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Pensions Time Bomb

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Company Pension Schemes, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, Italy, Pensions, Retirement
This article is published on: 27th October 2016

27.10.16

It could be said that uncertainty is the nemesis of good long term financial planning and living in today’s world you could be forgiven for throwing your hat in and tucking yourself away for a few years: Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Donald Trump, Italian Constitutional Referendum, German and French elections, the rise of nationalism, and the list goes on.

However, time always marches on and we either get left behind or plan forward. No one has ever complained to me (yet) about finding ways to legally save tax, finding ways to save money, getting better investment returns, or having more money then they had planned for.

So with this in mind I want to return to a subject which I have touched on a few times before but which has been hurled back to the top of the financial planning priority charts: UK Final Salary Pension Schemes.

This Blog is specifically for anyone who holds any type of corporate final salary pension plan. (It does not relate to the UK state pension or UK government pension schemes, eg Teacher, Doctor, Army etc).

STARTING WITH THE BAD NEWS
I want to break some bad news to holders of those historically ‘gold plated’, final salary pensions schemes. The schemes that promise you a certain level of income based on your last few years salary level with your employer.

THEY ARE NO LONGER GOLD PLATED!
This is quite a complex area to try and explain, but let me try and sum it up in a nutshell.

When the population starts living longer and the pension scheme can’t ask anymore contributions from the new members (without crippling them financially), then the cost of looking after the existing retirees for a much longer time than the scheme had anticipated (due to medical advances), becomes much greater than the net new money being put into the scheme.

If this were a family, it would be in debt. A mortgage, it would have defaulted. A company, it would have gone bankrupt.

Another problem is that these pension scheme need such a secure income stream to pay the retirement incomes of the retirees that they have to invest the scheme assets in safe, but incredibly low yielding asset such as Government Bonds.

And there you have the problem. If you make very attractive promises to the retirees, based on your calculations many years ago, but the financial landscape changes dramatically during that time, then your original calculations are now totally obsolete. More money out than coming in spells TROUBLE!

Examples:

If you want to know how bad this situation is, then take a look at these figures. (These show the market value of the company in billions, versus the liability of their long term pension obligations, ‘IN BILLIONS’. The figures are staggering)

 

These are the worst in the UK. If these companies had to legally honour their pension liabilities, they would be bankrupt.But, let’s not be silly about things. The Government would never let companies like this go bankrupt, so they allow them to continue to operate the pension funds off their balance sheets.And, to make it even more enticing they allow them another ‘get out clause’…outright default!, right into the UK Pension Protection Fund. A UK Government run scheme which guarantees to pay the pensions (up to certain limits) in the event that the company says it can no longer do so.The burden moves to the taxpayer!
However, as low interest rates and retirees living longer wreck their long term calculations, more and more pension schemes are opting to close down and place their members under the Pension Protection Fund. As more and more members apply the burden becomes greater on the UK public purse? Do they cut the maximum amount of pension you could receive? What about the benefits you might lose?These are all very serious questions for people who are currently members of final salary pensions.However, there is some potential light at the end of the tunnel. A transfer away from the scheme, with a lump sum from which you can invest and take income from, as though you had your own personal pension.The advantages and disadvantages have to be weighed up but with more schemes in financial difficulty there is a distinct possibility that it might be worth your while.NOW! is the time to find out the value of your pension
Low interest rates and stress on the pension fund means that transfer values out are at historical highs. The companies are happy to rid themselves of you and will pay handsomely to do so, and the low interest environment means the transfer out values are much higher than you might imagine.But low interest rates will not continue forever. Brexit and the fall of GBP will create inflation and that means interest rates will have to rise.Get the information now before it is too late
Lastly, let’s leave things on a good note. If the benefit of transfer out is clear and present after an analysis of the situation, then you can also pass your income onto your spouse/partner, and/or leave the asset to your family on death. The benefits are not lost when you dieThere are benefits on both sides of the argument and we provide a FREE analysis to advise our client whether to transfer or not. If you want to look into this area of your retirement plans and potentially secure your long term income stream, then you can contact me on gareth.horsfall@spectrum-ifa.com or on cell: +39 3336492356

VALUE PENSION LIABILITY
BAE Systems £15.802bn £29.236bn
RSA Insurance £4.332bn £7.126bn
British Telecom £36.657bn £51.210bn
Sainsbury £4.946bn £7.696bn
Rolls Royce £10.572bn £11.564bn
RBS £39.954bn £35.152bn

Time to Review Your Final Salary Pension

By Craig Welsh - Topics: Belgium, BREXIT, Netherlands, Pensions, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 27th October 2016

27.10.16

Final Salary pension schemes, also known as Defined Benefit schemes, have long been viewed as a gold-plated route to a comfortable retirement. In the past, many advisers, including ourselves, would have been sceptical about people transferring out of such a scheme. However, there have been huge changes in UK pensions legislation and there are likely to be further changes ahead. The key question here is; will these schemes be able to provide the benefits they have promised over the next 20+ years?

Why Review Now?

In many cases, it may still be best advice to leave the pension where it is. And a transfer out requires highly specialised and regulated advice. However, there are many compelling reasons why a review makes sense.

Record high transfer values
UK gilt yields are at an all-time low and this has pushed up transfer values to be an all-time high; some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months. Many clients are quite surprised to learn their scheme which projects an income of GBP 10,000 per annum in retirement offers a transfer value of over GBP 330,000!

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 very large deficits cause several problems. 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 must pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF to fund the liabilities of insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there would be fewer remaining schemes that must 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 possible that the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes; i.e. they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for pensioners. Additionally, the PPF will most likely have to reduce the benefits they pay out.

Pension Changes Already in Place
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. are no longer transferable. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one can 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 expected on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked, there was a small time window to transfer. 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. As schemes have become underfunded, they have invested more conservatively. Average exposure to equities (shares) is now around 33%, whereas in 2006 the average equity content was 61%.

Benefits were too generous. In simple terms, 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 Change?

·       An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes

·       An increase to 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

What Are The Alternatives?

QROPS schemes have proven very popular in recent years as they offer expats excellent flexibility. While a QROPS is not the only alternative, and each individual case needs properly reviewed by a suitably qualified adviser, the benefits are clear;

·       The ability to pass the pension fund on to heirs

·       The option to change currency

·       You can access the benefits flexibly via income drawdown (can vary the income you take)

·       Wide investment choice to suit your risk profile.

At The Spectrum IFA Group, your locally-based adviser will work together with our internal Pensions Review team and conduct a full analysis of your current arrangements.

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!!!

Every Cloud

By Derek Winsland - Topics: BREXIT, europe-news, France, Inflation, Interest rates, Pensions, QROPS, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 8th September 2016

08.09.16

With the exception of a weakening pound and falling interest rates, we are yet to see the full impact of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Perhaps we may not ever see it if Teresa May and/or others decide against triggering Article 50 to herald the start of the process. We currently sit in a ‘phony’ period where no-one knows quite what will happen, causing doubt and uncertainty to set in. We await with bated breath the latest results to come out of the Treasury and the Bank of England.

The latter recently reduced interest rates to an historic low of 0.25%, at the same time announcing a new round of Quantitative Easing. Falling interest rates are either a good thing or a bad thing depending on which side of the saver/borrower fence you occupy. Clearly borrowers are happy, but for savers, especially those who rely upon their capital to supplement their retirement income, it’s not such a happy picture. Indeed, I am seeing this most days I speak to people about their finances. Thankfully, we are able to make investment recommendations that will generate higher levels of returns to counter falling interest rates, but these don’t suit everybody. But like most things I find in financial services, there’s generally a positive that accompanies a negative, if one looks close enough.

One such area relates to the impact falling interest rates has upon pension transfer values. In my last article I touched upon the way transfer values from occupational (defined benefit) schemes are calculated. Without going into chapter and verse, a fundamental part of the calculation process uses gilt interest rates to determine the transfer amount. Although the schemes have a certain amount of leeway in interpreting the rules, the bottom line is that low interest rates result in much higher transfer values having to be quoted by scheme trustees. This makes the decision on whether it suits an individual’s purpose to transfer somewhat easier to determine.

The observant amongst you will recall I mentioned TVAS in my last article, and the (somewhat out-of-date) rules that the FCA still clings on to. Remember critical yields? Well, a higher transfer value will result in a more achievable critical yield becoming attainable, so making the decision to move to a personal pension such as a QROPS, easier to make. Sure there are variables and these are more or less important depending on who you are and what your circumstances are. Carrying out a full analysis of your own particular situation, Spectrum’s advisers can place you in an empowered position to make your choices, so, if you have a defined benefit scheme that you’ve either never reviewed, or one that hasn’t been looked at for a while, perhaps now is the perfect time to do so.

Every cloud……!

Tin Hat Time at the FCA

By Derek Winsland - Topics: FCA, final salary schemes, France, Pensions, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 1st August 2016

01.08.16

In the wake of the fourth Parliamentary Review into the Financial Conduct Authority and its handling of high-profile incidents, comes the latest criticism from the Financial Services Complaints Commissioner who accuses the FCA of “an unwillingness to face up to and address its shortcomings”. He went on to say he had seen a tendency at the FCA to find reasons for excluding cases from the complaints scheme in circumstances where they should not have been excluded. Oh dear, smacks of Big Brother getting too big for his boots and believing itself to be above the law?

It is currently squirming with embarrassment over the antics of Sir Phillip Green and the BHS pension scheme, and this is fostering the belief in the industry that it is too focussed on the advisory sector and overlooking the problems that Pension Freedoms is having on occupational pension schemes, especially Defined Benefit (DB) or ‘final salary’ schemes.
You will no doubt be aware that the legislation passed in April 2015 relaxed the rules over how benefits could be taken from pensions. Gone was the insistence that a “pension is a pension – its job is to provide your income in retirement.” Although this is true, the old-fashioned rules take no consideration of lifestyle and personal choices. A casualty of this new form of thinking is the annuity, where you handed over your pension pot to an insurance company in return for an income for the rest of your life. A great concept except that the insurance company kept your money when you died. Under the new rules, you could use your pension pot to draw income off in retirement (or even before retirement now). This ‘income’ could be regular or ad-hoc in support of other income like state pensions for example.

Crucially, the new rules addressed the world in which we live and choose to live. An example of this could be where a member of a DB pension scheme (or a number of schemes over his/her working life) may decide on a change of career, to move to France to buy a property with an attached Gite to rent out. That is a lifestyle choice that perhaps suits that individual. Personal choice.

Under current (and out of date) FCA thinking, the default assumption is that it would not be appropriate for that individual to transfer the accrued benefits from such DB pension schemes, unless it can be proven that such a transfer is in that client’s best interest. How is this tested? Through the Transfer Value Analysis System or TVAS. Results are shown in the form of critical yields and hurdle rates. Sound complicated? You bet! Except it doesn’t allow for lifestyle choices or individual circumstances, which to the member are of far more importance. As advisers we’re told we must advise and inform the client of what’s in his or her best interest, even if it doesn’t gel with that person’s view. Believe me, those conversations are not easy. The FCA, meanwhile, sits in Canary Wharf, navel-gazing while all this is going on. The more cynical amongst us think the FCA has far more on its plate like finding ways to boost its coffers now it’s been told to stop bank-bashing and fining them for their latest misdemeanours.

There is hope on the horizon, however. The new chief executive of the FCA, Andrew Bailey has promised a greater focus on pensions, hopefully this won’t be an exercise in covering their backsides, but rather a genuine attempt to move with the times, providing much-needed and valuable guidance to the people they serve, the consumer. Let’s all hope that this is sooner rather than later and that the FCA doesn’t get distracted too much wrestling with the bear called Brexit.

If you would like more information on our view of how the investment markets are likely to play out into the future, 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.

Concerns over effect of BREXIT on expat pensions

By Graham Keysell - Topics: BREXIT, europe-news, France, Pensions, QROPS, Retirement, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 5th July 2016

05.07.16

The decision by UK voters to leave the European Union could have far-reaching consequences for pensioners living abroad.

This is especially the case for those receiving UK state pensions, but who are living in another EU member state.

The main uncertainty is whether state pensions will continue to benefit from annual increases.

As at September 2014 there were 1.24 million people receiving British state pensions but living outside the UK.

Approximately 560,000 expat pensioners live in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, where their state pension is frozen at the amount it was when they left the UK.

Is it going to be the case that British expats living in EU countries such as France or Spain will find themselves in a similar position?

Since 1955, pensions have been paid worldwide, but there was never any mention of annual increases.

However, in the period to 1973, reciprocal arrangements were made between the UK and 30 other countries, which allowed for annual increases to be paid in certain countries. This was seen as making it easier for people to move freely between countries during their working life without suffering penalties in retirement for doing so.
Very few new agreements have been signed since, possibly because the EU rules meant that there was no need for them between EU countries.

Pension increases

Pensioners living in the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do get increases, but there is no guarantee that this will continue following Brexit.

Inevitably, the UK government will be tempted to save money by ending the increases to pensioners living in the EU.

It is already estimated that the Treasury saves around half a billion pounds a year from pensioners excluded from the increases. This could easily double if pensioners in the EU were to be treated similarly.

The number of overseas voters still on the UK electoral register is negligible, so the government might decide that upsetting these people would have a very modest negative effect. One result could be that more expats would get themselves back on to the UK electoral register (if it were possible for them to do so).

There is also the question of people who are planning to retire to a EU country in the future. They might show their dissatisfaction at the ballot box.

Another reason for the government might not stop the increases is the possibility of large numbers of pensioners living in the EU finding that they have no choice but to return to the UK

If access to free healthcare in the host country was also abolished, the UK government could easily find that significant numbers of pensioners return to the UK, which is a situation it would want to avoid.

For this reason, it is to be hoped that state pension increases will be paid, and there will almost certainly be considerable pressure on the government to find a way to preserve the existing system.

Can you work on yachts and still get a UK state pension?

By Peter Brooke - Topics: Pensions, Retirement, Uncategorised, Yachting
This article is published on: 30th June 2016

30.06.16

Even if you are (or have been) a UK tax resident and religiously file your Seafarers tax return every year (which you probably should), does it mean you benefit from such things as the UK State Pension? Unfortunately not…. in order to qualify for any UK state pension (currently approximately £155per week from around age 67,) you need to pay National Insurance contributions (NIC). You need at least 10 qualifying years to receive any of the ‘new state pension’ (for those born after 1951).

In order to be eligible to pay NIC and therefore build up some allowance for UK state pension you must have a NI Number.

There are 4 main classes of NIC

  • Class 1 – paid by UK based employees earning more than £155 a week and under State Pension age
  • Class 1A or 1B – paid by employers
  • Class 2 paid by self-employed people
  • Class 3 – voluntary contributions
  • Class 4 – paid by self-employed with profits over £8,060p.a.

For yacht crew, who very rarely have any social security contributions in any country, due to the flag state not collecting them from employing companies or due to not having social security systems as we know them, it is highly likely that you will have gaps in your NI record. If you do have a gap it is possible to pay ‘voluntary’ contributions to top up your NI record and receive more pension income later.

We believe that crew should be paying the Mariners Class 2 NICs which are considerably cheaper than Class 3 and have the additional benefit of ‘contribution based employment and support allowance’ when they return to the UK, which is not available if you pay class 3 NICs.

Currently it costs £2.80 a week for Class 2 (£145.60p.a.) or £14.10 a week for Class 3 (£733.20p.a.); either way, the cost is very low to secure an income for life later.

To put this into perspective… if you were to theoretically only pay Class 3 for 35 years you would invest a total of £25 662; you then receive £155per week from, say, 67 which is £8060p.a. which equates to a yield on investment of 31% per year – a no brainer, assuming of course the UK government can continue to pay! *also it is unlikely you can only pay Class 3 for all 35 years, but the point is clear!

However, the form to apply for a review of the NI gap and to register to pay voluntary NICs is complicated and quite detailed which can put some people off from even applying to see if they are eligible to pay it. This is also another great reason to keep a seaman’s discharge book up to date at all times, right from the start of your career.

I would like to thank Clare Viner from Marine Accounts, who are experts in yacht crew taxation, for her assistance in researching this article.

There is also a wealth of information on the UK government website and a Mariners NI Questionnaire which can be filled out for a review of the situation
www.gov.uk/government/publications/mariners-national-insurance-questionnaire

This article is for information only and should not be considered as advice.

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.

The New UK State Pension

By Spectrum IFA - Topics: France, Pensions, QROPS, Retirement, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 23rd May 2016

23.05.16

The new UK State pension scheme has now come into effect from 6th April 2016. Widely publicised by the government as being easier to understand, based on the questions we are getting, this is not the case!

If you reached State Pension Age (SPA) before the start of the new scheme, then you are not affected by the changes – even if you have decided to defer taking your State pension. Under the ‘old scheme’, the basic State pension is £119.30 per week for 2016/17, based on having 30 years of National insurance Contributions (NICs) or credits. You may also be entitled to some additional State pension and the amount varies according to your earnings during your working life and whether or not you were ‘contracted-out’ of the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) or the later State Second Pension (S2P). The maximum additional pension entitlement is around £164 per week.

The new State pension scheme introduces a ‘single-tier’ pension of £155.65 per week for 2016/17, based on having 35 years of NICs (or credits). So anyone starting work today, who retires with a 35-year NIC record, can expect to get the full amount of the single-tier pension and nothing more. Of course, this is subject to the rules not being changed for the next 35 years!

However, for people who have already built up a NIC record before 6th April 2016 and have not yet reached SPA, the transitional arrangements are complex. Some will get more than the single-tier pension, others will get less, and here is where the confusion begins!

If you fall into this ‘transitional group’, as a first step, your State pension under the old system is calculated as at 5th April 2016. This includes your basic pension plus any additional pension that you are entitled to receive and this known as your ‘Starting Amount’. You cannot get less than this amount.

So even though you may not have 35 years of NICs, it could be that under the old system, your Starting Amount is actually more than £155.65 per week. If so, you will receive the higher amount, but you cannot build up any more State pension, even if you continue to pay NICs. The difference between your Starting Amount and the single-tier pension is known as your ‘Protected Amount’ and this will be increased by reference to inflation.

However, there are many people who have a Starting Amount that is less than £155.65 per week. Typically, these are people who were contracted-out of the additional State pension scheme and thus, paid a lower rate of NICs and/or do not have the 30 years of NICs required under the old scheme. Hence, many of these people are asking if they should pay voluntary NICs to increase their State pension entitlement up to the single-tier amount.

For those over age 55, it is possible to get an estimate of your new State pension entitlement from the Department of Work & Pensions. One of my clients (let’s call her Jane) did this recently.

Jane has paid NICs for 25 years before coming to live in France. She has about 10 years to go until she reaches SPA and before the new scheme was introduced, she had planned to pay 5 years of voluntary NICs to secure entitlement to the full basic State pension, but to do this closer to her retirement. However, now she is 10 years short of the full 35-year record and so she is not sure now what she should do.

The letter that she received from the DWP confirmed that she was entitled to a State pension in the new system of £138 per week, based on her existing NIC record to 5th April 2016. As she only had 25 years of NICs, around £96 of this was basic pension and £42 was additional pension.

Under the new State scheme, you get £4.44 per week for each year of NICs (£155.65 / 35). Jane thought that she needed to pay 10 years of NICs to get the full single-tier pension of £155.65. However, this would add £44.40 per week (£4.44 x 10) to her Starting Amount, resulting in a total amount of £182.40. As this is greater than £155.65, the excess would be lost. Therefore, the maximum amount that Jane can purchase is £17.65 per week and so she only needs to purchase 4 years.

To purchase extra years, you have to pay voluntary Class 3 NICs and the rate for 2016/17 is £14.10 per week. A full year of NICs at this rate of £733.20 would increase your State pension by £230.88 per annum. In effect, this is not a bad ‘annuity rate’ and one has to question whether or not such generosity from the government is really sustainable over the long-term? A problem to be faced by a future government and not the current one!

In Jane’s case, it is 10 years until she will receive her State pension and we have seen constant change in the UK pensions arena – last year the major reform in private pensions and now the reform of the State pension. It cannot be ruled out that more changes will take place in the future, particularly as concerns the period needed to qualify for full pension and the age at which the State pension starts. There is every possibility that Jane could pay the voluntary NICs now, only to find that the ‘goalposts’ are moved again during the next 10 years.

Everyone’s situation is different. Hence, whether or not it is a good idea to pay voluntary NICs to increase your State pension will vary from one person to another. In any event, such a decision should only be considered as part of a wider review of your overall financial situation and taking into account other retirement provision that you already have in place.

If you would like to have a confidential discussion with one of our financial advisers, you can contact us by e-mail at limoux@spectrum-ifa.com or by telephone on 04 68 31 14 10. Alternatively, drop-by to our Friday morning clinic at our office at 2 Place du Général Leclerc, 11300 Limoux, for an initial discussion.

The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of the UK State pensions system, the investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter