Pensions Time Bomb
By Gareth Horsfall
This article is published on: 3rd November 2016
It could be said that uncertainty is the nemesis of good long term financial planning and living in today’s world you could be forgiven for throwing your hat in and tucking yourself away for a few years: Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Donald Trump, Italian Constitutional Referendum, German and French elections, the rise of nationalism, and the list goes on.
However, time always marches on and we either get left behind or plan forward. No one has ever complained to me (yet) about finding ways to legally save tax, finding ways to save money, getting better investment returns, or having more money then they had planned for.
So with this in mind I want to return to a subject which I have touched on a few times before but which has been hurled back to the top of the financial planning priority charts: UK Final Salary Pension Schemes.
This article is specifically for anyone who holds any type of corporate final salary pension plan. (It does not relate to the UK state pension or UK government pension schemes, eg Teacher, Doctor, Army etc).
Starting with the bad news
I want to break some bad news to holders of those historically ‘gold plated’, final salary pensions schemes. The schemes that promise you a certain level of income based on your last few years salary level with your employer.
They are no longer gold plated!
This is quite a complex area to try and explain, but let me try and sum it up in a nutshell.
When the population starts living longer and the pension scheme can’t ask anymore contributions from the new members (without crippling them financially), then the cost of looking after the existing retirees for a much longer time than the scheme had anticipated (due to medical advances), becomes much greater than the net new money being put into the scheme.
If this were a family, it would be in debt. A mortgage, it would have defaulted. A company, it would have gone bankrupt.
Another problem is that these pension schemes need such a secure income stream to pay the retirement incomes of the retirees that they have to invest the scheme assets in safe, but incredibly low yielding asset such as Government Bonds.
And there you have the problem. If you make very attractive promises to retirees, based on your calculations many years ago, but the financial landscape changes dramatically during that time, then your original calculations are now totally obsolete. More money out than coming in spells TROUBLE!
If you want to know how bad this situation is, then take a look at these figures. (These show the market value of the company in billions, versus the liability of their long term pension obligations, ‘IN BILLIONS’. The figures are staggering)
These are the worst in the UK. If these companies had to legally honour their pension liabilities, they would be bankrupt.
But, let’s not be silly about things. The Government would never let companies like this go bankrupt, so they allow them to continue to operate the pension funds off their balance sheets.
And, to make it even more enticing they allow them another ‘get out clause’…outright default!, right into the UK Pension Protection Fund. A UK Government run scheme which guarantees to pay the pensions (up to certain limits) in the event that the company says it can no longer do so.
The burden moves to the taxpayer!
However, as low interest rates and retirees living longer wreck their long term calculations, more and more pension schemes are opting to close down and place their members under the Pension Protection Fund. As more and more members apply, the burden becomes greater on the UK public purse. Do they cut the maximum amount of pension you could receive? What about the benefits you might lose?
These are all very serious questions for people who are currently members of final salary pensions.
However, there is some potential light at the end of the tunnel. A transfer away from the scheme, with a lump sum from which you can invest and take income from, as though you had your own personal pension.
The advantages and disadvantages have to be weighed up but with more schemes in financial difficulty there is a distinct possibility that it might be worth your while.
NOW! is the time to find out the value of your pension
Low interest rates and stress on the pension fund means that transfer values out are at historical highs. The companies are happy to rid themselves of you and will pay handsomely to do so, and the low interest environment means the transfer out values are much higher than you might imagine.
But low interest rates will not continue forever. Brexit and the fall of GBP will create inflation and that means interest rates will have to rise.
Get the information now before it is too late
Lastly, let’s leave things on a good note. If the benefit of transfer out is clear and present after an analysis of the situation, then you can also pass your income onto your spouse/partner, and/or leave the asset to your family on death. The benefits are not lost when you die.
There are benefits on both sides of the argument and we provide a FREE analysis to advise our client whether to transfer or not. If you want to look into this area of your retirement plans and potentially secure your long term income stream, then you can contact me