Looking forward to your pension
Welcome to 2015. Let’s all hope for a prosperous and, maybe optimistically, safe year to come. This is my 60th year on the planet, and the cracks are starting to show. Many thanks indeed to the many well-wishers who sent me messages of goodwill following my hip replacement in December. They were much appreciated. I am up and about again now and, whilst I may leave it a few more weeks before I resume training for the triple-jump, it is good to be able to get around freely. Bear with me, I will get to the financial stuff soon.
With the physical recovery going well, my mental state did take a knock however on an early foray back into the big wide world. Congratulating myself on being able to get around with only one crutch, I decided to take myself off to my local Bricomarché to buy some light fittings. With only one checkout open, I resigned myself to a long wait at the back of the queue. I suddenly realised that the people in front of me were moving aside, and I was being beckoned to the front by the cashier. How utterly charming and, yet, completely crushing. When I protested, I was told that this was normal treatment for ‘handicapped’ people. I was appalled. Not that a DIY chain should treat its clients this way, but at the fact that they should regard me as a ‘client in need’. It was like peering into my dotage. How many years before I will have a long grey beard, waving a walking stick, being pushed in a wheelchair?
Looking back on that day recently, it struck me that there is probably a link with my recent focus on old age and pensions. I know I’ve said before that the older you get, the more interesting pensions become, but I really think that it is true. What is worrying me now is the growing list of younger people who are getting very interested in our pensions, for all the wrong reasons. The younger crowd I’m referring to are politicians who are gleefully rubbing their hands and salivating over our pension assets. There seems to be no political argument over the new pension reforms due in April that are to sweep away all forms of prudent financial planning for old age. They’ve all got their eyes glued on the same pot.
Please allow me to get slightly technical for a moment and explain GAD to you. The initials stand for Government Actuarial Department. Actuaries are very clever people, mathematicians basically, who walk around wired into computers. One of their jobs used to be to come up with a formula that worked out how much you could draw from your personal pension per year without reducing your pension pot too quickly. In short, they were there to make sure that your pension outlived you. 100% GAD meant the maximum you could safely draw from your pension.
Then the politicians started to get interested. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we let the old fogeys have more of their pensions to spend? That way we can boost the economy for the rest of us and we can tax them as they do it. It won’t be a problem because they’ll probably still die before the pension runs out! Let’s try 120% GAD and see how we get on? Well, OK, it helped a bit but we still need more capital spending. Let’s see how we get on with 150% GAD? The next logical step is of course about to take place in April. Forget GAD! You can have the lot. Use your pension as a bank account. Treat yourself to something special. A yacht? Ferrari? The world is your lobster.
This is, in my view, tantamount to criminal recklessness. You and I may be completely confident in our ability to run our own finances, and I trust that that is in fact the case, but who is going to protect the vulnerable amongst the older generations? Who is going to protect pensioners from double glazing salesmen; roofing contractors; cowboy builders; money grabbing children looking for early access to their supposed inheritances?
And then there are the annuities. These are financial instruments that you used to have to buy with your pension funds. These gave you a guaranteed income for life. You are no longer obliged to buy an annuity with your pension fund. I do agree with this. The fall in long term interest rates meant that annuity rates fell quite dramatically over the years, and the income you bought became less and less. I suppose then it should come as no surprise when we hear that pensioners are to be allowed to sell their annuities, and receive lump sums instead. More money to spend! More tax to pay! In twenty years’ time this could turn into a monumental national scandal, but by that time our current batch of politicians will be retired, enjoying their protected pensions.
My own personal pensions are now safely housed well away from further potential meddling. I will not be drawing out huge (I wish) sums to finance cars or cruises, and barring worldwide financial calamities there will be enough money to see me out. If I do last another 15 years, whatever is left will also go to my chosen beneficiaries without any tax deducted. Did I mention the 45% tax that will be payable in the UK?