in place to avoid a repetition and to which pension scheme trustees would henceforth have to abide by. Bear in mind, that the employer was generally the trustee of its own scheme, being told to conform to new rules limiting what they could and couldn’t do was a challenge; in the end the regulator focused on policing the funding position of schemes….no more than 110% overfunded and no less than 90% underfunded. This led to overfunded schemes using imaginative ways to reduce its funding position such as providing contribution holidays to its members or giving discretionary increases to retiring members’ benefits for example. Another bright idea was the introduction of reporting requirements that insisted on pension fund deficits being carried through to the company balance sheet – that’ll stop those pesky company executives from massaging their company’s financial position.

Pension Protection Fund (PPF)

Fast forward a few years to the start of the millennium when three years of turmoil in equity markets had a disastrous impact on those funding positions…whoops! This resulted in the creation of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), a funding mechanism put in place to safeguard the benefits of pension scheme members in the event of company failure. The government of the day decreed that PPF should be funded by the family of pension schemes themselves…..anyone spot the flaw in this? At some indefinable future date, it will fail because the ratio of fully funded schemes will reduce, whilst the number of failing companies increases. Interestingly, one of my colleagues in Spain has analyzed the funding position of the PPF, the results of which are on the Spectrum IFA Group’s website. To the end of January 2016, there are 5,945 member schemes in the PPF, 4,923 of which are in deficit, and only 1,022 in surplus. The average funding position across all companies is 80% (remember the ‘no less than 90% underfunded’ rule?); the deficit position of the PPF is £304.9 billion.

Perhaps, this is the real reason why Pensions Flexibility was introduced? Encourage pension policyholders including members of final salary pension schemes (also known as Defined Benefit or DB Schemes) “to take control of their own retirements”, or buy a Lamborghini if you prefer! The lure of that invitation has not been lost on the Great British pension public, which has resulted in meaningful conversations being had between them and their IFA’s. In some cases, it really is beneficial to take the transfer value offered and put it into a personal pension arrangement, but I stress this does depend on individual circumstances.

Are you a member of a Defined Benefit Pension Scheme?

If you are a member of a defined benefit pension scheme and would like us to carry out an analysis to determine how valuable it is to you and your circumstances, ring for an appointment or take advantage of our Friday Morning Drop-in Clinic, here at our office in Limoux. And don’t forget, there is no charge for these meetings. There is also no charge for the gathering of information from your pension scheme administrator, after which we will put you in a much more-enlightened position as to your benefits.