A lot of people are confused about taking money out of their pensions and the pensions industry isn’t being very helpful in encouraging people to have their money back (funny that!).
So when I read a headline in the Financial Times announcing “UK pension freedoms open huge tax trap for over 55’s” I smelled more scare tactics from those who would rather we kept money with them than spend it on ourselves – I was right.
The tax trap in question has “caught” 980,000 over-55s who took advantage of new pension spending freedoms between 2015 and 2018, with an irreversible reduction in their annual pension tax relief allowance from £40,000 to £4,000.
In practice, very few people who are drawing down money from their pension will be saving more than £4,000 pa and you would expect that most who do – will be accessing tax advice. This is a rich man’s problem and is almost certainly dwarfed by the amounts in unclaimed tax-relief that higher rate taxpayers miss out on when contributing to personal pensions.
I was pleased to see the comments below the article were generally robust. This is typical
This is boring nanny state speak. If you are able to invest £40k but unable to figure out the implications without the help of financial advisers then time to go peacefully to higher planes in the company of grim reaper with a scythe.
Putting this problem in some context
Generally speaking, people who are investing into pensions while drawing money from pensions are doing so as a tax arbitrage and not as an insurance against old age.
Nonetheless, it is important that people who do have pension pots and are over 55 are aware that the annual allowance that they have (normally £40,000) is reduced if people are found to be recycling money they are drawing from a pension back into a pension.
As soon as you start drawing more than the tax free cash available from your pension pot, you are seen to be “recycling”. Sometimes this recycling has value as in this idea from Debt Camel
But the reason that recycling is restricted is that for the most part it serves no social purposes other than to make the rich richer. I doubt that many of Debt Camel’s customers are worried about losing the capacity to pay £40k per annum into their pension!
We currently have over a million people missing out on their promised retirement savings incentives because of the net-pay anomaly. Let’s get back to questions of social justice.
Arguing over the annual allowance misses the bigger point
That people are not aware of the technical issues around recycling is not the big issue. What is much more important is that many people are confused about whether they can start taking their pension when they are still at work.
The simple answer is that they can and that apart from the fact that the pension may be subject to a higher rate of tax than salary, there really isn’t any reason why someone over 55 shouldn’t have access to their money.
Indeed, many employers are keen to promote the freedoms people have , so that their mature workers can give themselves options which may include part time working, consultancy or early retirement.
What is surprising is that employers who are keen to offer flexible working practices, are paying so little attention to the opportunities their staff have to structure their exit from the workplace using the retirement savings plans that these very employers have sponsored.
The use of pensions for the over 55’s is perhaps one of the least understood areas of reward strategy and it doesn’t require employers to spend a lot to get right. We recommend that employers work with their staff’s financial advisers or provide financial advisers for staff to use. There are opportunities for advisers to be paid by employers without that payment being deemed a benefit in kind.
If the budget permits, an employer can commission pension consultants to provide a program of seminars and one on ones with employees in the retirement zone (effectively anyone over 50).
An alternative strategy may be to empower those in reward to become pension champions themselves. Learning the pension ropes may appear daunting, but there are plenty of training courses that can help. The Pensions Management Institute are particularly helpful as are the CIPP and the Learn Centre.
First Actuarial, like most pension consultancies, operates a program for the over fifties. We call it “saving enough to stop work” and it runs at big companies such as Unilever. We are encouraging staff to create their own pension dashboards where they can see all their in retirement financial resources on a single screen. Even if this is no more than a spreadsheet word table or even a hand written list, the creation of a personal balance sheet and cash flow forecast is not as hard as it sounds!
Most people are frightened by pensions, but in our opinion, this fear is increased by the scaremongers within the pensions industry who would rather have us hang on to our money, than see it spent on retirement.