The New UK State Pension
The new UK State pension scheme has now come into effect from 6th April 2016. Widely publicised by the government as being easier to understand, based on the questions we are getting, this is not the case!
If you reached State Pension Age (SPA) before the start of the new scheme, then you are not affected by the changes – even if you have decided to defer taking your State pension. Under the ‘old scheme’, the basic State pension is £119.30 per week for 2016/17, based on having 30 years of National insurance Contributions (NICs) or credits. You may also be entitled to some additional State pension and the amount varies according to your earnings during your working life and whether or not you were ‘contracted-out’ of the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) or the later State Second Pension (S2P). The maximum additional pension entitlement is around £164 per week.
The new State pension scheme introduces a ‘single-tier’ pension of £155.65 per week for 2016/17, based on having 35 years of NICs (or credits). So anyone starting work today, who retires with a 35-year NIC record, can expect to get the full amount of the single-tier pension and nothing more. Of course, this is subject to the rules not being changed for the next 35 years!
However, for people who have already built up a NIC record before 6th April 2016 and have not yet reached SPA, the transitional arrangements are complex. Some will get more than the single-tier pension, others will get less, and here is where the confusion begins!
If you fall into this ‘transitional group’, as a first step, your State pension under the old system is calculated as at 5th April 2016. This includes your basic pension plus any additional pension that you are entitled to receive and this known as your ‘Starting Amount’. You cannot get less than this amount.
So even though you may not have 35 years of NICs, it could be that under the old system, your Starting Amount is actually more than £155.65 per week. If so, you will receive the higher amount, but you cannot build up any more State pension, even if you continue to pay NICs. The difference between your Starting Amount and the single-tier pension is known as your ‘Protected Amount’ and this will be increased by reference to inflation.
However, there are many people who have a Starting Amount that is less than £155.65 per week. Typically, these are people who were contracted-out of the additional State pension scheme and thus, paid a lower rate of NICs and/or do not have the 30 years of NICs required under the old scheme. Hence, many of these people are asking if they should pay voluntary NICs to increase their State pension entitlement up to the single-tier amount.
For those over age 55, it is possible to get an estimate of your new State pension entitlement from the Department of Work & Pensions. One of my clients (let’s call her Jane) did this recently.
Jane has paid NICs for 25 years before coming to live in France. She has about 10 years to go until she reaches SPA and before the new scheme was introduced, she had planned to pay 5 years of voluntary NICs to secure entitlement to the full basic State pension, but to do this closer to her retirement. However, now she is 10 years short of the full 35-year record and so she is not sure now what she should do.
The letter that she received from the DWP confirmed that she was entitled to a State pension in the new system of £138 per week, based on her existing NIC record to 5th April 2016. As she only had 25 years of NICs, around £96 of this was basic pension and £42 was additional pension.
Under the new State scheme, you get £4.44 per week for each year of NICs (£155.65 / 35). Jane thought that she needed to pay 10 years of NICs to get the full single-tier pension of £155.65. However, this would add £44.40 per week (£4.44 x 10) to her Starting Amount, resulting in a total amount of £182.40. As this is greater than £155.65, the excess would be lost. Therefore, the maximum amount that Jane can purchase is £17.65 per week and so she only needs to purchase 4 years.
To purchase extra years, you have to pay voluntary Class 3 NICs and the rate for 2016/17 is £14.10 per week. A full year of NICs at this rate of £733.20 would increase your State pension by £230.88 per annum. In effect, this is not a bad ‘annuity rate’ and one has to question whether or not such generosity from the government is really sustainable over the long-term? A problem to be faced by a future government and not the current one!
In Jane’s case, it is 10 years until she will receive her State pension and we have seen constant change in the UK pensions arena – last year the major reform in private pensions and now the reform of the State pension. It cannot be ruled out that more changes will take place in the future, particularly as concerns the period needed to qualify for full pension and the age at which the State pension starts. There is every possibility that Jane could pay the voluntary NICs now, only to find that the ‘goalposts’ are moved again during the next 10 years.
Everyone’s situation is different. Hence, whether or not it is a good idea to pay voluntary NICs to increase your State pension will vary from one person to another. In any event, such a decision should only be considered as part of a wider review of your overall financial situation and taking into account other retirement provision that you already have in place.
If you would like to have a confidential discussion with one of our financial advisers, you can contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 04 68 31 14 10. Alternatively, drop-by to our Friday morning clinic at our office at 2 Place du Général Leclerc, 11300 Limoux, for an initial discussion.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of the UK State pensions system, the investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.
The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter