Should you consider transferring your Final Salary Pension Scheme?
By Peter Brooke
This article is published on: 10th October 2016
There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and UK pension rules that make a review of any pension(s) essential for those living or planning to live outside the UK. Final Salary pension schemes (also referred to as Defined Benefit schemes) have long been viewed as a gold plated route to a comfortable retirement, however there are likely to be large changes ahead in the pension industry. The key question is; will these schemes really be able to provide the promised benefits over the next 20+ years?
Why Review now?
Record high transfer values
– Gilt rates are at an all time low. This has caused transfer values to be at an all time high, some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.
– Actuaries Hyman Robertson now calculate the total deficits on remaining final salary pension schemes as £1 Trillion!
– Recent examples show that these very large deficits cause a number of problems, in particular no one wants to purchase these struggling companies as the pension deficits are too big a burden to take on.
– Could the Government be forced to change the laws to allow schemes to reduce benefits? A reduction in the benefits will reduce the deficits and make the companies more attractive to purchasers. There is a strong argument that saving thousands of jobs is in the national interest, if that just means trimming down some of these “gold plated benefits”.
Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
– This fund has been set up to help pension schemes that do get into financial trouble, two points are key. Firstly it is not guaranteed by the Government and secondly the remaining final salary schemes have to pay large premiums (a levy) to the PPF in order to fund the liabilities of insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF there are fewer remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost. Their premium costs will increase as there will be fewer remaining schemes to fund the PPF levy.
– It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the final salary schemes, they won’t have the money to pay the “promises” for the pensioners. Additionally the PPF will most likely have to reduce the benefits they pay out.
Pension changes that have already happened
Inflationary increases have already been permitted to change from Retail Prices Index (RPI) to Consumer Prices Index (CPI), this change looks reasonably small, but over a lifetime this could
reduce the benefits by between 25% and 30%.
– In April 2015 unfunded Public Sector pension schemes have removed the ability to transfer out, so schemes for nurses, firemen, military personnel, civil service workers etc. can no longer transfer their pensions. Now these are blocked, it will be easier to make changes to reduce the benefits and no one is able to respond by transferring out.
– When this rule change was being discussed the authorities also wanted to block the transfer of funded non-public sector schemes, i.e. most corporate final salary schemes. There is therefore a risk that transfers from all final salary schemes could be blocked or gated.
Autumn Statement (Budget)
– This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to Pension rules? When Public sector pensions were blocked there was a small window of time to transfer, however most people couldn’t get their transfer values in time as the demand was so high. People who review their pensions now may at least have time to consider options.
– Could Brexit end the ability to transfer pensions away from the UK? – this is still unknown, but Pensions are often a soft target of government taxation ‘raids’.
Reasons why schemes are in difficulty:
Ageing population – people now expect to live around 27 years in retirement, when these schemes commenced the average number of years in retirement was 13 years.
Lower Investment Returns – Investment returns have not been as high as expected, also there has been a very large reduction in equity (shares) content in final salary schemes, this is now around 33%, in 2006 the average equity content was 61.1%.
Benefits were too good – Simply, many of the final salary schemes were too good. In 2016, if you became a member of a 1/60th scheme then your company would need to add 50% of your salary to make sure the benefits can be paid. Clearly this is unrealistic.
What could happen in the Future?
– An end to the ability to transfer out of such schemes
– Increase the Pension Age, perhaps in line with the increase of the State Pension
– Reduction of Inflation increases, (already started as many now increase by CPI instead of RPI)
– Reduction of Spouse’s benefit
– Increase of contributions from current members
– Lower starting income