The self-employed are engaged- they just don’t know what to do.



If you have an FT subscription, follow this link –  you will be able to read Jo Cumbo’s beautifully written opinion piece Self-employed, the pension world’s great unsolved dilemma”.

If you are saving so hard for your pension that you can’t afford an FT subscription, let me précis what happens.

Jo, being the multi-tasker that she is , worked from home one day last week and her work was interrupted three times by Robert the Electrician,   David the boiler man and Jamie the chimney-sweep (yes- chimney sweep).

Robert and Jamie are self-employed and for different reasons, were not using pensions for saving. Jo sternly points out to David – who has a well kept van, that if he wants a new car when he retires, he’ll need money. David is one of the 6% of the population who has a financial adviser, but he’s anti-pensions (his Mum had a bad experience with Equitable Life). He leaves clutching links to the state pension forecast and vowing not to return till he has put his retirement affairs in order. I sympathise with Robert, I usually feel the same way after a conversation with Jo!

David is – unlike the others – employed; and since the last time he came to service the boiler – he’s been auto-enrolled.  He leaves with information about how he can get tax-breaks on up to £500 of financial advice and a link to the pension tracing service. Looks like he got the equivalent of a mid-life MOT!

Jamie was young and determined to get his feet on the housing ladder before thinking about later life. He was packed off by pension’s answer to Lois Lane, with details of lifetime ISAs.

Financial inclusion

Jo mentions Sir Steve Webb as championing the cause of the self-employed – and she’s right to do so. But we now have a pensions minister who’s title includes financial inclusion. Guy Opperman – I hope that you make similar use of your days working from home!

What Jo stopped short of doing  was telling Jamie where to find himself access to a workplace pension (NEST offer a brilliant deal to the self-employed) or to a SIPP (Pension Bee are great for the first-time saver). Robert, though he’s closer to retirement, can still benefit from transferring some of his savings into a pension but he has no idea about cash flows. I thought of  Ray Adam’s “CashCalc” and how brilliant it would be if the self-employed could use a version to convert cash inputs into pension outputs.

Like Robert, David knew he had a retirement problem, but didn’t know what to do about it (even though he has a workplace pension). Wouldn’t it be helpful if his employer could point him in the direction of an easy to use financial modeller that could help him understand “money in – money out” scenarios?

Jo stopped short because – very sensibly -she didn’t want to provide a definitive course of action.  Of course we all need to be careful not to give unregulated advice.

But reading her article, I was struck by the willingness of all her contractors to discuss pensions and heed her stern words.

What is a sub-text to Jo’s article, is that those who service our boilers,  check our electrics and clean our chimneys are engaged with their retirement problems, they just don’t know what to do about them.

Having waded through 50 pages of the latest PPI paper  “Evolving Retirement Outcomes”, I am convinced that the PPI are wrong. We do not need greater “engagement” – the public (especially the self-employed) are super engaged, we need answers to their problems.

Jo gave them simple answers – ways for them to research doing things themselves, or getting tax-subsidised advice. I’d go further and point out that there are pension savings schemes that work for today’s self-employed and are not called “Equitable Life”.

We need to include the self-employed (and those enrolled into workplace pensions) in the excellent financial products that are available to them. We also need to build on the good start we have made in creating savings vehicles and ensure that people have a good way of spending their money. CDC is one of the answers to that – something that we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the next few days.

Pension’s answer to Lois Lane



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to The self-employed are engaged- they just don’t know what to do.

  1. Michelle Cracknell says:

    We are currently piloting a new service aimed at supporting self-employed people with the particular retirement issues they face. As you know, we are a free Government public service.

    A Midlife Review is a telephone appointment, which will be held at a time of individual wants – we know self employed people have different work patterns. It will be with a TPAS pension specialist. The appointment will provide impartial and independent guidance to help the self employed custome think about his/her pension planning and the next steps to take. The appointment cover personal circumstances, including money, work, family and health situation. More information is available on our website

    It would be great for readers of your blog to direct their self employed friends to our website.
    Many thanks

  2. Stephen Huppert says:

    Pension systems are designed around the premise of full-time permanent employment. Self-employed do have different needs. Pension funds need to understand this and communicate appropriately. See

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