I have had several queries over the last few months about the tax treatment of UK pensions in France, whether they are being received as a regular income or where clients have or are about to take a one-off lump sum to pay for a large purchase. Many of the queries were relating to the completion of French tax returns, but we are also seeing a large number of queries where advice is being sought on French tax treatment of pensions prior to a move to France.
UK pensions and tax treatment in France
So, in this article, I am going to go back to the basics and go through the different types of UK pension scheme and their tax treatment in France for French tax residents.
UK State Pension
As a French resident, the UK State Pension is taxable in France (not the UK) and where an S1 is held, no French social charges are payable. It is important to note that the UK State Pension can be paid directly into a French bank account, in euros, although the amount will obviously fluctuate due to exchange rates.
UK government pensions are dealt with under the UK/France double tax treaty and apply to those who have previously worked in the Armed Forces, Civil Service, Fire Service, Local Authority, NHS (with exceptions), Police and Teaching amongst others. A full list is available at www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/international-manual/intm343040 to help you identify if your pension is classified as ‘government’.
Under the double tax treaty, UK government pensions are taxed at source in the UK. The pension income still has to be declared in your French tax return, but a 100% tax credit is given so that the same tax is not paid twice. It is important to note, that such pension payments are taken into account to calculate your overall income and could have the effect of increasing the rate at which other sources of income are taxed.
Qualifying government pensions are exempt from social charges.
Private pensions (occupational, stakeholder, SIPP)
Pension payments received from UK private pensions are taxable in France (not the UK) if you are French resident and again, where an S1 is held, the payments are exempt from social charges.
Annuities are more complex and advice needs to be sought to establish the type of annuity held, as annuities can be interpreted as investment income in France rather than pension income.
Amongst other allowances relating to pension income, there is a general 10% tax abatement on pension income (with the exception of qualifying UK government pensions) with a minimum of €394 and a ceiling of €3,858 (applicable to 2020 tax returns and subject to change). The allowance is per taxpayer, although the ceiling stated is per fiscal household.
The allowance only relates to tax and not social charges, where applicable.
Lump sum pension payments are an area for discussion in another article. Other than qualifying UK government pension lump sums, such payments (including UK tax free lump sums) are taxable in France.
I would always strongly recommend that you speak to a France based qualified adviser, familiar with UK pensions, before any firm decision is made to take a lump sum payment.
Spring cleaning your finances
“When the dust settles on Brexit!” has been heard many, many times over recent months and even the last couple of years. But what of it? With the UK and some former EU partners enduring a bitter relationship, and the UK’s Prime Minister seemingly giving free rein to his ministers, it is difficult for many to see a clear direction. Though a clear direction is coming, according to the financial expert sector – and it may not be welcomed by expatriates! Generally, it is accepted that the UK will introduce hard measures to hang onto funds and to introduce punitive tax penalties for those funds that leave the kingdom.
Brexit seems to be “done and dusted”, yet where are we all? The global pandemic has clouded the issue but has forcibly created time for us to tackle the things that had been put off for too long. So what better time for a spring clean in your financial affairs.
Pensions will be hit first, according to the experts, then lump sum investments, if not simultaneously. It will not only be the UK taking measures. France, particularly, will be looking to gather what they can from expatriates living in France.
You don’t have to sit back and wait for governments to take action – and endure stress in the process! There are actions that you can take now and the first is to book a financial review with your Spectrum adviser who has a wealth of experience and resources available and at your disposal. We can quickly identify opportunities to bring your finances under your control and maximise investment and tax efficiency.
It’s not too late to act now to firm up your overall living status and ensure that all is in apple pie order for your peace of mind. Contact your Spectrum adviser for an expert appraisal of your situation.
Your Expat Guide to Pension Planning
Are you planning on retiring in France or Luxembourg but have a pension in the UK?
Look no further than this article as we guide you through your options. Pensions are a pinnacle part of your retirement plan but can be a complex topic for British expatriates with rules frequently changing, so always consult with your financial adviser when deciding which plan best suits your needs.
First off, you can leave your pension as is in your existing UK pension scheme if you want. However, with the Brexit decision, you should check with your UK financial adviser and make sure they can still support you. If you want to move your funds to an international pension plan, then your best options may be opening a QROPS or SIPP account.
QROPS (Qualified Recognized Overseas Pension Scheme) allows foreign nationals who have worked in Britain to transfer their UK pensions overseas.
- Expatriates can avoid various restrictions imposed by the UK when taking retirement benefits
- HMRC allows individuals to access 100% their pension fund after the age of 55. However, it may not be advisable to do so as it can result in higher taxes on withdrawals. It is potentially better to draw the funds periodically in a more tax-efficient manner
- There’s no compulsory annuity purchase
- Reduction in currency risk because QROPS allows you to invest and take benefits in a currency of your choice
- QROPS gives you more freedom to select a portfolio suited to your needs because it offers a more extensive range of investment options
SIPP (International Self-Invested Personal Pension) enables someone access to greater investment choices because it is a personal pension plan based on making your own decisions. However, the pension structure is based in the UK so it’s subject to any legislative changes made by the UK government.
Benefits include, but are not limited to:
- An international SIPP can provide a regular or variable income
- No obligation to purchase an annuity
- They provide greater flexibility regarding investments, tax benefits, and currency choices
- Ideal way to consolidate various personal pensions, which reduces administrative complications
- If you plan on moving back to the UK this option may be most suitable for you
You can also try a combination between both UK and international pension plans. The main objective is to arrange your retirement in a manner where you can access your finances when you want, where you want, and in the currency of your choice. Overall, there are many things to consider when choosing your pension plan, so be sure to do your research and understand your different options before making any decisions.
It is in your best interest to act now when planning your pension scheme, so touch base with your financial adviser today to discuss your options.
UK pensions and investments after BREXIT
After several years of uncertainty, the UK has now fully left the EU and whilst many of us understand exactly what that mean in terms of French residency requirements, the impact on the financial services world is only just starting to unfold.
We asked Andrea Glover, International Financial Adviser at The Spectrum IFA Group, for her thoughts on the matter and to provide guidance to those of you who are affected.
Andrea explained “Brexit ended automatic ‘passporting’ rights for UK financial services in the EU. So, if you either live in France or are looking to move to France, it is important to check that, if you have a UK financial adviser and/or UK insurer, that they can still support you.”
Andrea commented “For those of you living in France, contact your UK financial adviser if they have not already been in touch and ask if they are still able to provide financial advice to you as a French resident. Also, ask your UK insurer if they have put in place measures to ensure that your policy or pension can continue to be serviced. Your insurer or financial adviser should always act in your best interests. It is also important to note that in the case of a dispute with your insurer or financial adviser that you might not be able to refer the problem to an ombudsman or court in France.”
Andrea continued “My advice would always be to seek advice about the rules, from a French tax perspective, for any pensions and investments held in the UK and check that anyone offering you advice, or financial services, is authorised to do so in France. Further, a suitably qualified financial adviser who is based in France will undoubtedly have first-hand experience of living in France and therefore have greater empathy with their clients.”
Andrea went onto say “Giving advice on UK held investments and pensions is only one component of comprehensive financial planning. A qualified financial adviser will also be able to provide guidance on matters such as Inheritance Tax planning in France and look at alternative tax efficient investment vehicles such as an Assurance Vie.”
For those of you looking to move to France Andrea explained further “Moving to France as a UK citizen is obviously more onerous than previously in terms of residency. I believe this places even greater importance on seeking suitable financial advice before any firm plans to move are finalised.”
From her own experience, Andrea commented “We are receiving a number of enquiries from people looking to move to France, which is firstly encouraging but secondly it means that we can really help clients structure their financial affairs efficiently before they move. We quite often work in partnership with international tax lawyers to assist clients who, for example, have a business in the UK but want to run it from France. Having a clear and defined plan, after seeking advice from the suitable experts, prior to any move to France, is undoubtedly beneficial and avoids any nasty surprises further down the line.”
*This article first appeared in The Local Buzz
Claiming your UK State Pension whilst living in Spain/EEA
Perhaps the most common questions I have been receiving since Brexit was agreed are in respect of UK State Pensions, particularly how it will work moving forward having contributed to the UK social security pension system:
- What is my entitlement and how will UK nationals be able to claim their state pensions moving forward after Brexit?
- What age can I start claiming (different EU countries have different age limits)?
- How are these state pension calculations achieved?
Well, this should give you some clarity
First things first, to receive a Spanish state pension, you need at least 15 contributing years (combined years from any EU country) to be entitled to a minimum pension which will amount to 50% of the ´base reguladora´ (for Autonomos) or minimum state pension for employees, based on your past wages. At least 2 contributing years need to be within the period of 15 years leading up to your legal pension age. If you do not qualify for this, you should go directly to each country you have contributed to previously and see if you qualify from them.
Before the UK joined the EU, you would claim your state pensions from each country individually. Once we joined the EU and if you lived and contributed social security payments there, you would contact the relevant department of the country you were residing in i.e. worked and paid taxes in that country. They would then claim ALL your state pensions throughout the EU system. Under the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexit, this system has remained in place for both existing and new residents:
‘The EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement announced on 24 December 2020 includes a protocol on social security co-ordination. UK government guidance on the rights of UK nationals in the EU, EEA or Switzerland to UK benefits and pensions from 1 January 2021, states:
UK State Pension
You can carry on receiving your UK State Pension if you move to live in the EU, EEA or Switzerland and you can still claim your UK State Pension from these countries.
Your UK State Pension will be increased each year in the EU in line with the rate paid in the UK.
You can also count relevant social security contributions made in EU countries to meet the qualifying conditions for a UK State Pension.
This guidance is for UK nationals; however these rules on the State Pension apply to everyone regardless of your nationality and regardless of when you moved. (Gov.UK Benefits and pensions for UK nationals in the EEA and Switzerland, 24 December 2020).
(source – house of commons library)
Never worked in Spain or paid social security there?
You claim directly from the UK here www.gov.uk/state-pension-if-you-retire-abroad
Differences in retirement ages
In some EU countries, you will have to wait longer to start drawing your pension than in others.
You can only receive your pension from the country where you now live (or last worked) once you have reached the legal retirement age in that country. If you have accumulated pension rights in other countries, you will only receive those parts of your pension once you have reached the legal retirement age in those countries.
So, it’s important to find out in advance, from all the countries where you have worked, what your situation will be if you change the date on which you start receiving your pension.
If you take one pension earlier than the other, it might affect the amounts you receive.
You can get more advice from the relevant authority in the country where you live and/or in the countries where you worked. Find out about the retirement ages and pension systems in the different EU countries you have contributed.
What age can you start claiming the state pension in Spain?
Currently 66 years, increasing by 1 & ½ months per year, until it reaches 67 in 2027.
(source trading economics)
How many years do I need to contribute for a full Spanish state pension?
36 years in general (35 for most people in the UK)
How is your state pension calculated?
Pension authorities in each EU country you’ve worked in will look at the contributions you’ve paid into their system, how much you’ve paid in other countries, and for how long you’ve worked in different countries.
The EU-equivalent rate
Each pension authority will calculate the part of the pension it should pay taking into account periods completed in all EU countries.
To do so, it will add together the periods you completed in all EU countries and work out how much pension you would get had you contributed into its own scheme over the entire time (called the theoretical amount).
This amount will then be adjusted to reflect the actual time you were covered in that country (called the pro-rata benefit).
The national rate
If you meet the conditions for entitlement to a national pension irrespective of any periods completed in other countries, the pension authority will also calculate the national pension (known as an independent benefit).
The national authority will then compare the pro-rata benefit and the independent benefit; you will receive whichever is higher from that EU country.
Each country’s decision on your claim will be explained in a special note you will receive, the P1 form.
See the below example of how this would work:
Dalila worked for 20 years in France and 10 years in Spain.
Both countries apply a minimum period of 15 years of work in order to have the right to a pension. Each country will calculate Dalila’s pension:
The French authority will make a double calculation:
• It will calculate Dalila’s national pension for the 20 years worked in France – let’s say EUR 800.
• It will also calculate a theoretical amount, the pension Dalila would have had if she had worked the full 30 years in France – let’s say EUR 1 500. Then, it will determine the pro-rata pension, which is the part of this amount that should be paid for the years worked in France: 1 500×20 years in France/30 years in total= EUR 1 000.
Dalila is entitled to the higher amount — EUR 1 000 a month.
The Spanish authority will not calculate the national pension because Dalila has worked in Spain less than the minimum period required. It will only calculate the EU-equivalent rate starting with the theoretical amount, the pension Dalila would have had if she had worked all the 30 years in Spain – let’s say EUR 1 200.
Then, it will determine the pro-rata pension – the part of this amount which should be paid for the years worked in Spain: 1200×10 years in Spain/30 years in total= EUR 400.
In the end, Dalila will receive a pension of EUR 1 400.
(source – Europa.eu – official website of the European Union)
Here is the official UK government wording on the continuation of Social Security Coordination between the UK & EU from Brexit:
“The provisions in the Protocol on Social Security Coordination will ensure that individuals who move between the UK and the EU in the future will have their social security position in respect of certain important benefits protected.
Individuals will be able to have access to a range of social security benefits, including reciprocal healthcare cover and an uprated state pension.
Article 114. This Protocol supports business and trade by ensuring that cross border workers and their employers are only liable to pay social security contributions in one state at a time. Generally, this will be in the country where work is undertaken, irrespective of whether the worker resides within the EU or the UK, or indeed whether the employer is based in the EU or the UK.
Article 115. UK workers who are sent by their employer to work temporarily in an EU Member State which has agreed to apply the “detached worker” rules will remain liable to only pay social security contributions in the UK for the period of work in that EU Member State. Similarly, if an EU worker is sent by their employer to work temporarily in the UK from a Member State which has agreed to apply the “detached worker” rules, they will remain liable to only pay contributions in that EU Member State.
116. Under the Protocol, the UK and EU Member States will be able to take into account relevant contributions paid into each other’s social security systems, or relevant periods of work or residence, by individuals for determining entitlement to a state pension and to a range of benefits. This will provide a good level of protection for people working in the UK and EU Member States. The Protocol also provides for the uprating of the UK State Pension paid to pensioners who retire to the EU.
117. On healthcare, where the UK or an EU Member State is responsible for the healthcare of an individual, they will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover. This includes certain categories of cross-border workers and state pensioners who retire to the UK or to the EU.
118. In addition, the Protocol will ensure necessary healthcare provisions – akin to those provided by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme – continue. This means individuals who are temporarily staying in another country, for example a UK national who is in an EU Member State for a holiday, will have their necessary healthcare needs met for the period of their stay. 119. The Protocol also protects the ability of individuals to seek authorisation to receive planned medical treatment in the
(source – UK government summary annex – UK-EU TRADE AND COOPERATION AGREEMENT Summary December 2020)
If you would like help talking this through, or making sure your financial assets are tax efficient, working for you in a safe manner adapting to the world as it changes, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
UK pension consolidation living in Spain
Now more than ever, with the UK leaving the EU, if you have a UK pension/pensions you will need to make sure that they are being properly looked after and managed. This needs to be by someone who can legally practice in the country where you are tax resident. Many UK pension companies are no longer able to give advice to those living outside of the UK, meaning you could have difficulties accessing, managing and securing your pension moving forward. A local adviser also has the advantage of knowing the local regulations, so is able to make sure you are adhering to the rules in addition to being as tax efficient as possible.
When people approach me to speak about their UK private or company pensions, they usually are not clear on:
- What they are invested in, and whether the strategy is appropriate given the stage of life they are at now
- How investment decisions are made, who makes them and when
- The costs of management, what they are and are they efficient
- How to access the pensions, particularly doing it tax efficiently living in Spain
- How to consolidate multiple pensions, reducing costs and creating greater annual gains
When I ask most people what their pensions are invested in, what the annual returns are and when they last reviewed this, they usually don’t know or can’t remember. One of the reasons for this is that being outside of the UK makes all this all the more difficult to manage, and even more so now after Brexit.
Or, if they do know the answer to my questions, they have now found they cannot receive any advice from UK pension companies or UK based financial advisers moving forward.
Consider consolidating several pension pots
If you have several different pension pots, there are potential advantages if you consolidate them into one. These include:
- Simplification of administration and keeping track of your pensions
- Managing your pension savings more easily and effectively, including potential tax liabilities knowing local, Spanish rules
- Saving money if you can transfer from higher-cost schemes to a lower-cost one
- Opening up a greater choice of investments if you are consolidating your pension pots into a flexible scheme
In many cases, the first step would be to locate your pensions and then evaluate what you have, how they work, what your options are and then have these managed effectively.
I help clients consolidate their UK pensions, managing them efficiently and effectively, planning for when they want to access them integrating with their tax situation and lifestyle. We can help you achieve all this, giving ongoing advice and moving forward making sure you access you pension tax efficiently, adapting to your life as it changes along the way.
For example, if you are over 55 years of age and currently on the Beckham Law, did you know you can cash your UK pensions in, potentially paying no tax in the UK, and potentially none in Spain? This is because on the Beckham Law, all ‘non-Spanish’ income is tax exempt (this depends on your personal circumstances) and being a NON-UK resident, you have no tax liabilities there either.
If you would like to discuss your various UK pensions and what your options are, feel free to get in touch.
Are you and your investments adapting to change?
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change
I didn’t write that and neither did Charles Darwin, even though many websites state that it is from Darwin´s Origin of Species. In a way, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. What is important is that it is not necessarily the strongest, or the most intelligent, who have survived this coronavirus. Many people have adapted their lives, with guidance, to avoid contracting the virus and/or passing it on in case they have it without knowing.
When lockdown took affect here on Friday 13th March 2020 panic was rife, which manifested itself through stockmarkets crashing across the world. If there is one thing that we have learnt about the human being, it is that he or she is likely to overreact in times of trouble. Toilet rolls, bleach, and selling off stocks and shares were the focus for many in March and April. Months later, it appears that we are not going to the loo so often, houses don´t need cleaning so regularly, and that the business world is in better shape than a lot of people realise.
I return to the “Darwin’s” theory, focusing on adaptation. Some companies were already struggling pre-Covid 19 (21st century companies with 20th century ideas), so the pandemic has accelerated their demise, whereas other companies have taken advantage of the online and digital world, made more prominent because of Covid-19, and have adapted to the demand created by Covid-19.
2020 was a pretty pathetic year for the British FTSE100 (Down 12%) compared to the US S&P500 (Up 18%). The FTSE100 is made up of companies from poor performing sectors, such as banks and oil, whereas the S&P500 includes technology, high quality consumer goods, and some healthcare stocks. Even then, there were some horror stories and it is the job of the wealth manager to navigate the investment storms.
Those who have used the services of The Spectrum IFA Group will have seen a significant increase in the value of their investments since March 2020. This has been down to expert wealth management on the part of the investment companies that we recommend. They have picked through the good and the bad to achieve positive results despite the political wrangling on both sides of the Atlantic and the effects of Covid-19.
Brexit has gone (at last!). Boris Johnson has achieved what he wanted. We shall see where that leaves Britain and the consequences for those of us living in an EU country. We knew that there would be changes; deal or no deal. There will be more paperwork, more checks, more headaches, and less freedom. However, those with the desire to adapt, will. This adaptation should bring security, confidence, and an overall feeling of well-being.
So whether it was Darwin, Mrs Miggins from the cake shop, or the bloke down the tavern, who spoke of adaptation all those years ago, the important thing is to look forward, act responsibly, and ignore all the horrible and, at times, unnecessary press reports and local gossip. Not only will all the negatives affect your mental health but they could also impact your wealth. We are not doctors but we can perhaps help your wealth make you healthier.
Welcome to 2021
Contact me today to find out how we can help you make more from your money, protecting your income streams against inflation and low interest rates, or for any other financial and tax planning information, at email@example.com or call or WhatsApp (+34) 618 204 731.
Should I transfer my UK Pensions if I’m living in France?
I live in France but have pensions in the UK. Should I transfer them to a QROPS, an International SIPP or just leave them where they are?
For British Nationals living in France, perhaps the primary decision to be made in relation to long term financial planning is whether or not to take any action with regards to any pension scheme/s they have in the UK.
To deal at the outset with one question I have seen asked, and increasingly so since the Brexit decision, it is important to state that it is not necessary to move your pension if you move to France. Even after Brexit, you will still have access to your pension funds. Concern that you will lose access to your pension fund is not a good reason to move it!
However, there can be good reasons to consider moving your pension once you have relocated to France. This decision should be made only on the basis of a proper analysis having been conducted on your existing schemes.
As a French resident, the primary options in relation to your pension scheme/s are as follows:
i) Leave them where they are
ii) Move them into a QROPS
iii) Move them into an International SIPP
iv) A combination of the above
Click on the sections below to find out more:
Following a professional review, sometimes our recommendation is to leave your pensions schemes in their existing arrangement in the UK. Reasons for doing this include the following:
- you plan to move back to the UK at some point in the near future
- your pension scheme/s are relatively small in value (e.g. less than £100,000)
- you have a cautious stance in relation to investments, your pension scheme is a Defined Benefit scheme (sometimes known as a Final Salary scheme) and this is your only or primary source of income once you retire
One key drawback to this approach is that you will forever receive your pension in GBP, therefore always be subject to exchange rate risk and currency exchange costs. You only have to speak to someone who already receives their pension in GBP (or even read some of the posts on Facebook on this issue) to see that British Nationals have really felt exchange rate pain in recent years, only receiving €1.10 currently for each £ when once it was closer to €1.40. In addition, there is the time spent researching and using currency exchanges to try to obtain the best rate.
For example, drawing a pension of £10,000 per year and converting to Euro would have yielded approximately the following amounts over the past 15 years:
- €15,000 in January 2007
- €10,500 in December 2008
- €14,250 in July 2015 and
- €11,000 currently
These fluctuations are not helpful in your later years when you need to plan your financial affairs and seek a degree of certainty in relation to your income.
A QROPS has been the go-to product for many expats over the years. To be classified as a QROPS the scheme must meet certain requirements, as defined by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Amongst the key benefits are the following:
- The option to consolidate multiple pensions into one administratively simple but diversified portfolio. Consolidating pension pots into a single structure is a more convenient way of tracking your pension growth and provides a far simpler structure when you start to draw your pension
- The currency of the pension can be chosen, not just at outset, but a change in currency can be made whilst holding the pension. Therefore, if you move your pension into a QROPS in GBP initially, if a point arises in the future when the pound significantly increases in value, part of the fund or the entire fund can be moved into Euro
- A QROPS is a pension which is held outside of the UK; therefore, it provides some protection against future legislative changes that might take place impacting pensions based in the UK. Chancellors of the Exchequer have for many years now seen pensions as an easy target for raising tax revenue
- Moving pensions funds into a QROPS is an action that is known as a Benefit Crystallisation Event (BCE) and your pension will be tested against the UK Lifetime Allowance (LTA) at the time of transfer. Should your pension subsequently grow in value in a QROPS beyond the LTA (currently £1,073,000) there will be no further test or tax to pay. Currently, pensions in excess of the LTA can be taxed at up to 55% in the UK, depending on the type of withdrawal (lump sum or drawdown). Although in some cases, you may be able to enhance the LTA limit with different forms of pension protection
- Tax planning opportunities for your nominated beneficiaries on the event of your death. Currently, if you are over 75 when you die (most of us hope this will be the case) then a tax liability exists for your beneficiaries in relation to UK based pensions. This liability could be greatly reduced and often no tax is payable if certain conditions are met
One disadvantage of some QROPS is the level of fees. Because of the structure of a QROPS requiring an offshore investment platform, EU based trustee (typically Malta-based) and sometimes a Discretionary Fund Manager (DFM), costs can in some cases become prohibitive. However, regardless of pension value, there is scope to control both initial and ongoing charges. With proper planning, cost should not be an obstacle to establishing a QROPS.
A SIPP has some of the advantages of a QROPS in relation to currency flexibility and consolidation, but because it remains a pension structure domiciled in the UK, the tax advantages in relation to the LTA and Death Benefits for heirs do not apply. Also, it remains exposed to any legislative changes made by the UK Government in future budgets.
However, if you plan to move back to the UK or prefer to keep your pension based in the UK, then this is an option that may be suitable.
What I mean by this, is that if you have a good, well-funded Defined Benefit (final salary) scheme and also one or more Defined Contribution (money purchase) pensions schemes, you have the option to move one or more into another structure (e.g. QROPS or International SIPP) and leave some of the schemes in place. For example, you may want to keep the security of a guaranteed pension that a Defined Benefit scheme provides but move your other DC pension schemes into a QROPS or SIPP and secure the benefits that ensue from these structures.
In deciding whether to go ahead and transfer your existing pensions into a different structure, typically the bar should be set at a higher level for a Defined Benefit (final salary) scheme. This type of pension provides a guaranteed income for life, offers some protection from inflation and the risk of funding your retirement does not rest with you (i.e. you are protected from the ups and downs of the stock market).
However, these schemes do lack flexibility and by exchanging the guaranteed annual income from retirement age, you receive instead a cash lump sum (and transfer values have seldom been higher than now) which you can invest and spend how you like with access from age 55 and the ability to pass the full amount onto your beneficiaries (tax-free if you die under the age of 75 and also the potential to be tax-free over the age of 75 if your pension is a QROPS).
Most Defined Benefit schemes only pay half of your pre-commutated pension to your spouse should you die, and usually a minimal amount or nothing to your children if you no longer have a spouse at the time of your death or your spouse who was a beneficiary of your pension subsequently dies. A QROPS for example allows much greater flexibility in relation to the selection of a beneficiary, allowing the funds to pass to any named beneficiary. Also Defined Benefit schemes are not entirely risk free – many are underfunded and some may be unable to meet their obligations (although the Pension Protection Fund exists to provide 90% of the guaranteed income if the scheme becomes insolvent before you reach retirement age, although there are maximum limits of compensation, i.e. £37,315 at age 65. The full amount would be paid if the scheme became insolvent if you were over the scheme retirement age).
There are two primary types of
employment pension schemes in the UK
a) Defined Benefit (or Final Salary)
• Provides guaranteed pension as a proportion of final salary based on i) salary ii) years of service iii) accrual rate (e.g. 1/60th of final salary for each full year of service)
• Payable from Age 65 (if taken earlier penalties apply for each year taken before 65)
• The pension is reduced when taking a lump sum
b) Defined Contribution (or Money Purchase)
• Pension benefits depend on the size of the fund
• Significant flexibility in relation to when to take the pension (currently from Age 55), how much to take and structure used to take the pension (annuity, capped and flexi-access drawdown, UFPLS, Scheme etc.)
• The pension fund size will depend on how and where it has been invested and the performance of those funds
This is a complex area and it is difficult to cover all relevant details within the parameters of this article. There are other considerations I have not addressed here, and this piece should be considered a high-level overview of some of the factors to consider. Perhaps the best advice I can give is the following:
- Do not just do nothing and leave the pensions where they are because it’s the easiest thing to do
- Do not assume the best option is to move your pension/s offshore into a QROPS just because you live in France and the UK has left the EU
- Act now to have your pension schemes carefully reviewed. Engage with a properly regulated financial adviser and have an analysis conducted as to your options. Only then can you make a well-informed decision about what is best for you and your long-term financial security
A final point to consider is that there is currently a 25% tax applied to pension transfers into a QROPS for British Nationals living outside the EEA. After 31 December 2020, it is possible that this tax will also apply to those living in the EEA (as the UK will no longer be an EU country and the transition period will have expired). This has not yet been confirmed by the UK government but the opportunity to consider a QROPS as a financial planning option may not exist beyond the end of this year. If this is an option you want to explore, I recommend you do this without delay.
How is my UK Pension taxed in Italy?
There is nothing like a cold snap to focus the mind and it certainly arrived with a bang this year. In Rome we lost about 20 degrees of temperature in a week. However, I have to confess that I am rather glad that the autumn months are now upon us because the prolonged hot temperatures play havoc with trying to be productive.
In this article, as you will see, there are a number of shorter topics, but ones which I think are relevant for our lives in Italy. During the summer I have been scanning the financial papers and the ‘norme e tributi’ pages of Sole 24 Ore to see what might affect our lives in the future. Fortunately, the Italian government seemed to give us a break this year and I didn’t find much of significant interest. However, a number of other matters have arisen in the last few weeks
UK pensions and tax when living in Italy
Let’s start with one of the more interesting matters that arose during the summer. I was contacted by a client who was enquiring about taking money out of her QROPS pension (a QROPS is a UK pension that has been moved away from the UK but still operates like a UK pension – useful when living abroad!).
I have always advised my clients that any withdrawals from a UK personal pension are taxed at income tax rates in Italy, but over the last few years I have come across a number of clients whose commercialista has been declaring the pension as a ‘previdenza complementare’. This is the Italian equivalent of a UK personal pension. The main reason for choosing this route seemed to be a preferential flat tax rate of 15%. My argument has always been that the 2 structures have fundamentally different characteristics and therefore a UK personal pension should be considered an irrevocable trust, hence withdrawals are subject to income tax. In fact as far back as June 2018 I wrote the following in an article:
I have heard stories from various people over the years that their commercialisti declare their UK pensions as ‘previdenza complementare‘, which loosely translated means complementary pension. However, the definition does not accurately complete the story. The reason for declaring it in this manner is that it is taxed at a preferential tax rate of 15%.
I must admit here that I don’t think is the correct way of declaring income from an overseas pension / retirement plan. The ‘previdenza complementare‘ is a vehicle used in Italy to complement the pension which is offered through Italian social security (INPS). You may argue that this has the same purpose as that of an overseas pension fund. However, this is where the similarities end.
In the case of a UK pension fund your contributions would attract tax relief during the accumulation phase. In the ‘previdenza complementare‘ (PC) the fund is taxable during the accumulation phase. The UK scheme is also not linked to the state scheme in any way and you can withdraw money from age 55 (personal pension) or scheme retirement age (occupational pension). The PC is linked to the Italian state retirement age. Lastly, since the contributions into a UK fund are paid gross into the plan, then the income is instead taxed on the way out, at the normal rates. The Italian PC has a preferential rate of taxation starting at 15% and reducing to 9% depending on how many years you have been contributing to the fund, because it is taxed during the accumulation phase. In short there are some distinct differences which lead me to believe that declaring a pension fund / retirement fund (which is a trust) as a ‘previdenza complementare’ in Italy, is incorrect. If you are in doubt then speak with your commercialista.
In a lot of cases I was informed that the commercialista had contacted the local Agenzia delle Entrate and they had confirmed that this is correct. So, who was I to challenge it? However, I still believed that it was incorrect. Of course, no-one challenged it because it also meant the difference between being paying a 15% flat tax rate on that income or progressive income tax rates starting from 23%.
However, during the summer the client I referred to above contacted her commercialista, who did not accept this definition, but in fact presented an ‘interpello’ issued by the Agenzia delle Entrate (an interpello is basically an ‘opinion’ from the Agenzia delle Entrate on a specific case that is presented to them) from May 2020 regarding a UK personal pension holder.
In the interpello (which you can find HERE – the interesting part starts on page 7) it indicates that a UK personal pension should not be considered a ‘previdenza complementare’, but should actually be subject to progressive tax rates in Italy. This is quite an eye-opener because if this is the case, then it flies against the information gained from various commercialisti.
I should add here that the interpello is merely an indicative judgment in this particular case and is by no means a definitive decision for everyone holding a UK personal pension and resident in Italy. However, the fact that the AdE has gone to the trouble to write this gives us a pretty good idea into their thinking, should they choose to follow it up.
What to do?
So what should you do if your commercialista has advised you to declare your UK personal pension as a ‘previdenza complementare’ and you are now benefitting from the 15% flat tax rate? I would take the interpello to them and ask their opinion based on the new evidence. Or you may choose to do nothing. Whatever your choice or the advice from the commercialista, we are now a little more enlightened into the thoughts of the Agenzia delle Entrate on this topic.
It is worth noting here that Brexit is almost upon us and whatever your opinion as to how the UK will exit, a messy unfriendly exit may bring a few matters to light. In particular, the interpello also states that pension funds which ‘could’ be deemed to qualify are those which conduct business cross border and meet the pension rules of both EU states in which they are operating. I don’t know of a UK personal pension provider that does this anyway, but the mere fact that the UK is in the EU may gloss over some of these finer points. But then, what will happen once the UK leaves the EU?
Which leads nicely on to the next problem that Brits are now facing in Italy.
Bank account closures for UK citizens living in the EU
By now, I am sure you have read the headlines saying that a number of UK banks are contacting or have contacted their customers living in the EU to close down their UK banks accounts, potentially leaving them without a UK account. To date the main culprits are the Lloyds banking group, which includes Halifax and the Royal Bank of Scotland, Coutts and Barclays.
I am afraid to say that the rumours are true and I know of a number of people who have been contacted already.
The culprit, of course, is Brexit…
These banks have now had to weigh up the benefits of retaining bank account holders in the EU post Brexit, because once they out of the EU market place they will be forced to adhere to individual EU jurisdictional regulations, as well as UK regulations, if they want to continue to service clients in any EU state. Clearly, for a bank which has no intention of developing business in Italy (in our case), nor does it have a sufficiently large client base in Italy already, then they are going to need to look to close down activities in those jurisdictions to ensure they do not fall foul of the regulators.
It is interesting that, in contrast, HSBC Bank has not decided to pull from its EU markets because it has sufficient activities which take place throughout the EU. I have also heard that Nationwide is also not pulling any activities just yet.
For many clients this is going to be a very tough time, as you could lose a bank account in the UK when you may still have bills being paid, or you simply use it when you are in the UK. To make matters worse, because you are no longer a resident in the UK, you can no longer request an account from another UK banking group.
Many of the groups will also offer their international bank account services, of which the majority are based in the Isle of Man. This is not a good idea because the Isle of Man is not in the UK, but is a UK dependant territory and is deemed a fiscal paradise. It is currently on the grey list of ‘could do better’ in global fiscal transparency with the EU. It is anyone’s guess what will happen after the UK leaves the EU, but it is certainly not beyond imagination that the EU will look to impose punitive tax measures for anyone holding accounts in UK offshore jurisdictions. Let’s not forget that it only came off the black list in 2015!
So, without any other options perhaps one of the better solutions is to look at an Italian bank which can provide a GBP account. I have used Fineco for years, and recommend it to many clients. They offer a EUR current account linked to a GBP and USD account and transfers of cash between accounts are made at spot rate, with no fee. It might be a solution, but will be no consolation for losing your UK bank account. Once again, another downside of Brexit for those of us that have chosen to live in the EU.
Why you should never leave more than €100,000 (or currency equivalent) in your bank account
Still on the subject of banking, does the sound of a bad bank sound appealing to you? A bank that is so bad that it can take all the bad from all the other banks and just keep it there and away from us all. It sounds like a great idea in theory.
On the 25th September the EU had a consultation round table event with a number of European bank leaders, asset management groups and government officials to discuss the possibility of creating a European-wide ‘bad bank’ which would take all that bad debt (debt which cannot be paid back for one reason or another) and which is currently sat on the balance sheets of a lot of European banks, particularly Italian ones and other Southern European states. The idea being that this bad debt could be whisked away from the banks, freeing them up from the worry of having to manage this debt and giving them the liberty to start lending once again, supposedly to individuals and businesses which pose a better credit risk and would be more reliable at paying the debt back.
So far so good. I would not argue at this point. It seems like a good idea to help stimulate economies especially after the COVID-19 crisis.
But morally, should we accept this?
This is the argument put forward by a number of EU functionaries who argue that the banks are, once again, getting another bail out at the cost of the taxpayer. You and I.
To remedy this, the ‘Bank recovery and resolution directive’ (BRRD) has proposed that certain parties should also have to meet some of that cost as well as the EU/taxpayer. Those parties have been identified as the shareholders of the bank, holders of the banks bonds and lastly, the one that should interest us all: deposit holders with more than €100,000 or currency equivalent held in any banking group. Does this mean that the EU, to fund the COVID-19 crisis, could make a cash grab on deposit holders with more than €100,000 or currency equivalent in their accounts? At this point it is only a proposal, but I shall be watching this space carefully.
Based on this news, there is probably no better time to look at your financial plans closely, especially if you are holding high levels of cash in any banks around Europe.
NS&I slashes rates!
You might be someone who has been investing in NS&I products in the UK as a diversifier to your other holdings, or maybe just someone who likes to ‘play it safe’ with your money.
National Savings and Investments, NS&I, are backed by the UK government and due to the COVID-19 crisis, the government has now moved to slash rates on all national savings products to the point where you have to ask yourself, ‘are they worth it?’
The rate on the Direct Saver account has been slashed from 1% interest per annum to just 0.15%. Income Bonds, which have for a long time been considered a best buy, have been slashed from 1% interest rate to just 0.01% pa.
Not only that, but the average interest rate on Premium Bonds (with the chance to win the big prize) will fall from 1.4% to just 1% and the amount of prizes issued will be reduced significantly.
If that is not enough, the Bank of England is also toying with the idea of introducing a negative base interest rate. If they apply that to the NS&I products, then you will be effectively paying the government to hold them.
Time to consider alternatives to protect your capital?
Cashback for cashless transactions
Italy has been desperately trying to find ways for the people to start using digital forms of payment instead of cash so that the economy can become more fiscally transparent and they can raise more tax revenue.
By the end of November we will have confirmation on the new push to drive people towards using digital methods of payments in Italy, even for small transactions, such a buying coffee at the bar. The Italian government has come up with an idea to incentivise the drive to digital forms of payment.
Firstly, from next year the maximum spend on contactless forms of payment will rise from €30 to €50.
In addition, they have dreamt up another seemingly difficult to navigate proposal for a refund of expenses paid by card payments. I will have a go at deciphering it here:
1. You will get a 10% reimbursement on expenses paid up to a maximum spend of €3000 per annum (hence a tax refund of max €300 pa).
2. But, to achieve this you must make a minimum of 50 transactions every 6 months (100 every year) and the €3000 is in fact split into a spend of a maximum of €1500 every 6 months. The idea being that you can’t just go and spend on something costing €1500 every 6 months or a series of high value items to reach the limit.
To receive the refund you will need to register on the app and enter your codice fiscale, and your debit/credit card details.
3. Not only are they offering cash back on transactions but they are discussing a ‘super cashback’ prize of €3000 for the first 100,000 people who reach the maximum number of digital transactions in a year, within the limits provided above.
Certainly food for thought. Watch out for confirmation of these offers sometime before the end of November and then start registering to get your cashback. In theory it should be easy, but based on previous experience of Italian government initiatives I fear it may turn out to be more complicated than first glance.
I hoped you have enjoyed this ‘return to normality’ article. I will be sending out more information in the coming weeks and months to keep you up to speed with the goings on in the financial world and how that might impact our lives in Italy.
If any information from this article has interested you and you would like to get in contact, you can reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org or on cell phone 333 649 2356 by call, sms or whatsapp.
Living in Spain after BREXIT
After the results from the UK’s General Election, it seems we are closer to Brexit than ever before, so are you prepared for it living in Spain?
Documentation to remain in Spain
There are many rumours among non-Spanish people of what you need to do to stay in Spain should Brexit happen. The response from the Council recently has been, should you hold a NIE and an Empadronamiento, you are proving you are resident in Spain, so for now these should suffice. However, if Brexit does go ahead, Spain could draw a ‘Stay in Spain’ line in the sand which would then need adhering to. In the worst case scenario, a renewable 90-day tourist visa would give you time to adhere to whatever the new rules are. Spain has said publicly it will reciprocate what the UK does, and the UK knows there are far more British people living in Spain than the other way around in the UK.
UK Private and Corporate Pensions
The current HMRC rules state that if you take advantage of moving your UK pension abroad it must be to either where you are resident OR in the EU (due to the UK being in the EU). If this is not the case, you would have to pay 25% tax on the pension amount. Therefore, it is very likely that as the UK would be leaving the EU, these rules would not be met and the 25% tax charge would start to apply to pension movements outside of the UK. This could be the last chance to evaluate whether it’s better for you to move your pension or not and take advantage of the potential benefits, including being outside of UK law and taxes.
National Insurance Contributions
If you were to start receiving your State pension now, you would approach the Spanish authorities and they would contact the UK for their part of the contribution, taking both into account. Before the UK joined the EU, you would contact each country individually and receive what they were due to pay you. If this becomes the case again, for many British people the UK part of their State pension would potentially be more important, as it is likely to be the bulk of what you receive. We don’t know how Spain will act with regard to state pension benefits to foreigners; therefore it would make sense to manage the UK element well if this is your largest subscription.
I recommend two things here; firstly check what you have in the UK so you know where you are. You can do that here:
You can contact the HMRC about contributing overseas voluntary contributions at a greatly discounted rate, from £11 a month: you can even buy ‘years’ to catch up:
I have mentioned this in Newsletters before, but it really is a great thing to do, both mathematically and for peace of mind. Many people I meet living away from the UK have ‘broken’ years of contributions which is leaving themselves open to problems in retirement.
TIP: If you have an NI number, you do not necessarily have to be British to do this.
Time apportionment relief
Statistically, in 75% of British expat couples living abroad, at least one of them will return to live in the UK. It remains to be seen whether this changes if the UK leaves the EU, however, you can easily save yourself some serious tax if you have this in your plan of eventualities.
You can, in effect, give yourself 5% tax relief for every year you spend outside the UK by positioning your investments/savings correctly. Then, upon your return, you can take this tax relief when you are ready, such as in the following example:
Mr and Mrs Brown invested £200,000 ten years ago when they were living in Spain.
After this time, it is now worth £300,000
They returned to the UK and have been resident there for the last year (365 days)
They decide, after being back in the UK for 1 year (365 days) to cash in the investment, taking advantage of ‘Time Apportionment Relief’ which will be calculated the following way:
£100,000 (total gain)
multiplied by the number of days in the UK (365)
divided by total number of days the investments have been running i.e. 10 years (3650 days)
Resulting in a £10,000 chargeable gain (that is what you declare, not the tax you pay).
There are other potential tax savings as well, but they depend on other circumstances. If you have your savings/investments set up the right way you can take advantage of this.
If you have any questions or would like to book a financial review, don’t hesitate to get in touch.