Dread and Brexit
Fear causes thousands to hold off making decisions pre-Brexit
Uncertainty over what will happen once the UK has left the European Union has led people to make one important decision. Not do anything until it happens. This means delaying actions for around two and a half years. This could be a really disappointing, if not dangerous, decision to make. As much as we intend being around in two and a half years, there is no guarantee we will be. Who knew two and a half years ago what was going to happen next week?
Brexit is another event in our lives. None of us, not even the politicians, know exactly what is going to happen but you can plan for all eventualities. If there is a full-on Brexit, then you need to be in a position whereby your money is not exposed to future monetary restrictions. You need to do this BEFORE the shutters come down. Waiting two and a half years may be too long and too late.
If there is a “soft” Brexit, as I suspect there will be, with deals being done over a gin and tonic in Le Chien et Le Canard, it will still be important that your investments are recognised as being tax compliant in the country you live in. It will also be important that any financial planning advice you are receiving is coming from a company registered in your country. Some financial advisers in Spain are allowed to operate using a UK licence because the UK is in the EU. The professional indemnity insurance which they (may) have could become invalid.
Another change likely to cause a big problem post-Brexit is Spanish inheritance tax. UK inheritors are benefiting from Spanish rules introduced in 2014. These rules only apply to EU residents. Therefore, it is now time to look at how to distribute wealth in readiness for these changes.
Interest rates are low and will stay that way for some time to come, probably for at least two and a half years. The pound has collapsed in value meaning that income in euro terms has reduced dramatically. Banks have little or nothing to offer. We can help you with this NOW. We do not charge for a chat, or even for investigating what you have. We tick all the boxes regarding licences and compliance and we live in Spain.
Will BREXIT have an effect on your Pension Plans?
By Susan Worthington - Topics: BREXIT, Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, Mallorca, Pensions, QROPS, spain, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 20th October 2016
Brexit could have an effect on your Pension whether it is a Private Plan or Final Salary Scheme that is waiting to be paid. There are many various pension plans these are just two examples
Do you have a Private Frozen Pension in the UK?
Pensions are driven by HMRC ruling not EU Membership and a QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes) which allows you to transfer your pension overseas. This option may not be available in the future as there is talk that HMRC may pull the plug, make restrictions or even insert transfer tax.
Do you have a Final Salary Pension Scheme in the UK?
There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and UK pension world that make a review of any pension(s) essential for those living or planning to live outside the UK.
Final Salary pension schemes (also referred to as Defined Benefit schemes) have long been viewed as a gold plated route to a comfortable retirement, however there are likely to be large changes ahead in the pension industry. The key question is; will these schemes really be able to provide the promised benefits over the next 20+ years?
Why Review now?
Record high transfer values
- Gilt rates are at an all-time low. This has caused transfer values to be at an all-time high, some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.
- Recent examples show that very large deficits in pension schemes cause a number of problems, in particular no one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on
- Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers
Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
- This fund has been set up to help the schemes that do get into financial trouble, two points are key. Firstly it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly the remaining final salary schemes have to pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF in order to fund the insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there are less remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost.
- It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes, they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for the pensioners
- In April 2015 unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability for transfers, so schemes for nurses, firemen, army personnel, civil service workers etc. can no longer transfer their pensions. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one is able to respond by transferring out of the scheme
Autumn Statement (Budget)
- This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked there was a small window of time to transfer, however most people couldn’t get their transfer values in time as the demand was so high. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options
What could happen in the Future?
- An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes
- Increase the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension
- Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)
- Reduction of Spouse’s benefit
- Increase of contributions from current members
- Lower starting income
Act now! Review your pensions
Susan Worthington of The Spectrum IFA Group has been giving investment advice here in Mallorca and Menorca since 1994.
If you wish to have a chat with Susan about any frozen or paid-up pension.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 670 308987.
For Brexiteers and Remainers alike
It was only a matter of time before I got onto the subject of Brexit once again. I have been trying to avoid it like the plague and certainly will refrain from offering any views in this article.
However, I do want to inform you about some very important developments for UK citizens who are living in Italy.
Since Brexit, it has become apparent that whatever stance you took at the vote, that UK citizens living in Italy may very well lose the right to universal access to healthcare, pensions, the right to acquire citizenship and running a business. Equally we may lose the right to freely move across other European states and we will almost certainly, the ways things are presently moving, lose the right of permanent residence in Italy without a permesso di soggiorno.
I am certainly worried about all the UK negotiations with the EU and whether you voted for Brexit or not and/or if you are a resident in Italy or intend to be, then they will surely affect you. One way of getting round this is to try and attain cittadinanza, (you can find out how , HERE. The page is in Italian!) if you are eligible. The other way is for us to try and get our rights as UK citizens, who are already living in and resident in Italy, recognised by either the UK and/or Italy.
In France, Spain, Belgium and Germany there are big movements afoot by politically inclined and connected individuals who are writing to their respective EU states and negotiating with them on behalf of all UK citizens already living in these countries and the rest of the EU.
Here is a little of what they say:
Brexit should not have a retrospective effect on individuals. UK citizens currently resident in the EU and EU citizens currently resident in the UK should be expressly treated as continuing to have the same rights as they had before Brexit. This is not confined to a right of continued residence but extends to all related rights such as the acquisition of citizenship, the right to continue to work or run a business, the right to healthcare, pensions etc.
These citizens from both sides of the Channel all made their decisions on where to live and work in genuine and reasonable reliance on the UK’s membership of the EU. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that membership, it cannot be right for millions of people to have their lives turned upside down when that could easily be avoided by a mutual agreement that the status quo prior to Brexit should continue to apply to this group.
Rumblings in Italy
I am happy to say that, in Italy, there is now a similar group of people who are campaigning to represent UK citizens in Italy. They are a UK/Italian solicitor based in Rome, retired barristers and journalists who are aiming to gather recognition in the UK, and in Italy, at a political level and fight to retain EU rights for UK citizens living in Italy.
The subject of this E-zine is to spread the word of this to as many British people living in Italy, or intending on moving to Italy, as possible.
They have a Facebook group. If you are interested in ongoing developments they will be posted regularly on their page. You can ‘Like’ it from the link below. And don’t forget to send this link to as many other UK citizens living in Italy, as you know.
(If you are unable to join this group, or do not use Facebook, then you can register your presence with the group at their email address: email@example.com. You may also contact them if you have any specific skills or contacts, or want to get involved in some way).
The group is closely affiliated with www.britsineurope.org who are a group of UK citizens living in Berlin and who are fostering co-ordination between the various groups around Europe.
It would appear that this group of people in Italy are the ONLY group which is actively campaigning in Italy and ideally it should stay this way. A lot of the campaigning will have to be directed at the Italian government and we all know what a headache that can be. One focal point will be a useful way of making contact with you, when required, and also informing the group of any hurdles you may be facing already, or start to face, as a result of Brexit.
The group is an open group, subscription free, and welcomes any ideas, comments or information you might be able to offer.
Please spread this onto as many UK citizens in Italy as you may know and ask them to sign up to the Facebook page, if they have the possibility to do so. Otherwise I will, as usual, be updating you with ongoing developments here. I am in regular contact with the group of individuals mentioned above and will aim to send out messages when necessary, alongside my usual ramblings.
This has been more of a public service notification than one of my usual E-zines but I hope you are reassured that there are people out there who have the ability and connections to try and make our life easier in Italy, depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
Warning – UK Pensions
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!!!
I have a long term relationship with a UK regulated financial adviser, why should I speak to French regulated one?
Many of us have banking and financial services relationships from the UK and whilst you may feel a financial review now you are resident in France isn’t urgent or important the benefits can be enormous. A full financial review can be free and you should always ask what costs are applicable to any consultation you arrange. Some of the benefits include:
Capital Gains Tax – Certain tax efficient savings and investments recognised by HMRC would not qualify under French taxation, leaving you with a tax bill on the gain element.
Inheritance Tax – UK inheritance tax planning is very different to that in France and even though you can opt to have your UK will recognised in France, tax on your estate will be based on French tax rates and laws.
Compliance with the French tax system – Knowing how and when to declare your investments and savings can avoid financial penalties for non-disclosure.
It is very important to remember that whilst your UK financial adviser has been of great service whilst you were resident in Great Britain, if they are not trained and regulated in the country you now live the French authorities will still expect your financial affairs to fully comply to French laws and this may mean you are presented with an extra tax bill for any non compliance.
Whether you want to register for our newsletter, attend one of our road shows or speak to me directly, please call or email me on the contacts below & I will be glad to help you. We do not charge for reviews, reports or recommendations we provide.
Tin Hat Time at the FCA
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
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.
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.
UK Inheritance Tax V French Succession Tax
This is an area that many expats find very confusing: what and where to declare, what and where to pay, where to even start!
It doesn’t help that UK and France have completely different rules. In the UK the estate pays the tax and the net proceeds are paid to the beneficiaries. In France, the proceeds are paid to the beneficiaries. The beneficiary will then complete a Succession tax form and pay the inheritance tax, the amount of which is based on their relationship to the deceased.
What many expats do not realise is that if you are a French resident and inherit from someone who was a UK resident you need to complete and submit a French Succession tax form to URSAAF within 12 months of their death. No actual tax is payable in France as there is a tax treaty in place between the two countries.
Let’s look at a couple of different scenarios:
You are a UK resident and own a property in France. When you pass away your estate will be taxed in the UK on your worldwide moveable assets. However, your property in France will be subject to French inheritance tax.
If you are a French resident, when you pass away French inheritance tax will apply to your worldwide assets. If you still have UK assets, it may be that you will also pay some inheritance tax in the UK, however there is a tax treaty in place to ensure that you do not pay tax twice on the same assets.
In the UK the law says you can make a will naming whoever you wish as your beneficiaries. If you have not made a will, then the rules of intestacy apply and the distribution of your estate is based on these. If you have no living relatives, even long lost and distant, then everything you have will go to the Crown. Anyone born in Scotland would have some restrictions on who they could leave their estate to.
In France you cannot freely dispose of “la réserve” which must be held for your children. You are only free to dispose of as you wish the “quotité disponible”. A spouse is not a protected heir in France, however unless you specifically disinherit them, they are entitled to a quarter of your estate. The amount freely disposable from your estate will depend on the number of children you have.
- If you have one child they are entitled to half of your estate with half freely disposable
- Two children are entitled to two thirds with one third freely disposable
- Three children are entitled to three quarters with one quarter freely available
Since August 2015 it has been possible, in your French will, to adopt the inheritance rules of your country of nationality. This means if you are from the UK then you can adopt UK inheritance rules and leave your estate to whoever you wish. However, it is important to note this applies to inheritance rules not tax, French inheritance tax will still apply. I think this change in legislation will be of particular importance to people in second marriages with children from previous relationships and maybe from the current relationship also. For some reason, the UK and Ireland have chosen not to sign up to this change, which means if you are from the EU and living in the UK your estate will be subject to UK inheritance rules and tax.
Inheritance Tax Rates:
In the UK, the first 325,000 GBP of a person’s estate is free of inheritance tax. From the tax year 2017/18 if you have a family home that will pass directly to your children, then an additional allowance of 100,000 GBP will apply, rising to 175,000 GBP by 2020. This means that by 2020, married couples and those in civil partnerships with a family home to pass to children, could pass a total of 1m GBP free of inheritance tax. Inheritance tax in the UK is 40% of everything above your allowance.
In France, each person can leave 100,000 Euro to each of their children free of inheritance tax. Above this there is a sliding scale starting at 5% and rising to 45%. However as a guide, between 15,932 Euro and 552,324 Euro, the rate payable by the beneficiary is 20%.
For siblings, the first 15,932 Euro of what you leave them is free of inheritance tax, then they pay 35% on the next 24,430 Euro and 45% on everything else
Nieces and nephews can have just 7,967 Euro free of tax then pay a whopping 55% on the rest.
Everyone else (including non-married partners) can inherit a measly 1,594 Euro free of tax and will pay a massive 60% on amounts above this.
An important tax planning tool is the Assurance Vie. Providing it is set up before age 70, you can name beneficiaries and each beneficiary can inherit 152,500 Euro free of inheritance tax, amounts between 152,500 Euro and 852,500 Euro will be taxed at 20% and anything over this at 31.5%. As you can imagine, this could make a huge tax saving, especially for non-married partners, nieces, nephews and beneficiaries not related to you, with potential tax savings of up to 60%. The great thing is, it remains your money until you die which means you have full access if you need it, unlike when you put money in a trust in the UK to try and reduce your inheritance tax liability. In addition, it is the nearest thing the French have to an ISA as your money grows tax free.
If you want any more information or would like some advice, please contact me on the number or email below.
I also hold a free financial surgery in Café de la Tour in Les Arcs on the last Friday morning of each month where you can discuss your own situation in confidence over a cup of coffee.
This article is for information only and should not be considered as advice and is based on current legislation. 04/05/2016.
Company Pension/Final Salary funding update 31st January 2016
With most UK Final Salary schemes (also known as Defined Benefit) now closing their doors to new members, the schemes are concentrating on trying to manage to make sure there is enough money for those people still in them for retirement. This ‘closing of the doors’ also means there is no ‘New Money’ entering the schemes, which takes away the option of new contributions paying the pensions of those currently retired, as they used to. One of the biggest reasons for this, is that many years ago these often called ’Gold Plated’ schemes were made up on the following mathematics:
People retired at 55, then died at 67.
Thus, approximately 12 years of payments should they live to this point. However, now the mathematics are more likely to be the following:
People retire at 60, and the average life expectancy is 84 in Europe.
You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out why the schemes are faltering, and worryingly in many cases, heavily reliant on their companies contributing millions of pounds to keep them going.
The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) takes these schemes under its wing should the company scheme get to a point that it cannot realistically recover from poor funding. However, it is gaining more and more ‘members’ and will only cover pension income up to a point. Therefore, many client’s believe it is better not to be in the PPF if possible, and have your pension under your own control and in essence not at the mercy of a government body to bail you out. People thought that the Kodak pension scheme would always be ok; unfortunately it was not and left a lot of people with no or little pension benefits.
Below is a transcript of the update from the Pension Protection Funds own website updating what has happened and why. If you have any questions regarding this or what your options are, don’t hesitate to contact Christopher, the article writer (contact information is at the bottom of this article).
Update from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) of its members
The aggregate deficit of the 5,945 schemes in the UK Pension Protection Fund (PPF) Index is estimated to have increased over the month to £304.9 billion at the end of January 2016, from a deficit of £222.4 billion at the end of December 2015. The funding ratio worsened from 84.9 per cent to 80.5 per cent. Total assets were £1,258.7 billion and total liabilities were £1,563.6 billion. There were 4,923 schemes in deficit and 1,022 schemes in surplus.
The aggregate deficit of the schemes in the PPF 7800 Index is estimated to have increased to £304.9 billion at the end of January 2016, from £222.4 billion at the end of December 2015. The position has improved from the previous year, when a deficit of £367.5 billion was recorded at the end of January 2015. The funding ratio of schemes decreased over this month from 84.9 per cent to 80.5 per cent at the end of January 2016. The funding ratio is higher than the 77.6 per cent recorded in January 2015.
Within the index, total scheme assets amounted to £1,258.7 billion at the end of January 2016. Total scheme assets increased by 0.9 per cent over the month and decreased by 1.2 per cent over the year. Total scheme liabilities were £1,563.6 billion at the end of January 2016, an increase of 6.4 per cent over the month and decreased by 4.7 per cent over the year.
The aggregate deficit of all schemes in deficit at the end of January 2016 is estimated to have increased to £338.4 billion from £265.8 billion at the end of December 2015. At the end of January 2015, the equivalent figure was £392.6 billion. At the end of January 2016, the total surplus of schemes in surplus decreased to £33.6 billion from £43.4 billion at the end of December 2015. At the end of January 2015, the total surplus of all schemes in surplus stood at £25.2 billion.
The number of schemes in deficit at the end of January 2015 increased to 4,923, representing 82.8 per cent of the total 5,945 defined benefit schemes. There were 4,679 schemes in deficit at the end of December 2015 (78.7 per cent) and 5,175 schemes in deficit at the end of January 2015 (85.4 per cent of the 2014 population of schemes). The number of schemes in surplus fell to 1,022 at the end of January 2016 (17.2 per cent of schemes) from 1,266 at the end of December 2015 (21.3 per cent). There were 882 schemes in surplus at the end of January 2015 (14.6 per cent of the 2014 population of schemes).
Understanding the impact of market movements Equity markets and gilt yields are the main drivers of funding levels. Scheme liabilities are sensitive to the yields available on a range of conventional and indexlinked gilts. Liabilities are also time-sensitive in that, even if gilt yields were unchanged, scheme liabilities would increase as the point of payment approaches. The value of scheme assets is affected by the change in prices of all the major asset classes, not just equity markets. However, due to their weight in asset allocation and volatility, equities and bonds are the biggest drivers behind changes in scheme assets; bonds have a higher weight in asset allocation, but equities tend to be more volatile. Over the month of January 2016, liabilities increased by 6.4 per cent. Conventional and index-linked 15-year gilt yields fell by 34 basis points and 20 basis points respectively. Assets rose by 0.9 per cent in January 2016. The FTSE All-Share Index fell by 3.1 per cent over the month. Over the year to January 2016, 15-year gilt yields were up by 33 basis points and the FTSE All-Share Index was down by 7.9 per cent.
Pensions Back on the Government’s Agenda Again!
The date that is etched in everyone’s mind at the moment is 23rd June, when the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU takes place.
However, if you still have pension benefits in the UK to claim, there is another date that you should be focused on – 16th March – the date of the UK Budget.
Last summer, the government launched a consultation on pension tax relief and this is what the Chancellor said ……….
“With increased longevity and the changing nature of pension provision, the government needs to make sure that the system incentivises more people to take responsibility for their pension saving so that they are able to meet their aspirations in retirement.”
Incentivising people to save for retirement? Well that’s not new. The current system of the tax-free Pension Commencement Lump Sum (PCLS) and tax-relief on pension contributions is already a good incentive, even though the latter has been capped and steadily reduced since 2006. So what more does the government think should be done?
The chancellor goes on to say ……..
“That is why the government is today publishing a consultation on pensions tax relief. If people are to take responsibility for their retirement, it is important that the support on offer from the government is simple and transparent, and that complexity does not undermine the incentive for individuals to save.”
Now “simple” and “transparent” are not words that appear in my dictionary on the UK pension system. On the other hand, “complexity” does, particularly as concerns the new State pension system coming into effect in April, something that I will cover in another article.
The most radical idea that the chancellor floated was the introduction of the Pension ISA, where all pension contributions would be paid on post-taxed income, but thereafter, no tax would be payable – either on the investments in the pension fund or on the pensions in payment. Definitely attractive to a cash-strapped chancellor who wants to at least ‘balance the books’ during the remainder of this government’s term of office, but hugely short-sighted for future generations, when demographic pressure on public spending and the need for tax revenues is likely to be more severe.
The system would also be hugely complex as, in effect, two separate pension pots would have to be kept – the old system ‘post-tax pot’ and the new system ‘pre-tax pot’. Maybe the government would introduce some transitional arrangements to convert ‘post-tax pots’ into ‘pre-tax pots’ and if so, for sure there will be some losers. Costs for administering the new arrangements would increase and for the dwindling number of remaining defined benefit pension schemes, this could lead to these ending up in the ‘pensions graveyard’ – who will pay the levies to the Pension Protection Fund then?
An alternative idea proposed is for pension contributions to be paid out of post-taxed income and for a flat-rate of tax relief to be paid by the government into the pension pot or into the defined benefit scheme. If the tax-relief is limited to the basic rate of 25%, higher tax rate payers will lose out – some incentive!
The government’s current thinking on this to incentivise people is – ‘if you pay into your pension, the government will top it up’. This is spin, the tax-relief at source already exists for occupational pension schemes and a delay in getting the government’s so-called ‘top up’ into the pension scheme would be detrimental for the pension member.
The effect on the employer of defined benefit pension schemes should also not be underestimated, where the employer is legally obliged to ensure that the pension assets can meet the liabilities. Any delay on getting the tax-relief due into the defined benefit scheme is in effect, an interest-free loan to the government. My pensions career started more than 40 years ago and I remember well how long we had to wait for National Insurance rebates to be paid by the government into occupational pension schemes. Another nail in the coffin, on route to the pensions graveyard?
I save the ‘best’ to last – the abolition of the tax-free PCLS. Of course, I am being cynical because there is nothing good that could come out of taxing the beloved PCLS and definitely not the best way of incentivising people to save more for retirement. Receiving a tax-free cash sum has been at the heart of the UK pension system for decades. To take this away now, when people have saved for years and planned for retirement on the basis that they would receive this tax-free PCLS is quite simply wrong.
Of course, the government could just tinker with the existing system more by reducing the maximum amount that people can pay into tax-relieved pension funds and perhaps also by no longer allowing employers tax-relief on National Insurance contributions. The latter would hurt employers, particularly with the abolition of contracting-out of the State Second Pension from April, which anyway results in increased National Insurance Contributions (another nail in the coffin?).
The first organised UK pension scheme can be traced back to the 1670s, when the Royal Navy put in place provision for its officers. Other public sector pensions followed over the centuries, but it was in the 1950s and 1960s that corporate pensions became a prominent part of the remuneration package. In the good old days of easily understandable pension schemes, we were encouraged to pay Additional Voluntary Contributions – after all you got tax-relief and so were incentivised to save more for retirement. When I started work, the maximum amount that we could contribute was simply limited to 15% of earnings – regardless of whether you were a basic rate or higher rate taxpayer.
Do you trust future politicians not to change the UK pension rules again?
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