UK pensions: Fears of future based on pension pot luck

The Government is cracking-down on "rip off" charges shrinking people's old age nest eggs, but Vicky Shaw finds too many of us are relying on inheritance to pay for our retirements

The Government is cracking-down on "rip off" charges shrinking people's old age nest eggs
The Government is cracking-down on "rip off" charges shrinking people's old age nest eggs

Recent weeks have thrown up a series of stark reminders that we cannot be complacent about having enough money in our later years.

Firstly, the Government has unveiled proposals to clamp down on charges for managing people’s retirement savings pots.

Variations in these charges may look small, but they can eat up huge sums from the amount you eventually have when you come to retire.

A consultation paper proposes to limit the charges that providers can levy for managing a pension pot to a maximum of 0.75 per cent a year.

Other options being considered include a higher cap at 1 per cent, or a ‘two-tier’ cap where most funds are limited to 0.75 per cent but can go up to 1 per cent if they can justify to the Pensions Regulator why they should be allowed to charge more.

Any final cap might lie somewhere between the two levels suggested. These percentages may look pretty insignificant, but even adding a fraction of 1 per cent to an annual charge can wipe tens of thousands of pounds off your eventual retirement fund.

The Government has said that someone who saves £100 a month over a typical working lifetime of 46 years could lose almost £170,000 from their pension pot with a 1 per cent charge, and over £230,000 with a 1.5 per cent charge.

A pension saver with a 0.75 per cent annual charge on their pension pot could eventually end up £100,000 better off than if they had been charged a rate of 1.5 per cent. Once the new rules are finalised, they will be introduced next year, as landmark reforms, automatically placing people into pension schemes.

Automatic enrolment will eventually see up to nine million people either saving into a pension for the first time or putting more aside as companies are phased into the initiative over the next five years.

The programme was launched last autumn with larger firms, which tend to have more experience of pensions and also have the clout to negotiate good deals for their workers. Pensions Minister Steve Webb has raised concerns that smaller employers could struggle to negotiate the same low charges from pension providers that larger companies have been able to, or that they may use high-charging older pension schemes.

These moves have come amid warnings from financial experts that people who are pinning their hopes on an inheritance windfall to fund their old age could be relying on a risky strategy.

Recent Office for National Statistics (ONO) research has shown that an estimated £75 billion worth of assets, including cash, property and jewellery, was handed down in wills in Britain between 2008 and 2010.

But three-quarters of these assets went to just one-fifth of those who received an inheritance over this period. The ONS found that you are more likely to come into a bequest if you live in a wealthier household, have a management job, a university-educated father and – as women tend to live longer than men – are female.

Looking at what's in store in the coming years, the research said that a peak of seven in 10 people owning their own homes in 2001 could leave more people with assets to pass on to their children.

But it also warned that people expecting a windfall are likely to see their inheritance pots evaporate due to the costs of caring for an ageing population.

The report said that such expenses “are likely to diminish, if not exhaust, assets which might traditionally have been passed on to others”.

Another piece of research also raises new concerns about our retirement saving habits. A report from Scottish Widows has found that more than a third of women have no private pension, while for men this figure is just over a quarter.

Just two-fifths of women were found to be saving adequately for their retirement.

The report has urged politicians and the industry to “work harder” to understand the obstacles faced by women trying to build a retirement pot – they are often forced to prioritise more immediate family needs over long-term saving.

It also uncovered a “black hole” where around a fifth of women were relying on their partner's pension to support them in later life, but they were often unclear how their partner's savings and their own would be divided if their relationship broke down.

What seems clear is that talking about finances now could help us be better-prepared for our later years.

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