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Retirement Planning

State pension age equalisation is here

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State pension age equalisation has taken place in the UK.

The gradual change now means that women qualify for their state pension from age 65, the same age as men.

State pension equalisation has taken a long time, 25 years in fact.  During that time, the age rise for women was gradually phased in, with women celebrating their 65th birthday on 6th November 2018 the first to qualify for a state pension at the same age as men.   Despite equal ages for state pensions, equality of retirement income remains a long way off.  Maike Currie, Investment Director at Fidelity International said:

“The pension system is relatively equal if people follow the same working pattern from age 20 to retirement, but they don’t.  Women are more likely to have fragmented careers, be self-employed or work flexibly during their working life as they continue to bear the brunt of the childcare or take a career break to care for sick or elderly relatives.

“Of course, these factors are increasingly affecting men too, however, the average women’s pension pot is already much lower than the average man’s so women need to have the ability to catch up. As the Cridland report pointed out, in the first year of retirement women are expected to have 25% less income than their male counterparts.”

The final report from the Cridland Review was published last year and made a number of recommendations in respect of the state pension.  Report author John Cridland, a business executive, proposed an accelerated increase in the state pension age.  It is already due to rise to age 68 between 2044 and 2046, having an impact on those born after 5th April 1977.  Cridland wants to see the state pension age rise to 68 between 2037 and 2039, bringing this increase forward by seven years.  As a result, anyone born after 5thApril 1970 would have a higher state pension age.

Further rises in the state pension age seem unavoidable in light of improving life expectancy.  Without a higher state pension age, people living for longer would make the state pension unaffordable for the taxpayer.

The Cridland Review also recommended abolishing the ‘triple lock’ for increasing state pension payments each year.  This currently gives state pensioners a degree of protection from price inflation, with their state pension income rising each year in line with the greater of average earnings, price inflation or 2.5%. Instead of having this triple lock in place, John Cridland proposed that state pensions in the future rise in line with average earnings.

One group who are unhappy with the equalisation of state pension ages for men and women are 1950s born women represented by the Women Against State Pension Age Inequality (WASPI) campaign group.  They are arguing for government compensation after claiming to be unaware their state pension age would rise, as the government did not routinely write to women to let them know about the change.

Your state pension is likely to form an important part of your total income in retirement.  It’s important to understand when you will start to receive a state pension income and how much this is likely to be.  A good place to start is requesting a free state pension forecast at gov.uk/check-state-pension and then speaking to your financial planner to incorporate these figures within your overall plan for retirement income.

Inheritance Tax (IHT) and the Residence Nil-Rate Band

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Recent changes to Inheritance Tax (IHT) legislation are certainly helping individuals to pay less tax on death, however it’s fair to say the system is slightly more complicated.

Last year, the government introduced a new allowance, the Residence Nil-Rate Band (RNRB) to reduce the impact of IHT on families and to make it easier to pass on their home to children and grandchildren.  The allowance applies where a residence is passed on death to a direct descendant.  The RNRB increased from £100,000 to £125,000 in April 2018 and will rise to £175,000 in tax-year 2020/21 when it will continue to rise in line with the Consumer Price Index.  One thing though, the RNRB cannot exceed the value of the home passed onto children and grandchildren.

The RNRB is different to the existing nil-rate band which applies to everyone and will remain at £325,000 until tax-year 2020/21.  Married couples and civil partners may transfer their assets to one another tax-free and the surviving partner can use both allowances.  This means that couples can pass on up to £650,000 in tax-year 2018/19. However, if the estate includes their home and is to be passed onto their children and/or grandchildren, they can pass on £900,000 when both RNRB allowances of £125,000 are included.  By tax-year 2020/21, they will be able to pass on up-to £1mn in assets tax-free.  Furthermore, the RNRB is available to anyone who has downsized, (or rightsized as we like to refer it as!) or ceased to own a home on or after 8thJuly 2015.

Some complications

Because the RNRB only applies to direct descendants, it does not apply to individuals with no children or to individuals who would like to leave their home to others not regarded as direct descendants.

Another complication is the tapered reduction in the RNRB at a rate of £1 for every £2 by which an estate’s value exceeds £2mn.  However, assets given away in the 7 years before death will not be included in the value of the estate when calculating the tapered reduction – this potentially encourages death bed tax planning to ensure one’s estate falls below £2mn!

Worth also adding that buy-to-let properties do not qualify if they have not been a residence of yours.

Final Thoughts

Despite the RNRB being welcomed by clients and their advisers, the number of individuals with an IHT liability continues to increase.

Estate planning is a key area where Wells Gibson can add value and is a core part of our Wealth Planning service – in fact, there are a wide range of effective IHT planning techniques at our disposal and these include gifting allowances, Potentially Exempt Transfers or PETs, trusts and Business Property Relief-qualifying investments.

As always, if you have questions and would like to discuss IHT further please contact us.

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.