Contact us: 01799 543222

The Pensions Triple Lock: broken promises!

Archive for the ‘Pensions’ Category

The Pensions Triple Lock: broken promises!

Wednesday, October 6th, 2021

At the last General Election the Conservative Government made a promise, a so-called “manifesto commitment.” That pledge is commonly known as the “pensions triple lock:” that the state pension will be increased each year by annual price inflation, average earnings growth or a guaranteed 2.5%, whichever is the greater. 

For pensioners this has been good news. It meant that pensions would keep pace with wage growth and inflation and, if both those were low in one particular year, pensioners would be a little better off. 

That, of course, was before the pandemic, the enormous cost of it and the financial juggling the Chancellor will need to do to pay for all the support measures put in place, and the consequent sharp rise in Government borrowing. 

In early September, as had been widely rumoured, the Government broke not one, but two manifesto pledges. It increased national insurance to pay for social care and, crucially for pensioners, it suspended the triple lock for a year. 

This was obviously bad news, and the move begs an immediate question. If the Government has suspended it for one year, could it do it for another year? After all, the bill for Covid-19 is not going to be paid any time soon. 

Unsurprisingly, a poll showed that two-thirds of pensioners were against the suspension. Interestingly though, the research carried out by ComRes suggested that the move would be largely forgiven by the next General Election. 

In this instance the triple lock has been watered down and become a “double lock,” with the wages element removed. But as we hinted above, we might well see other elements removed in the future, now that the precedent has been set. Many commentators expect inflation to hit 4% by the end of the year, could the Government remove that element in the future, too? 

It will be interesting to see what Chancellor Rishi Sunak has to say when he delivers his Budget speech on October 27th. He will presumably be setting out plans for starting to repay the enormous cost of the pandemic. Given the cost of servicing all the new borrowing the Government is vulnerable to a rise in interest rates, and nothing, including the triple lock, can be ruled out. The next Election is not due until December 2024 and the Government may gamble on the pandemic and the measures taken to counter it being a distant memory by then. 

The uncertainty for pensioners means that your ongoing financial planning becomes more important than ever. It is important that your existing savings and investments are arranged as tax-efficiently as possible and that you make use of all your available allowances. All this is an integral part of our regular review meetings with you, but any clients with immediate questions on the ending of the triple lock should not hesitate to get in touch with us.

What is ESG?

Wednesday, October 6th, 2021

There have been a thousand-and-one articles written since the pandemic on people’s changing attitude to work. Millennials and the generations that follow them – so we are told – want different things from work. Flexibility, the option of working from home and, above all, to work for a company that shares their values: that values purpose as much as profit. 

It is not surprising then that we are hearing more and more from companies about ESG – their environmental, social and governance credentials. What really is ESG? And can it possibly matter as much as profits? After all, without profit you cannot pay your employees: you cannot re-invest in the business and you cannot pay dividends to your shareholders. 

You could argue that companies’ concerns with ESG are not new. The origins could be traced back to the 1800s when religious groups such the Quakers and Methodists ran their businesses according to socially responsible principles, and established socially responsible investment guidelines for their followers. 

More recently – in 2006 – the United Nations launched a set of six investment principles which perhaps started the incorporation of ESG into mainstream investment practice. Simply put ESG criteria judge how a company meets its environmental obligations, how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers and the local community and the principles, composition and behaviour of the leadership team. 

By the same token ESG investing looks to invest in companies that espouse those values. This, in some ways, brings us back to the generations mentioned above. Millennials and their successors not only want to work for companies that share their values, they want to invest in them as well. Often they want to go one step further, and make investments that have a positive and measurable social and economic impact. 

“Impact investing,” as it has been dubbed, is now the fastest growing area of responsible investment. The World Economic Forum estimated that $1tn (£730bn) of assets were committed to impact investing in 2020, with the sector forecast to grow at $250bn (£183bn) annually. 

It is small wonder then, that companies are paying more and more attention to meeting their ESG obligations. Of course the bottom line remains important – although many of us remember Uber famously being valued in the billions despite saying that it may never make a profit – but now both investors and employees are using other criteria to judge companies. You will hear a great deal more about ESG and impact investing in the months and years to come.

Major pension funds commit to net zero carbon by 2050

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

A new Net Zero Investment Framework has been launched by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) which outlines a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The framework aims to encourage investors to develop an investment strategy that achieves net zero, and the framework is already being put into practical use.

At the time of writing, 36 investors collectively managing assets of over £6.1trillion have adopted the framework. Among these investors are a significant number of pension schemes: Scottish Widows, the Environment Agency Pension Fund, Royal London, National Grid UK Pension Scheme, the Church of England Pensions Board, Brunel Pension Partnership, Northern Local Government Pension Scheme, Lloyds Banking Group Pensions Trustees Limited and Nest. 

The investment framework is designed to deliver on the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, preferably below 1.5degrees. It’s built upon three specific types of target which will be used to measure success. These are portfolio level targets for decarbonisation and investment in climate solutions, timebound portfolio coverage targets for companies and assets to meet net zero or aligned criteria, and engagement coverage threshold ensuring intensive engagement to drive the transition. 

UK Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman, had this to say about the framework: “Bringing climate change to the top of the agenda and ensuring that Britain’s pension investments act on managing climate change risk will not only help the UK reach net zero, but ensure a brighter future for all.”

“In the run up to COP26 (the UN Climate Change Conference) more countries than ever are signing up for net zero. This creates huge opportunities, but also risks, for institutional investors such as pension schemes. That is why we’re the first major economy to legislate to require pension schemes to set targets to manage their own climate risks.”

“I therefore welcome both the ambition and hugely practical guidance contained in this framework, which will help even more institutional investors aim for net zero.” 

 

How much should I be saving towards my pension?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

Research shows that we put ambitious targets on our retirement income and then underestimate how much we need to save to get there.

Before we delve into how much you should be saving, here’s a quick overview of the two main types of pension schemes:

In a defined benefit scheme your employer promises to deliver you an income in retirement. You’ll most likely have to contribute each month too, putting in a required amount.

These ‘gold-plated’ schemes are increasingly rare.

The other type of scheme is a defined contribution scheme. If you have this type of scheme, you will save into this and get contributions from your employer too. The money is invested to build a pot which will then fund your retirement.

If you have a defined benefit scheme, you just need to save as much as your employer says. But with a defined contribution scheme things are a little more complicated… The onus is on you to deliver the money you need in retirement – the more you save, the more you get.

 

How much will I need in retirement?

In retirement, your outgoings are likely to be lower. For instance, most people will be mortgage free and not supporting children. In the finance industry, there’s a vague rule that some currently aged 40 would need around 50% of their current income to have the same standard of life in retirement.

You should also factor in the state pension. Under the new flat-rate scheme this is worth £155.65 per week (£8,094 per year). So, someone targeting a retirement income of £23,000 would need to contribute £16,000 from their own pensions.

 

How much should I be saving?

Naturally, the amount you need to save depends on the size of the pension you want. However, it also depends on your age.

For instance, putting 12% of your salary towards your pension might be enough if you start in your 20s, but if you leave it until you’re 40, you might need to pay in closer to 20% to get the same level of income.

It’s sometimes said that the rule for working out what percentage of your salary needs to be going into a pension is half the age from when you started saving. So, if you started at age 30 it would be 15%.

This said, given the variation in salaries and personal circumstances, it can be a good idea to get a slightly more profound insight into your finances. 

You could use some sort of pension calculator. There are plenty of different calculators online that let you play around with the numbers. A quick search on Google will reveal plenty. 

All things considered, this can’t give you quite as clear a view on your financial retirement scenario as speaking to an independent financial adviser. They should have the knowledge and experience to help you get both a clear view of your current situation and the changes you could make so that your money works harder towards your goals.

Minimum age for pensions freedoms rises to 57

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

The government has confirmed that the minimum age for drawing a personal pension is to rise to 57 in 2028.

Savers who pay into a personal pension either directly or through their workplace can currently access their money at 55. However, the government plans to raise the age as a result of increased life expectancy.

The change hasn’t yet been brought into law, but Treasury Minister John Glen has confirmed there are plans for legislation. 

In parliament, he said: “In 2014 the government announced it would increase the minimum pension age to 57 from 2028, reflecting trends in longevity and encouraging individuals to remain in work, while also helping to ensure pension savings provide for later life.”

The change will affect workers currently aged 47 and under, and was first announced by then chancellor George Osborne.

As chancellor, George Osborne significantly changed the way we can access our pensions.

He brought in rules that allowed retirees more access to their personal pensions, removing both the limit on cash withdrawals and the requirement to buy an annuity to ensure a secure retirement income.

Opponents to the rise in pensions age claim that the changes restrict workers’ freedom to retire. The changes will make it more difficult for some to retire sooner.

One investment analyst has described the change as a “kick in the teeth at a time when many people are reassessing their work/life balance after a terrible year socially, emotionally and economically.”

However, others believe that the changes are a positive step because they give people two years more to pay into their pension funds. They argue that this will increase the chances that retirees will have enough saved in their pension pots to provide an adequate level of income for the remainder of their lives.

Those who were planning to access their pensions at 55 but can no longer do so could look at other options. These could include saving into an Isa to fund the two year period before turning 57. 

Most savers will agree that the government is right to give so much advance warning, unlike with the increase in state pension age for women from 60 to 65, which caused some animosity. These changes do not affect when you can claim your state pension.

If you have any further questions around your pension pots, please get in touch.

How much to save for your pension?

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Research shows that we put ambitious targets on our retirement income and then underestimate how much we need to save to get there.

Before we delve into how much you should be saving, here’s a quick overview of the two main types of pension schemes:

In a defined benefit scheme your employer promises to deliver you an income in retirement. You’ll most likely have to contribute each month too, putting in a required amount.

These ‘gold-plated’ schemes are increasingly rare.

The other type of scheme is a defined contribution scheme. If you have this type of scheme, you will save into this and get contributions from your employer too. The money is invested to build a pot which will then fund your retirement.

If you have a defined benefit scheme, you just need to save as much as your employer says. But with a defined contribution scheme things are a little more complicated… The onus is on you to deliver the money you need in retirement – the more you save, the more you get.

How much will I need in retirement?

In retirement, your outgoings are likely to be lower. For instance, most people will be mortgage free and not supporting children. In the finance industry, there’s a vague rule that some currently aged 40 would need around 50% of their current income to have the same standard of life in retirement.

You should also factor in the state pension. Under the new flat-rate scheme this is worth £155.65 per week (£8,094 per year). So, someone targeting a retirement income of £23,000 would need to contribute £16,000 from their own pensions.

How much should I be saving?

Naturally, the amount you need to save depends on the size of the pension you want. However, it also depends on your age.

For instance, putting 12% of your salary towards your pension might be enough if you start in your 20s, but if you leave it until you’re 40, you might need to pay in closer to 20% to get the same level of income.

It’s sometimes said that the rule for working out what percentage of your salary needs to be going into a pension is half the age from when you started saving. So, if you started at age 30 it would be 15%.

This said, given the variation in salaries and personal circumstances, it can be a good idea to get a slightly more profound insight into your finances. 

You could use some sort of pension calculator. There are plenty of different calculators online that let you play around with the numbers. A quick search on Google will reveal plenty. 

All things considered, this can’t give you quite as clear a view on your financial retirement scenario as speaking to an independent financial adviser. They should have the knowledge and experience to help you get both a clear view of your current situation and the changes you could make so that your money works harder towards your goals.

Have you overpaid pension tax?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

HMRC have refunded £627M in overpaid pension tax. Pension savers across the country could be due a rebate after new HMRC figures show that some have been wrongly taxed after drawing from their pension pots. Hundreds of thousands of people have been overcharged in tax since new pension rules were introduced back in 2015.

As you may already know, pension freedoms gave savers more control and allowed pensioners over 55 to withdraw money from their pots whenever they like. 

Under the rules, the first 25% of withdrawals are tax free, while the remaining 75% is added to taxable income for the year. 

Since changes were introduced, more than £37 billion has been taken out of pensions savings.

The Sun claims that the overpaid tax comes primarily from cases where savers were still working. HMRC wrongly applied emergency tax on the first 25% of withdrawals that it has incorrectly categorised as additional earnings.

Pension savers who make larger, inconsistent withdrawals are at a much higher risk of being emergency taxed. While pension freedoms allow over 55s to access their retirement savings more flexibly, they certainly increase your chances of falling foul of the taxman.

Of the £627 million, the taxman has paid back £27 million in overpaid tax during lockdown according to Which?. The average amount that each person received was £3,560. This was an £845 increase on payouts during the previous quarter. 

Think you might have overpaid? Here’s how you can claim

There are three ways you can claim back overpaid tax on the government’s refund website. 

If you haven’t withdrawn your entire pension and aren’t taking regular payments, you can claim using a P55 form.

If you have withdrawn your entire pension and receive other taxable income, you should fill out the P53Z. And if you have withdrawn your entire pension and have no other taxable income, you should fill out the P50Z. 

HMRC are yet to clarify what form savers who haven’t withdrawn their full pension but do take regular payments should fill out. Hopefully, they will do so in the near future. If you would like any more information about your pension savings, please get in touch.

What is the value of advice?

Monday, July 13th, 2020

You’re not going to be surprised that, as advisers, our firm belief is that an advised client will get a better financial outcome than a non-advised client. How to prove, though, that we’re not just biased? What is the actual value of that advice? How can it be quantified?   

Most importantly, the value of advice is not simply tied to fund picking or performance.

A good example of this was when the FTSE 100 fell by over 26% in early March due to panic over the coronavirus outbreak and some advisers chose to move their clients’ investments out of equities into assets, traditionally viewed as ‘safe havens’. Although they may have moved them back into more equity-dominated funds in April, the FTSE 100 actually made its biggest recovery between 23 and 26 March so their clients’ money would have been out of the market at the optimum time. This is a clear sign that adding value by trying to ‘time the market’ does not work.

Advice, in our view, goes much further. It can cover: 

  • Behavioural coaching
  • Spending strategies
  • Portfolio rebalancing 
  • Tax-smart recommendations
  • Financial planning  

It’s all part of building a long-term relationship where the adviser really gets to know the client and understands their objectives for life.    

Behavioural coaching, in particular, can be useful in helping an investor to ignore market noise and to keep their emotions at bay so that they avoid expensive mistakes and stick to their long term goals. 

Research over a number of years by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) showed that using a financial adviser led to better financial outcomes in the following ways:

  • Taking advice added £2.5bn to people’s savings and investments,
  • The pensions of clients who received ongoing advice were worth 50% more than those who took one off advice. 
  • Those who took advice were likely to be richer in retirement.
  • The benefits of advice outweighed any costs associated with it 

In addition, the University of Montreal estimated that clients with an adviser would have a 2.73 times larger savings pot over a 15-year period than clients who hadn’t seen an adviser. If that time frame was reduced to five years, the savings pot would still be 1.58 times greater. 

Different investment companies quote different figures but on balance agree that advisers can generate between 3% and 4.4% per annum net returns for their clients.      

Set against this backdrop, it would seem financial advice does have a real value to offer.   

5 key points for becoming financially independent

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Financial independence can seem like the holy grail. We may be striving towards it but feel bombarded by lots of conflicting messages on how best to attain it. These five points give an interesting perspective:    

Income is not the same thing as wealth

Having a high salary can help you accumulate wealth but that’s no good if you’re still spending more than you earn. That’s why you might hear of a professional footballer earning £30,000 a week going bankrupt while a bus driver, who’s saved diligently all his life, can retire a multi-millionaire. To avoid the spending trap, remember your real wealth or net worth is the amount on your balance sheet – your assets minus your liabilities.

Regardless of what your income level might be, try and achieve financial independence by thinking long term. What goals can you put in place regarding your career plans, your investments or any property you may have?        

Create surplus funds

To take advantage of any investment opportunities, you need to have sufficient money to invest, and to be successful in investing, you need to reach a critical mass. At this point, the returns generated on your savings will have more impact. For example, a 10% return on £10,000 would give you £1,000 before tax, while the same return on a portfolio of  £1,000,000 would give you £100,000 for the same amount of effort and research.

Amassing wealth is a gradual process but through small steps to cut expenses or generate income, it can amount to something over time. When the interest your money has earned starts to earn interest too, that’s when you’ll really start to notice the difference. This is where the power of compounding comes in. It also means you can invest more the next time an opportunity comes round and so on.     

Taxes have an impact

Think carefully about where you hold your assets. Remember not all income is treated the same. You may have a great deal of wealth but be generating a lot of taxable income, while someone who has attained their goal of financial independence may have maximised their capital gains allowance and done some tax-efficient retirement planning.

Take control of your time

Your definition of financial independence may be being in charge of how you spend your time each day. Enjoying what you do for hours on end can be better than any financial return. So while you may not have quite reached your ultimate investment target of maintaining your ideal lifestyle without a monthly paycheck, having the freedom to spend your time how you want is worth a great deal.             

Promote the same values

Becoming financially independent is easier if the rest of your family shares the same goal and beliefs. Does your husband or wife have a similar attitude to saving, investing and risk as you?     

Encourage your children to grow up to be financially independent and manage their own money. Offer them support but don’t let them grow up always expecting a financial hand-out or free board. You’ll never gain financial freedom and neither will they.     

 

Retirement planning in the time of Covid-19

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has signalled the dawn of a worrying time for everyone. As well as anxiety about our own health and the wellbeing of our loved ones, many of us are understandably worried about the financial future. Recent stock market turbulence is concerning for all investors, but particularly for those who are in defined contribution pension schemes and looking to retire in the near future.

The important thing is not to panic. Although we are in very uncertain times, reckless actions could severely endanger our financial wellbeing in the future. Here are some things you should consider if you’re planning to retire in the next few years:

Don’t cash out suddenly

Cashing out in a panic could severely damage your financial security in retirement. Although no one knows when the markets will recover, selling now could mean that you are taking your pension at the bottom of the market. It’s likely that financial markets will regain their strength over a period of time, even if we don’t know how long this could take.

What’s more, cashing out will mean that you’re likely to end up paying lots of unnecessary tax. In most cases, only the first 25% of a defined contribution is tax free; the rest is taxed as income. Chances are you’ll end up with a gigantic tax bill.

Remember that pensions aren’t the only form of retirement income

Retirees frequently use other assets such as cash ISAs, cash savings and rental income to provide for their life in retirement. If you have any other assets, you could use these to fund the first few years of your retirement in order to give your pension time to recover. The benefit of this would be that you wouldn’t be drawing from your pension pot when the markets are low.

If you don’t have any other assets to fund your retirement, you could consider delaying your retirement or working part time for a period. Hopefully, this would allow the markets time to recover, giving you more confidence when you finally do leave the workforce. 

Watch out for scams

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people see times where people feel financially vulnerable as an opportunity to exploit them. There has been a lot of fraud since the start of lockdown and it has been reported that people are being scammed through being sold non-existent pension plans. 

Whatever you’re planning to do with your pension savings, it’s vital to check that the company you’re planning to use is registered with the FCA. Keep on your toes and if you see anything that looks too good to be true, it probably is.