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Pensions

Retirement rule of thumb from new living standards

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It’s hard to picture the future.  Various studies have found that we tend to reward ourselves today, at the expense of our future selves.  This can apply in areas including health, diet (one more doughnut surely won’t hurt?!) and our personal finances.

When it comes to retirement planning, 51% of us focus on current needs and wants at the expense of providing for the future.  Only 23% of people are confident they know how much they need to save.

This new research supports the launch of the UK Retirement Living Standards, which could help people picture their future retirement and what that might cost.  Produced by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA), the New Retirement Living Standards are pitched at three different levels – minimum, moderate and comfortable.  The standards are based on a basket of goods and services, including food, drink and holidays.  The independent research was conducted by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.  It was based on the well-respected Minimum Income Standard developed for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

In each new Retirement Living Standard, there are different standards of living, with a relevant basket of goods and associated costs for each.  Each was established based on what members of the public feel are realistic and appropriate expectations for living standards in retirement.  The basket of goods is made up of household bills, food and drink, transport, holidays and leisure, clothing and personal and helping others.

These new Retirement Living Standards are a useful way to fill gaps in current approaches towards planning for retirement.  They can form a practical first step on a retirement planning journey.

The PLSA wants the Retirement Living Standards to become a widely adopted industry standard.  For example, some pension schemes will use them in general information for scheme members, in annual benefit statements, or to develop personalised targets for pension planning.

The minimum living standard in retirement has been set at £10,200 a year for a single person and £15,700 for a couple.  These amounts cover the cost of basic needs in retirement, as well as enough to have some fun.  For example, within this budget is enough to holiday in the UK, eat out about once a month, and do some affordable leisure activities a couple of times each week.

With a combination of a full state pension of £8.767.20 a year and auto-enrolment in a workplace pension, this minimum standard should be achievable by most.

The cost of a moderate retirement lifestyle was calculated at £20,200 a year for an individual or £29,100 a year for a couple.  At this level of retirement income, there’s more financial security on offer and greater flexibility.  There’s more money for fun too; the budget includes a two-week holiday in Europe and eating out a couple of times each month.

The comfortable level has been set at £33,000 a year for an individual or £47,500 for a couple.  This income is sufficient to cover some luxuries, including regular beauty treatments, theatre trips, and three weeks in Europe a year.

To make these Retirement Living Standards easier to remember, the PLSA has summarised them as £10,000 a year for minimum, £20,000 a year for moderate, and £30,000 a year for comfortable; or 10k-20k-30k.  For couples, it’s 15k-30k-45k.

Nigel Peaple, Director of Policy and Research, PLSA, said:

“The Retirement Living Standards will support better saver engagement.  They distil robust, in-depth research with the public into an easy to understand basket of goods that helps people picture the future – and relatable figures that can provide a powerful and practical tool for encouraging engagement with saving.

“A recent PLSA survey showed 76% of people with a workplace pension agree that Retirement Living Standards would help them know if they were on track for the lifestyle they want in retirement.

“The PLSA looks forward to working closely with the pensions industry to ensure widespread adoption of the Retirement Living Standards to transform the way people think about saving for spending in later life.”

Guy Opperman, Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, said:

“We have transformed saving for retirement for millions of people and the next challenge is to make it easier for them to engage more with their pensions. It’s great to see what the PLSA has developed which has the potential to help savers think about the future and plan for the retirement they want.”

Jackie Spencer, Senior Policy and Propositions Manager, Money and Pensions Service, said:

“Saving for something is easier to do when you can visualise what you’re working towards, which is why people are often more motivated to save for short-term goals like holidays and new cars than they are for their retirement.

“The new Retirement Living Standards are a great way of offering savers some practical examples of what they can expect from their lives when they stop working. The Money and Pensions Service has agreed to be an early adopter of the new standards and will be looking to incorporate them into pension guidance and our online pension calculator.”

Of course, our income needs in retirement are very personal and will differ between individuals and couples.  While these standards represent a good starting point for thinking about the cost of retirement, it’s essential to tailor the exercise to suit personal requirements.

Lifetime allowance tax could trap more than a million pension savers

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Initially introduced in 2006, the pension lifetime allowance has been gradually reduced from its peak of £1.8m.  For most people, the lifetime allowance in the current 2018/19 tax year is. £1,030,000.  From 6th April 2019, this will increase to £1,055,000, in line with price inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index.

It’s an important tax charge to understand, as those with pension benefits exceeding the lifetime allowance have to pay a charge on their excess benefits value.  The lifetime allowance is assessed each time you take a benefit from a pension scheme. At this point, the value of the pension benefit is compared against your remaining lifetime allowance, to work out if the lifetime allowance charge is due.

The value of pensions is calculated differently depending on the nature of the pension scheme.  For a personal pension, it’s relatively simple to compare the value of the pension pot against the lifetime allowance, as both are capital amounts.  For a defined benefit pension, the value is calculated by multiplying the annual pension by 20 to get a capital amount to compare with the lifetime allowance.

Other pension benefits assessed against the lifetime allowance including certain tax-free lump sum benefits paid to your survivors if you die before your 75thbirthday.  There’s also a lifetime allowance check made against any unused pension benefits once you reach your 75th birthday.

A new analysis of the lifetime allowance has concluded that a significant number of retirees could face a lifetime allowance charge in the future.  The analysis, carried out by insurer Royal London, estimates that around 290,000 people already have pension benefits more than the lifetime allowance.  They are forecasting that more than a million people risk breaching the lifetime. allowance by the time they retire.  This follows three cuts to the lifetime allowance since 2010.

When the value of your pension benefits exceeds the lifetime allowance, you can end up paying a 55% charge on the excess above the allowance!

Among the findings from this analysis by Royal London was around 290,000 non-retired people who have already thought to have accumulated pension rights over the lifetime allowance.  Despite holding substantial pension benefits, less than half of these people are thought to have applied for lifetime allowance protection, which can preserve a previously higher lifetime allowance and reduce the tax charge paid.

Royal London also found that almost half of people who already have pension benefits over the lifetime allowance continue to add to their pension wealth, potentially exacerbating the future tax charge.

Among those non-retired people who do not yet have pension wealth exceeding the lifetime allowance, there are an estimated 1.25 million who can expect to breach the allowance by the time they retire.  Those most likely to breach the lifetime allowance include relatively senior public sector workers with long-service, who have defined benefit pensions that will exceed the lifetime allowance. This is especially likely as those in the public sector now have to work until age 65, rather than 60.

Another group likely to get caught in the lifetime allowance trap are relatively well-paid workers in defined contribution pension schemes where they receive a generous contribution from their employer.  Typical salary ranges of those likely to fall into this category are £60,000 to £90,000 a year.  Those earning more are less likely to get caught in a lifetime allowance trap because they face limits on how much they can contribute to a pension each year.

The rising number of people likely to exceed the lifetime allowance in the future is the result of the allowance rising in line with CPI price inflation but wages and pension funds typically rising much faster.  As a result, the lifetime allowance is likely to ‘bite’ progressively more severe over time, affecting hundreds of thousands of people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as wealthy.

Commenting on the research, Steve Webb, Director of Policy at Royal London said:

“This research shows, for the first time, how the drastic cuts in the Lifetime Allowance mean that large numbers of workers will now be caught by a limit that was originally only designed for the super-rich.

“It is shocking that over a quarter of a million people have already breached the LTA and that many of these are still adding to their pensions.  They are likely to get a nasty shock – and a big tax bill – when they do finally draw their pensions.

“And more than a million further workers who are not currently over the LTA could find themselves in breach unless they take action.  This is truly a Lifetime Allowance timebomb.

“Many workers, especially those in Defined Benefit pension schemes, will have little idea that this is an issue and could be heading for a nasty jolt.  The “Government needs to think hard about how to make sure people are aware of these limits in time to make alternative arrangements, and individuals need to take expert advice if they are to avoid potentially huge tax bills.”

There are schemes in place designed to protect your lifetime allowance however before you register for a protected lifetime allowance, it’s essential to seek advice, ideally from a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM Professional or Chartered Financial Planner.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Wells Gibson if you have any questions.

2018 Autumn budget and pension tax change speculation

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With the summer holidays drawing to a close, the inevitable round of speculation about pension tax relief changes in the Autumn Budget has begun.

Media reports suggest that Chancellor Philip Hammond has his eyes on cuts to higher rate tax relief on pension contributions when he presents his Budget statement to the House of Commons in November.  The Chancellor has a challenging Budget ahead, with a desperate need to find extra funding for the NHS, the £20bn already pledged by the Prime Minister.

According to an unnamed senior government minister, Hammond believes higher rate tax relief on pensions represents ‘one of the last remaining pots of gold we can raid’.  This suggestion will worry higher rate taxpayers who currently enjoy this generous tax relief on their pension contributions.

As things stand, basic rate relief is added to the pension pot, with the ability for higher rate taxpayers to reclaim the difference between basic and higher rates of income tax through self-assessment.  However, the unnamed government source is also reported to have said Hammond is only likely to target those who can afford to contribute tens of thousands of pounds to their pension pots each year.

Pension tax relief is always under threat in the Budget, if media reports leading up to the big day are to be believed.  The last major round of speculation was a couple of years ago, when then Chancellor George Osborne had his eye on £1.5bn of tax savings by changing pension tax relief to a flat-rate.

Lending weight to the speculation on this occasion is a Treasury Committee report, published last month, which concluded existing pension tax relief was neither an effective or well-targeted way of encouraging people to save into pensions.  Despite recommending the Treasury considered making fundamental reform to pension tax relief, the report recommended that the current system could be improved through further, incremental changes to tax relief.  According to the report, ‘Household finances: income, saving and debt’:

“The government should consider replacing the lifetime allowance with a lower annual allowance, introducing a flat rate of relief, and promoting understanding of tax relief as a bonus or additional contribution.”

Cutting the pension annual allowance is an option on the table for Hammond.  The annual allowance is a limit on how much you can contribute to your pension each year, while still receiving tax relief.  It currently stands at £40,000 but is tapered down to as low as £10,000 for higher earners with earnings exceeding £210,000 a year.  For those who have taken taxable income flexibly from their pensions, a Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) of £4,000 applies instead of the £40,000 figure.  In any case, your earnings in the tax year need to be sufficient to justify the size of the pension contribution, with opportunities to bring forward any unused annual allowance from the previous three tax years – unless that is, the MPAA applies to you.  This ability to carry forward unused annual allowance could also be attacked in the Autumn Budget, changing to a ‘use it or lose it’ approach, similar to use of Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowances in each tax year.

Should the Chancellor decide to cut the annual allowance in his Autumn Budget, to a yet unknown figure, he might give back the abolition of the lifetime allowance as a concession.  The lifetime allowance is a limit on the total value of pension benefits you can draw from all pension schemes, either as lump sums or retirement income, without it triggering an extra tax charge.  Since April 2018, the lifetime allowance has been set at £1,030,000 and is due to increase at the start of each tax year, in line with price inflation.  A relatively low number of people are caught by the lifetime allowance, and many of those who will be, are entitled to a higher lifetime allowance figure by virtue of applying for ‘protection’ certificates when it was historically set at a higher level.  For some of those individuals with lifetime allowance protection certificates in place, this entitlement to a higher lifetime allowance came at a cost, that is, not being able to make any future pension contributions, or losing that protection and seeing more of their pension benefits being subjected to a future tax charge.

Abolishing the lifetime allowance entirely would be a popular move for those fortunate to have this level of pension benefits, even if it came with a corresponding reduction in the annual allowance.

Another possibility is the Chancellor will scrap the current system of pension tax relief, replacing it with a flat-rate tax relief.  Earlier this year, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) put forward the case for a flat-rate of pension tax relief at 30%, specifically as a way to help the self-employed.  They estimated this reform would leave three-quarters of savers better off, including those earning low incomes and the self-employed.  It would also save the Treasury a great deal of money each year in tax reliefs.

Of course, the one pension perk where conspiracy theories circulate ahead of each Budget is pension tax-free cash.  Since tax-free cash was renamed the ‘pension commencement lump sum’, it has seemed fair game for the Treasury to place a cap on how much lump sum can be taken tax-free, or simply subject all cash withdrawals from pensions to income tax charges.  This form of attack on pensions seems far less likely than a cut in the annual allowance or even the introduction of flat-rate pension tax relief.

Other potential opportunities being considered for the Budget will undoubtedly include cutting tax breaks on smaller company investing, which could spell bad news for higher-risk, tax planning products such as Venture Capital Trusts and Enterprise Investment Schemes.

If you find yourself potentially worse off should the annual allowance be cut, ability to carry forward unused annual allowance removed, or pension tax relief changed to a flat-rate, then taking some action ahead of the Budget could make sense.

Talk to Wells Gibson about your options, and we can help you understand the impact of any of these changes on your own long-term financial planning and in particular, your desired lifestyle and goals.

What is the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and how does it protect my money?

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When things go wrong, it’s reassuring to know there’s a safety net in place.  This is especially important when it comes to our personal finances, including savings, investments and insurances.

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) is an independent body set up by the UK Government to provide compensation or some other form of resolution for people where their authorised financial services provider gets into financial difficulties.  The FSCS operates different levels of compensation for different products and funds selected.

For insured products, the cover is 100% with no upper limit applied. This category of FSCS protection includes workplace pensions (including Additional Voluntary Contributions/AVCs, Group Personal Pensions and Group Money Purchase Plan), Personal Pension Plans, annuities, endowment policies and Investment Bonds.

For investments, the protection level is also 100% of the loss, but with an upper limit of £50,000 per person.  Financial products falling into the investment category for FSCS purposes include Unit Trusts, Open Ended Investment Companies and Stocks and Shares ISAs.

There is no upper limit for FSCS protection in respect of general insurance policies, but only 90% of the amount is covered.  General insurance includes policies like your car or home insurance.

Finally, and perhaps most discussed in the news media, are bank and building society deposits. These receive FSCS protection of up to £85,000 per person, per authorised deposit group.

It’s also worth noting that, since 3 July 2015, the FSCS provides a £1million protection limit for temporary high balances held with your bank, building society or credit union if it fails.  Temporary high balances include things like the proceeds from a house sale or a redundancy payment.

One aspect of FSCS protection which often raises questions from our clients is how it would apply to the assets held within a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP).  A SIPP is a type of ‘wrapper’ which can include a mixture of the different products covered by the FSCS.  These products can be insurance, investments or deposits.  The result being that each ‘sub-element’ of the SIPP (e.g. OEICs, Life Funds, Cash Account) is usually subject to its own FSCS protection up to the relevant product limit.  The SIPP wrapper itself is protected under the FSCS up to £50,000 per person, per authorised firm.  The investments within the wrapper are protected depending upon the structure of the product i.e. Insured, Investment, General Insurance or a Deposit.  This can mean that the products held within a SIPP can be protected up to a maximum of 100% with no upper limit but can also be limited to £50,000, depending on its FSCS category.

What is important to remember is fund managers typically appoint a depositary, custodian or other organisation, the purpose of which is to help ring-fence invested money from that of the fund manager and therefore help protect the invested money in the event the fund manager is insolvent.  As a result, if the investment provider managing the investment funds within your SIPP was to get into financial difficulty, the FSCS would cover you up to £50,000 per investment organisation.  However, the likelihood of this occurring is extremely remote as the assets are ring fenced from the investment manager.  This means that, if the investment provider became insolvent, the administrators should not be able to access client funds to meet any of the parent companies’ obligations.  In addition, UK authorised fund managers operate internal risk controls to help ensure that client assets are managed with proper care and diligence and within regulatory rules and guidance.

If you have any questions about FSCS protection levels for the various financial products you hold, please do get in touch.

Cost of pension and investment advice revealed

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What does it cost to get professional financial advice in respect of your pension pot or investments?

According to some new research, the average cost of pension financial advice is close to £3,000.  The research, carried out by consumer group Which?, looked at the fees charged by more than 100 financial advisers.  Its findings tell us about the typical cost of pension financial advice but also about the range of charging structures used by different financial advisers.

In order to carry out the research, Which? presented five different advice scenarios to 102 different independent financial advisers.

According to their research, it costs an average of £2,897 to get advice on the consolidation of a number of pension pots worth a total of £150,000 into a single pension plan.  This average covers a wide range of different charging levels for the same activity, with the highest fee quoted at £6,000.

For retirement advice on a pension pot worth £100,000, the average cost of advice was £1,837. Which? found the lowest price quoted for this type of advice was £300 and the highest was £4,000.

In respect of taking tax-free cash from a pension pot worth £150,000 and then entering into a drawdown plan, the average price quoted was £2,383.

The average advice charged quoted for investing an inheritance worth £60,000 was £1,472, and the advisers surveyed quoted an average of £524 for an annual review of a portfolio of investment funds valued at £60,000.

Which? also found that only one in five of the advisers they looked at published full details of their advice charges on their websites, in respect of the five different advice scenarios they considered. This meant the researchers had to call the advisers to determine the level of fees that would be charged.  They found that a further 34% of advisers had published a rough indication of costs on their websites, or alternatively had published their key facts document which details of some fees and charges.  However, nearly half of adviser websites contained no information about advice fees.

Calling the advisers who were included in the survey resulted in a better experience, with 87% of those called prepared to offer a rough idea of the charges involved for a scenario during an initial telephone conversation.  Most of the advisers called offered this price information without being specifically asked.

In terms of advice charging structures, which differ between advisers, the survey found that most advisers are charging an upfront fee which is calculated as a percentage of the amount to be invested. In fact, 79% of the independent financial advisers charged a fee on this basis.  The average upfront fee being charged was 2.9% of the amount invested which incidentally compares to Wells Gibson’s typical initial charge of 1%.

Which? found that a similar proportion of advisers were using this same method of charging for ongoing advice and annual reviews, with 87% charging based on a percentage of assets under advice.  The average rate being charged for ongoing advice and annual reviews was 1.3% and this compares to Wells Gibson’s typical ongoing charge of 1% for comprehensive Wealth Planning.

When considering financial advice costs, it’s important to keep in mind the value it can bring especially if your financial adviser or planner stops you making the wrong decisions, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons!  There are some free alternatives, including the government-backed Pension Wise service but these can only offer information or guidance, rather that financial planning and advice which is tailored to your personal and financial position and lifestyle, financial and investment goals.

Pensions can be complex, with a wide range of choices and options to consider.  When you have worked hard and saved money for your entire working life, making the best possible decisions about your pension pots is essential.