QROPS – Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes
I’d like to revisit the topic of pensions this month; specifically QROPS pensions. I’m sure you remember that it stands for Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes. I spend a lot of time talking to clients these days about QROPS. I don’t want to bore you with loads of technical detail here; I want to concentrate on the core reason why you should consider a QROPS if you are non UK resident or are considering becoming so. Much has happened this year in the UK pensions industry, and it has tended to cloud the picture regarding expats and their retirement savings. Let’s try to regain some clarity.
If you’ve moved to France, or are considering a move here, you need to at least consider a QROPS as an option. It gives you the right to move your pension fund out of the UK jurisdiction altogether, and have much more control over your pension pot, and protect it from internal taxation and other forms of interference from the UK system which is focussing more and more on how to tax your assets.
I’m talking to a client in this position at the moment. His name isn’t Steve, but we’ll call him that anyway. He has a £400,000 pension pot made up of four different pensions accrued over his working life. He and his wife are UK resident, but intend to be French resident soon. I’ve given him all the background information, and he has come back with a very succinct question:
‘I think it quite likely that I will live in France for many years, but equally likely that I will return to the UK at some stage in the future. As my pension will revert to UK jurisdiction when that happens, is it worth my while paying the overseas trustee fees while I am outside the UK?’
Steve is 65 years old, and he thinks he will return to the UK when he is 80. Let’s also assume a modest net return of 5% per annum of the QROPS pension. This of course cannot be guaranteed, but is the current performance of my preferred investment fund over the past 5 years. Let’s assume that he decides to do a QROPS transfer.
Now let’s move forward in time by 10 years. Steve’s pension fund is now worth £550,000. (the mathematicians amongst you will of course realise that he has been drawing down some of this pension to supplement their other sources of income) He’s quite pleased with this, but would be less pleased to learn that in two weeks’ time he will be killed in a tragic car accident.
As tends to happen in later years, Steve and his wife had discussed what they would do if one of them died. Steve thought that if he was the one left, he would stay in France, but his wife, we’ll call her Jane, thought it more likely that she would go back to the UK to be with the children and grandchildren. This is indeed what Jane decides to do, and to facilitate this, she decides to take the full pension pot as a capital sum to enable her to buy a decent house back in Cambridge. She will invest the proceeds of the sale of the French house when, and if, it sells.
Because Steve decided to transfer under the QROPS system out of the UK pension jurisdiction, Jane will get every penny of the £550,000 pension lump sum. If Steve’s decision had gone the other way, and he had decided to keep his four pensions in the UK, Jane would be looking at a tax bill from HMR&C of 45% on the majority of the money if she took it as a lump sum. Her tax bill would be in the region of £210,000 at current rates.
There will have been additional costs in having a QROPS pension, principally to remunerate the overseas trustees who take on responsibility for the administration of the pension under HMR&C rules. There will also have been savings. UK pension funds are subject to UK Dividend Income Tax. The rebate of the 10 per cent credit (ACT) was withdrawn by Gordon Brown, costing pension funds billions in tax.
It is therefore difficult to quantify how much extra a QROPS costs, if anything at all. What we can say with a fair degree of certainty is ‘not as much as you might think’. In Steve’s case it probably cost about £9,000 over the ten years in trustee costs, but £8,000 of this was recovered immediately when he invested his pension money into the QROPS bond. That doesn’t happen with all QROPS, but it can currently with Spectrum.
As far as insurance goes, and I regard this as an insurance policy for while you are abroad, the cost/savings ratio looks pretty impressive. I always practice what I preach; my own pension fund is safely housed in two separate QROPS, well away from the UK tax–grabbers.
With regard to the changes that have erupted on the UK pensions scene this year – Pension Freedom – as the chancellor likes to call it; I think my views are well documented. I see this as a tax raising scheme, nothing more and nothing less. It may be that in the future QROPS schemes will be forced to fall in line with the new UK stance, but that has little to do with the many compelling reasons to look at a QROPS transfer.
QROPS is one of the topics that we will be featuring at our next ‘Le Tour de Finance’ seminar. Our industry experts will be presenting updates and outlooks on a broad range of subjects, including:
- Financial Markets
- Assurance Vie
- Structured Investments
- Currency Exchange
The date for the seminar is Friday, 9th October 2015 at the Domaine Gayda, Brugairolles. Places are limited and must be reserved, in advance. This venue is always very popular and so early booking is recommended. Please complete the reservation form here