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Should you consider transferring your Final Salary Pension?

By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 28th October 2016

A big question and something that raised a lot of interest at our recent Tour de Finance event that took place at the Domaine Gayda. There have been a number of recent changes within the UK economy and the UK pension world 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 is wide opinion now that 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

The calculation of transfer values from these types of scheme is complex. One of the factors that determines how much the pension scheme has to pay to transfer a Member’ benefits is gilt yields, which are at an all-time low. This has resulted in transfer values to be at an all-time high and we are finding that some transfer values have increased by over 30% in the last 12 months.

Scheme Deficits
Actuaries Hyman Robertson now calculate the total deficits on the remaining UK final salary pension schemes as £1 Trillion! Since the employers are ultimately responsible for funding the cost of the pension benefits, unless they have very deep pockets, this puts the security of the benefits at risk.

The final salary pension schemes of these two companies have been in the news. These recent examples show that the very large deficits of their final salary pension schemes 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 the schemes that do get into financial trouble, but 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 insolvent schemes. As more schemes fall into the PPF, there are less remaining schemes that have to share the burden of this cost. Their premium costs will increase, as there will be less remaining schemes to fund the PPF levy.

It is likely the PPF will end up with the same problems as the remaining final salary schemes, as it is unlikely to 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 allowed 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 for transfers, so schemes for nurses, firemen, army 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 of the schemes.

When this rule was being considered the authorities also wanted to block the transfer of funded schemes, i.e. most final salary schemes that are available. This could come back onto the discussion table in the future.

Autumn Statement (Budget)
This is on 23 November 2016. Could the Government make any further changes to UK 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?

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 the amount invested in equities in final salary schemes; this is now around 33%, but in 2006, the average equity content was 61.1%.

Benefits were too good
Simply, many of the final salary schemes were ‘too good’. In 2009, around 24% of employees’ salaries was needed to fully fund final salary schemes that provided the standard level of benefit of 1/60th for each year of pensionable service. In 2016, that rate is now 50%! Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect an employer to meet the liability.

What could happen in the Future?

  • An end to the ability to transfer out of all final salary 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?

Act now! Review your pensions.

It does no harm at all to at least have a review of your pensions. In fact, it is prudent to do so. At The Spectrum IFA Group, we carry out a full transfer analysis, which is in accordance with the UK Financial Conduct Authority rules, before making any recommendation to transfer pension benefits. Doing nothing at all can often be an expensive mistake.

The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of pensions, investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter .

Article by Spectrum IFA

The Spectrum IFA Group is committed to providing a professional financial advice to the expat community in Europe. The Spectrum IFA Group operates in a number of jurisdictions with 12 offices in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal with over 50 advisers.

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