Changes to the UK State Pension

The Department for Work and Pensions has just launched a new campaign to explain the new single-tier state pension.

The new single-tier state pension, which will replace both the basic state pension and the state second pension (S2P) is now only 16 months away. While the focus of late has been on increased flexibility for private pensions, the state pension reform is in some respects more significant, if only because it will affect many more people.

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has launched what it describes as a “new multi-channel advertising campaign” which it hopes will “ensure everyone knows what the State Pension changes mean for them.” That may be a tall order to judge from some research results which the DWP published alongside the press release announcing its new campaign. That research showed:
• 42% of people yet to retire admitted that they needed to find out more about saving for retirement;

• 38% conceded they “try to avoid thinking about” what will happen when they stop working;

• Only 60% of those surveyed realised it is possible to take action to increase their State Pension; and

• 37% of those aged 65 or over thought (wrongly) that the amount of their state pension will change as a result of the reforms. Although the DWP did not ask the obvious question, the chances are very few in that group were expecting a cut in payments after April 2016.

The DWP’s ministers “are urging everyone – and the over-55s in particular – to look at what the changes will mean for them and to secure a detailed State Pension statement so that everyone can plan accurately for retirement.” It is a recommendation we thoroughly agree with. However, be warned that if you have ever been a member of a contracted pension scheme you could well find that your projected state pension is less than “around £150 a week”, which is commonly quoted – even by the DWP in its press release.

ISA inheritability makes ‘allowance’ for your spouse

Details have begun to emerge on how the new inheritable ISA rules will operate. And the good news is that it will be achieved by an increased ISA allowance for the surviving spouse rather than the actual ISA assets themselves. This means clients won’t have to revisit their wills.

How the rules will work.

If an ISA holder dies after 3 December, their spouse or civil partner will be allowed to invest an amount equivalent to the deceased’s ISA into their own ISA via an additional allowance. This is in addition to their normal annual ISA limit for the tax year and will be claimable from 6 April 2015. This means the surviving spouse can continue to enjoy tax free investment returns on savings equal to the deceased ISA fund. But it doesn’t have to be the same assets which came from the deceased’s ISA which are paid into their spouses new or existing ISA. The surviving spouse can make contributions up to their increased allowance from any assets.

What it means for estate planning

By not linking the transferability to the actual ISA assets, it provides greater flexibility and doesn’t have an adverse impact on estate planning that your client may have already put in place. For example, had it been the ISA itself which had to pass to the spouse to benefit from the continued tax privileged status, it could have meant many thousands of ISA holders having to amend their existing Wills. Where the spouse was not the intended beneficiary under the Will or where assets would have been held on trust for the spouse – a common scenario – the spouse would miss out on the tax savings on offer. Instead it’s the allowance which is inherited, not the asset. This means that, even in the scenarios described above, the spouse can benefit by paying her own assets into her ISA and claiming the higher allowance. And the deceased’s assets can be distributed in accordance with their wishes, as set out in their Will.

The tax implications

The tax benefits of an ISA are well documented. Funds remain free of income tax and capital gains when held within the ISA wrapper. And it’s the continuity of this tax free growth for the surviving spouse where the new benefit lies. It’s an opportunity to keep savings in a tax free environment. But the new rules don’t provide any additional inheritance tax benefits. The rules just entitle the survivor to an increased ISA allowance for a limited period after death. The actual ISA assets will be distributed in line with the terms of the Will (or the intestacy rules) and remain within the estate for IHT. Where they pass to the spouse or civil partner, they’ll be covered by the spousal exemption. Even then, ultimately the combined ISA funds may be subject to 40% IHT on the second death.

With ISA rules and pension rules getting ever closer, it may be worth some clients even considering whether to take up their increased ISA allowance if the same amount could be paid into their SIPP. This would achieve the same tax free investment returns as the ISA and the same access for client’s over 55. But the benefit would be that the SIPP will be free of IHT and potentially tax free in the hands of the beneficiaries if death is before 75.

What’s next?

The new allowance will be available from 6 April 2015 for deaths on or after 3 December. Draft legislation is expected before the end of the year and the final position will become clear after a short period of consultation. The new inherited allowance will complement the new pension death rules – a welcome addition to the whole new world of tax planning opportunities for advisers and their clients from next April.

Who would predict the price of oil?

The price of crude oil has fallen around 40 per cent since a recent peak in June this year. This has a profound effect on economies and markets around the world as the cost of manufacturing and transporting goods falls along with oil producers’ income and the currencies of oil-rich countries.
The theory goes that consumer spending will rise because people have more disposable income; that inflation will fall as the price of goods eases; and that companies with high energy bills will become more profitable. If lower prices hold, the effect might become political and environmental as the balance of world power shifts from oil exporters to oil importers, and the impetus to develop cheaper clean energy wanes. Oil seeps so deep into the global economy you might think that to be a successful investor you need to have an accurate view on its price and its impact on asset prices. But you would be wrong.

No-one with an opinion about oil knows whether their view is right or wrong, and only the changing price will confirm which they are. Market prices are a fair reflection of the balance of opinion because they are created by many buyers and sellers agreeing on individual transactions. As an investor you can take a view of whether that balance – that price – is right but, like all other people with an opinion, you have no way of knowing whether you are right or wrong until the price moves.

Knowing this, it seems irrational to take a view (or a risk) on something so random as the direction of the oil price. In fact, why would one take a view on anything related to the changing price of oil; the US economy, for example; or the price of Shell; or Deutsche Post; or anything else?
The rational approach is to let capital markets run their course and to have a sufficiently diversified portfolio that allows you to relax in the knowledge that, over time, you will benefit from the wealth-generating power of your investments as a whole; without risking your wealth on a prediction that might go one way or the other.

Temporary Transfer Relaxation for pensions carrying higher tax free cash or early retirement age

Formerly pension scheme members with schemes carrying a higher entitlement to tax free cash or an early retirement age would loose these when transferring to a new plan, unless at least one other member of the same scheme transferred with them at the same time, to the same scheme. For schemes without any other members, such as section 32 plans, one person EPPs or assigned policies, this meant that the option to preserve protections when transferring to personal pensions was not available.

However, solo transfers are now permissible, as long as the following criteria are met:

• The transfer must fully extinguish all rights within the current plan
• The transfer must be made in a single transaction
• The transfer must be completed before 6 April 2015
• The new plan must be fully crystallised (including any other rights held within the new plan) before 6 October 2015
• Benefits are payable from age 55 (unless a protected retirement age is available).

As the transfer must be completed before 6 April, the investor would also have the choice to set up a capped drawdown arrangement, should they wish to retain the higher annual allowance. It should also be noted that any GMP benefits will be lost on transfer.

So what does this mean?

Pension scheme members who have held off transferring their benefits due to a potential loss of tax free cash or because they will loose the ability to retire early may now make an individual transfer to a new plan without loosing the enhanced benefits.

Who does this affect?

• Sports people and members of professions who were previously entitled to early retirement ages
• Members of occupational defined contribution pension schemes such as Executive Pensions, Small Self Administered Schemes (SSAS), Contracted Out and Contracted In Money Purchase Schemes (COMPs and CIMPS)
• Those who have transferred their benefits to a Section 32 Buy-Out

This is a complex area and advice from a pensions specialist should always be taken before implementing any transactions.

The press was full of ‘pension bank account’ stories in October. Will it be that simple?

The Taxation of Pensions Bill, which will put most of the Budget 2014 pension changes into law, was published in mid-October. It contained few surprises, not least because it had been issued in draft in August, along with detailed explanatory notes. Nevertheless, the Treasury pumped out a press release and the media duly splashed the (old) news.

The emphasis in the press coverage was, to quote the Treasury release “Under the new tax rules, individuals will have the flexibility of taking a series of lump sums from their pension fund, with 25% of each payment tax free and 75% taxed at their marginal rate, without having to enter into a drawdown policy.” It was this reform which prompted the talk of using pensions as bank accounts. However, things may not be quite that simple in practice:

• The new rules do not apply to final salary pension schemes, which may only provide a scheme pension and a pension commencement lump sum.

• It is already possible to make this type of 25% tax free/75% taxable withdrawal under the flexible drawdown provisions introduced in 2011. This has not proved very popular.

• The new rules are meant to come into effect on 6 April 2015, but they are not mandatory, so some pension providers may choose not to offer them. It seems likely that many occupational money purchase schemes will avoid any changes, as they were never designed to make payments out – that was the job of the annuity provider. Similarly many insurance companies may not be willing to offer flexibility on older generations of pension plan – just as some do not currently offer drawdown.

• The short timescale has been criticised by the pensions industry. Systems and administrative changes can only be finalised once the Bill has become law and that will be perilously close to April, making it difficult for providers to bring in the changes from day one.

• If you are able to take a large lump from your pension, the tax consequences could be most unwelcome. For example, drawing out £100,000 would mean adding £75,000 to your taxable income – enough to guarantee you pay at least some higher rate tax, regardless of your income, and quite possibly sufficient to mean the loss of all or part of your personal allowance. No wonder the Treasury expects to increase tax revenue as a result of the reforms.

• Ironically another of the pension reforms, reducing the tax on lump sum death benefits, could mean you are best advised to leave your pension untouched and draw monies from elsewhere.

The new pension tax regime will present many opportunities and pitfalls, not all of which are immediately apparent. Do make sure you ask for our advice before taking any action.

The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. The value of investments can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Tips to Maximise Your Retirement Savings

Use these best practices to build a secure retirement plan.

Saving Early.
By beginning your retirement saving at an early age, you allow more time for your money to grow. As gains each year build on the prior year’s, it’s important to understand the power of compounding and take advantage of the opportunity to help your money grow.

Set realistic goals.
Review your current situation and establish retirement expenses based on your needs.

Focus on Asset Allocation.
Build a portfolio with proper allocation of stocks and bonds, as it will have a huge impact on long-term goals.

For the best long-term growth, choose stocks.
Over long periods, stocks have the best chance of attracting high returns.

Don’t overweight a portfolio in bonds.
Even in retirement, do not move heavy into bonds. Many retirees tend to make this move for the income, however, in the long-term, inflation can eliminate the purchasing power of bond’s interest payments.

If in doubt, see a properly qualified independent financial adviser who can help you put together a plan to achieve your financial goals and implement the necessary arrangements to put it into effect.

Beware of the hidden risks of low-risk investing

Most investors recognize and understand the risks involved when investing. However, during times of extreme market decline, even the toughest investors’ risk tolerance is tested. Such dramatic downturns can force many to limit their risk exposure. But, regardless of market highs and lows, investors really need to maintain perspective and proper risk to pursue their long-term financial goals.

“Low risk” investments help protect one from a decline in the overall stock market, but might leave one exposed to other risks not seen on the surface.

Risk #1: Inflation cutting your real return
After subtracting taxes and inflation, the return one receives from a low-risk investment may not be enough to remain ahead of inflation.

Risk #2: Limiting your portfolio’s growth potential
Beware, some portfolios with low-risk investments may be riskier than one realizes due to the limited growth potential of these investments.

Risk #3: Your income can drop when interest rates drop
If interest rates have dropped by the time a low-risk investment becomes due, one might have to reinvest at a lower rate of return, resulting in a lower yield each month.

A properly constructed portfolio with the correct balance between risk and return will mitigate the risks of market volatility. When deciding on how to invest, it is important for investors to take into account their personal attitude to risk and capacity for loss but also to understand the performance characteristics of different blends of equities and bonds and in particular, how their own portfolio might behave. This will ensure that when markets perform in a particular way, investors will appreciate that this is within the range of possible outcomes for their portfolio.

This is where an independent financial adviser can help by guiding investors to the correct choice of portfolio, which has the best chance of helping them achieve their goals. They can also help educate investors so that they better understand what to expect and encourage them to adopt a disciplined approach.