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QROPS and expats living in France

By Steven Grover - Topics: France, Pensions, QROPS, Retirement, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 12th June 2014

As part of the March 2014 budget substantial changes to UK pension legislation have been proposed by the UK government, and here our Financial Expert Steven Grover a Partner with the Spectrum IFA Group will guide you through these proposals and what consequences they could have for expats.

So what are the changes that have been proposed and which of these changes have already been adopted ? The majority of the proposed changes are already effective as of the 27 March 2014 which include the following:

New higher income drawdown limits – Drawdown investors have a yearly limit to the income they can draw which is from zero up to the maximum, The maximum amount has increased by 25% (from 120% to 150% of a broadly equivalent annuity) So for instance, an investor aged 65 with a £100,000 pension starting drawdown before these changes could draw a maximum income of £7,080 a year. However if they start from 27 March 2014 this will rise to £8,850.

Flexible drawdown made more accessible – Flexible drawdown allows investors to make uncapped, unlimited withdrawals from their pensions. There are, however, strict qualifying criteria. The main one is that you must already have a secure pension income of at least £12,000 (prior to £20,000 before).

However the £12k income must be “relevant income” so only the following will count:

State Pension, Scheme Pension (so a final salary pension which is fixed), Lifetime annuities, Overseas Pensions (but only overseas state pension or final salary), Pension income provided by the Financial Assistance scheme.

And the following income would not be included as they can change, capital can be spent, investments sold, drawdown income can finish – Rental income, Dividends, Interest, Drawdown pension income, QROPS income, Part time salary.

More flexibility for investors with pension small pots – Now investors aged 60 or over with total pension savings under £30,000 (formally £18,000) will be allowed to draw them as a lump sum. The first 25% will be tax free (in the UK but this may not be the case for French tax residents), and the remaining amount will then be taxed as income. This can only be done once. Investors with individual personal pension pots smaller than £10,000 (formally £2,000, twice) will be allowed to draw them as a lump sum from age 60, which will be taxed as above but can only be done three times.

The following changes have however not come into force and are still in consultation:

Pension Investors will be able to take the whole of their pension as a lump sum (Potentially effective from April 2015) – Currently most investors aged 55 or over can take up to 25% of their pension as tax-free cash (in the UK but this may not be the case for French tax residents), and a taxable income from the rest. There are, however, rules that determine the maximum income most people can draw each year. These restrictions will be removed in April 2015 so pension investors will be able to take the whole of their pension as a lump sum if they so wish, subject to consultation. The first 25% will be tax free (in the UK but this may not be the case for French tax residents), whilst the rest will be taxed as income. Should this come to fruition, it takes away one of the most cited objections to funding a pension.

Lump Sum Death Benefits – The 55% tax charge on certain lump sum death benefits will be reviewed. The Government believes that a flat rate of 55% will be too high, and will engage with stakeholders to review the rules to ensure that taxation of pensions on death is fair under the new system.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

What exactly is the government consulting on?

The government is consulting on “Freedom and choice in pensions”. The consultation relates to whether the proposed changes will happen and how. The main points which affect investors with private pensions are:

  • Ability to take unlimited income from pensions (from age 55, rising to 57 in 2028). The first 25% remains tax free, whilst the rest is taxed as income.
  • Review of the 55% tax charge on death in drawdown/post 75.
  • Review of the tax rules that prevent individuals aged 75+ from claiming pension tax relief.
  • Increase in minimum pension age from 55 to 57 from 2028 and further rises after that so it remains 10 years below state pension age.
  • A consumer’s right to financial guidance at retirement. • Potential use of (yet to be developed) pension products for social care.

What is the timetable of the consultation?

The consultation will close on 11 June 2014 and the government aims to confirm any changes by 22 July 2014, these changes will potentially be effective from April 2015.

Can I take my pension as a lump sum?

Potentially, yes you could. However it will depend on your individual circumstances and the decision made after the consolation period has closed.

    • From 27 March 2014 some investors aged 60 or over will be able to take their pension as a lump sum if:

▸ Their total pension savings are under £30,000 (only once), or

▸ They have individual personal pension pots smaller than £10,000(maximum three times)

  • From 27 March 2014 some investors aged 55 or over will be able to take unlimited withdrawals from their pension (through flexible drawdown) if they can prove they have a secure pension income of at least £12,000 a year (including state pension), instead of 20,000 a year.
  • From April 2015, if the changes above are confirmed after the consultation, everyone will be able to take their pensions as a lump sum.

What happens to investors already in drawdown?

Investors who started income drawdown before 27 March 2014 will remain on their current maximum income until their next annual review date. If the three yearly GAD calculation is due at that review, their maximum income will be recalculated based on the current fund value and that month’s GAD rate. They will then be eligible to take 150% of the new GAD limit. Clients not due a GAD calculation will simply move from 120% to 150% of their existing GAD rate at their next annual review. These same existing drawdown clients may potentially have their maximum income restrictions removed completely in April 2015 if the proposed changes are agreed following consultation.

What happens to investors who have already bought an annuity?

An annuity cannot usually be cancelled once set up, so you are unlikely to have any further options. However, you typically have 30 days to cancel (cancellation period). The start date of the cancellation period will depend on the terms set out by your annuity provider. Some providers are extending their cancellation period.

So with all of the above changes potentially changing drastically changing the UK pension in Industry, will a QROPS now be less relevant to Expats living in France?

First of all what is a QROPS?

QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme) was brought about following changes to UK pension legislation on April 5, 2006. This scheme has been specifically designed to enable non-UK resident individuals who have accrued pension benefits in the UK, to transfer these out once they have left the UK. Provided that the UK Registered Pension Scheme and the QROPS provider both have the appropriate transfer authority, individuals who leave the UK and establish a QROPS are able to request a transfer of their UK benefits as long as they can provide evidence they are no longer a UK resident.

Due to the fact that this scheme is an international contract, future benefit payments can potentially be received without deduction of UK tax, however individuals will be responsible for declaring the income in their own country of residence. So those who have moved to France to retire or are thinking about moving to France in the future, and have private or work pension benefits that would have normally been left behind in the UK can benefit from a QROPS Transfer.

What are the key benefits of a QROPS over leaving the pension in the UK?

Pension Commencement Lump Sum – With a QROPS approved scheme the amount of PCLS available at retirement can be up to 30 percent, compared to the 25 percent allowed with a UK pension however this does depend on which one of the approved jurisdictions is used.

Inheritance tax planning – Most people would like to think that, upon their death as much of their assets as possible would be passed on to their heirs. It is a complex issue, however, by transferring to a QROPS the taxation of pension benefits on death can be much less punitive. With the current UK pension rules a UK pension scheme could be a taxed up to 55 percent of the fund value before being passed on. By bringing the pension out of the UK and using a QROPS approved scheme, this tax liability can be greatly reduced or in some cases even wiped out completely.

Age benefits can be taken – Some QROPS jurisdictions will allow you to start taking benefits from your pension at the age of 50, as apposed to 55 years old in the UK.

Currency risk – This is a very important consideration for expats who have retired in France with UK pensions that will pay their pension benefit in sterling, because this means they not only run an exchange rate risk but also will incur charges for converting their pension benefit payments into Euros. By putting your pension into a QROPS you can receive your pension benefit payments in Euro’s and therefore eliminate any exchange rate risk, currency conversion charges and have peace of mind that the amount of income you receive each month will be the same.

Investment choice – By moving an arrangement out of the UK there can be a much wider choice of investments available to the pension fund, with a more global focus which is particularly important in the current market conditions as some existing pension schemes can even be limited to just UK investments.

Is a QROPS still relevant to expat’s in France?

This will unsurprisingly depend on your individual circumstances, but some of the changes in the UK like increased drawdown limits have already been adopted by many QROPS jurisdictions. And when you take into account the other advantages mentioned above, using a QROPS still has a many advantages over leaving the pension in the UK. However as part of the proposed changes are subject to UK Government consultation period, for some individuals it might be the case that it is better to wait until these findings have been disclosed.

This information is only provided as a guide and is based on our understanding of current QROPS regulations, if you need assistance in this area you are strongly advised to seek the help of a specialist in this field as each individual case is different. If you have a question, want to arrange for a free financial review or just want further information I can be contacted on +33 (0)687980941,  e-mail steven.grover@spectrum-ifa.com

Article by Steven Grover

Steven GroverIf you are based in the Paris area you can contact Steven at: steven.grover@spectrum-ifa.com for more information. If you are based in another area within Europe, please complete the form below and we will put a local adviser in touch with you.

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