The Future of Pensions

The Future of Pensions

I am currently at my annual conference in Wales – the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investments (CISI) with whom the IFP – Institute of Financial Planning merged last year. Yesterday we covered a number of valuable topics, but the talk that resonated most with me was from former Pensions Minister MP Steve Webb, who talked about the future of pensions – amongst other things.

I had to admit that my BS radar is usually on hyperdrive when listening to any politician these days, which is probably a sad reflection on me, however I was very impressed by what he had to say, albeit he did not paint a terribly pleasant picture of the future. Of course, only time will tell if his predictions come about and in fairness, he was quick to remind us of the problems with predicting the future, particularly in a climate where since the last general election all of the major political parties have changed their leaders and the country has voted to leave the EU.

Book cover of Yes Minister - A Very Courageous Decision

Play it again Sam…(or Phil)

Webb was clear that changing pensions is pretty difficult and appears to be a low priority to either the Government of Civil Service. He gave an insight into the slow turning wheels of Whitehall, sounding much like an episode from Yes Minister. Given all the change that we have had (State Pension, Auto Enrolment, Pension Freedoms, Annual Allowance Taper, Lifetime Allowance…) he suspects and urges a period of quiet inaction from the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. This is particularly pertinent to those concerned about the loss or reductions of tax relief on pension contributions or changes to the tax free cash entitlement. He made the case that the public and financial planners could not plan ahead in confidence if the rules are changed every year, yet warned at Chancellors are easily tempted by ideas to collect more tax, however short-sighted.

Whilst on the subject of tax he made it clear that the Treasury are naturally inclined to taxing now rather than in the years ahead, so there is a very real pressure to take the view that tax relief reductions in the short-term outweigh the advantages of taxed incomes in the future, so by inference, a system of loss of tax relief and no taxation of pension income is a genuine prospect. He argued that this was evidenced by the Treasury’s love for ISAs and obvious contempt for pensions with the Lifetime Allowance reductions (and associated tax penalties) and the new tapered annual allowance. Personally he would scrap the LTA but retain a cap on annual pension contributions (which I certainly agree with). He did point out that of course putting trust in future Chancellors to honour a commitment not to tax pension income in the future required a high degree of faith, which  deliberately provoked some mirth from the audience.

Turning to Brexit, he simply outlined his view that interest rates are likely to be very low for a long time, which would place pressure on people to look for better returns than the puny sums they achieve from their savings. He argued that this would likely lead to yet more scams as people fall for yet more illusory promises of high returns. He also warned of the impact on final salary pension schemes which, because of the assets that they hold and the way calculations are performed, would have larger deficits in their pensions (due to low interest rates) probably leading to some, or perhaps a majority of companies trimming their dividend payments.. which in turn makes the task of achieving investment income harder still.

He seemed to have little regard for our regulator of whom he said was “not fit for purpose” and thought the new LISA was perhaps the most badly constructed investment idea for years. If you follow me on social media, you will know my thoughts on this already.

So, whilst Steve Webb found a receptive audience, I was left with the sinking feeling that there was little hope for common sense to return to the Treasury… but who knows… we all get to find out in a few weeks time for the Autumn Statement.

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

The Future of Pensions2017-01-06T14:39:13+00:00

Auto Enrolment and Workplace Pensions

Auto Enrolment and Workplace Pensions

This is the year of workplace pensions – or auto enrolment. It doesn’t help that there are these two terms attempting to address the same issue. All employers, however small have to provide staff (which may be a spouse) a pension.

Strangely, in reality the selection of the pension is very much the least of the problems as in essence all this needs to comply with rules, ensuring that everyone (all staff) are properly assessed and informed about the pension being made available and then automatically enrolled. The employer and employee will both contribute, under auto enrolment terms, employees will pay more than employers.

This is really all about processes and being able to demonstrate compliance, much like VAT or PAYE. We do not set up workplace pensions, but are advising all employers to get and use some rather clever software by AE in Box. This will help you meet the deadlines and avoid fines. This year hundreds of thousands of small firms will need to comply.

January Sales

The software keeps you up to date and requires a minimal outlay. The initial set up fee of £79+VAT is being reduced to £1+VAT this month…. A bit of a January sale. The normal monthly license costs £29+VAT but only begins 9 months prior to your staging date. You will need to insert the promotional code at the online ordering stage which is: AEJANSALE

So it’s time to get cracking….

Please see our dedicated webpage for more information about this.

Here’s a good little video, (not by AE in a Box) but one of the better ones that I have come across.

…and one from AE in a Box

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

Auto Enrolment and Workplace Pensions2017-01-06T14:39:21+00:00

Auto Enrolment – the rising tide

Auto Enrolment – the rising tide

Auto enrolment pretty much effects everyone that isn’t yet retired. In a nutshell, having faffed around with pensions for the last 30 years the Government are now forcing employers to offer pensions to their staff. Employers will be required to contribute 3% of salary… employees 5%.

It’s true that this is not a compulsory pension. Employees can opt out. Employers cannot. There are hefty daily fines for those that fail to meet the deadline to implement their new, qualifying staff pension. Everyone has to comply…. not doing so isn’t an option.

All the UKs biggest businesses have now set up their auto enrolment pensions (also called workplace pensions…. helpful eh?). Just pause to think what an administrative nightmare this is… staff coming and going on a daily basis, all needing to comply else suffer fines. What a headache… thankfully technology will reduce the headache, but action still needs to be taken.

Now small and medium-sized firms are gradually reaching their “staging date” (start date) and there will be a massive number of them. Few realise that there are implications for contracts of employment and of course operating costs. However the biggest issue is technology as all staff need to have a working email address… presumably a work email address is easiest to monitor and demonstrate that information has been sent by the employer.

Pain Relief

Most financial advisers and Accountants aren’t getting too involved in auto enrolment. Frankly because the work can be expensive and small firms don’t want that. So we have found a solution – a bit of really good IT. Its called AE in a Box. It isn’t a pension. It’s a project management tool that ensures that you are compliant with the rules, makes it easy to set up a scheme and communicate with your staff.

If you are an employer (even if you run a Limited company with only one other Director or member of staff) you have to comply. So check out the very easy to use tool. It is a monthly license subscription (and you will need the ongoing support) as even those that opt out of your pension, will need to be opted back in every 3 years… the Government hope that inertia will ensure more people join pensions and thus build up their own resources, rather than relying solely on the State Pension… which is already over-stretched.

Are you an Employee?

Do your boss a favour, point them to our tool and earn some brownie points. I promise you that auto enrolment is a headache and leaving it until thousands of employers are trying to do the same thing at the same time will end in tears…. and fines. As an employer myself, I really value people who bring me solutions not problems.

Are you an Accountant?

The tool enables Accountants to assist in the process, providing and checking data. This will make your life much easier on so many levels when dealing with your small firm clients.

Click this link to get more information, its low-cost with a single sign up fee. The monthly fee isn’t taken until 6 months before your scheduled staging date. But whatever you do, now is the time to take action.

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

Auto Enrolment – the rising tide2017-01-06T14:39:23+00:00

Taxing Reforms for Pensions

Taxing reforms for pensions

There has been considerable “chatter” about the prospect of pensions being reformed even further. In particular, the tax of pensions is very much up for debate, making the prospect of tax reforms for pensions a genuine possibility.

In brief the Chancellor has already made huge changes to the pension system, enabling a pension to be taken as a lump sum or as income without any requirement to buy an annuity.  In addition, a pension can now be easily passed on to beneficiaries of your estate, rather than ceasing when you do.

Tax Overpayments

The new freedoms have already and will continue to mean that some people don’t do their sums properly and end up paying too much tax – unnecessarily, which of course is a good thing if you run HM Treasury… every little helps and all that.

In very simple terms, most people will currently find that whatever the size of their pension pot, they can take 25% of it as tax-free cash (these days “we” call it a pension commencement lump sum – or PCLS). The rest is taxed as income.

Reforming tax relief

At the moment, anyone that pays into a pension gets tax relief – either at 20%, 40% or even 45% depending on your rate of tax. Everyone gets 20% (from age 0 to 75). So an investment of £1000 actually costs £800 if you are a nil rate or basic rate taxpayer. If you pay more than 20% tax, you get to claim the balance back via your tax returns.

The Chancellor is reviewing this, because it costs the country a lot of money. The main problem being that employers make most of pension contributions each year and do so in part because it is treated as a deductible cost. If this were considerably altered, then most employers are likely to reduce or even stop (bar the minimum requirements of auto enrolment) their contributions. This would result in smaller pensions in retirement…

So he could simply reduce tax relief to a lower amount, in essence he has done this already for anyone earning over £150,00, who have their annual allowance restricted to just £10,000 (less than an ISA) if they earn over £250,000.

Tax relief provided in 2013/14 amounted to £34.3bn, whereas the tax on pensions generated £13.1bn a “cost” to the UK of £21.2bn. Most of which (2/3rds) is reclaimed by higher rate taxpayers… those paying 40% or more.

Shrinking the Pot

He has also reduced the amount that can be held in a pension (the Lifetime Allowance) which is set to reduce again from £1.25m to £1m next April. Anything above this will be subject to an excess tax charge of 55% as things stand at present. That’s what I call easy money for the Treasury and there isn’t that much that you can do about it, other than applying for protection where relevant.

Changing the Sweetener

Another option would be to make pensions tax-free in retirement instead of taxable. Whilst this sounds all well and good, the reality is that who would honestly trust any future Government not to change the rules later, when they realise that they need the income to be taxed.

Simplicity Seems Dead

I am of the opinion that pensions are going to change, how much and when, we simply do not know. However the Government wants to be seen not to help the “rich” which seems to include people paying 40% tax and everyone paying 45% tax. It would include anyone in the State Sector that has built up a long career – doctors, teachers, police, civil servants – all of whom seem to be the current “cat to kick”. It certainly includes anyone that has pension funds worth £1m or more. Though I would argue that £1m in a pension pot isn’t that huge (yes I know its relative)  but in practice that provides at £40,000 a year income… not enough to pay higher rate tax. The worst case to my mind would be to create a “before and after” system – which we have had before, which only makes life more complicated.

If I were Chancellor?

People need an incentive to save for the long-term. I would abolish the Lifetime Allowance making all current and previous protections irrelevant. I would restrict tax relief to a % of salary, perhaps providing it directly as a 5% tax cut, say 20% tax becoming 15% if payments are made to a pension. That way HM Treasury collect taxes, people are incentivized to save and earn. I would scrap rules that enable people to pay into pensions for children, which is essentially something that only the wealthy can do, so that pensions are only for those aged 18. However I would continue to tax pension income as income…

Sadly, for younger generations the prospects of good pensions looks fragile… of course there is the prospect of the solution as outlined in Logan’s Run….. there’s just one catch..

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

Taxing Reforms for Pensions2017-01-06T14:39:26+00:00

Lost your pension?

Lost your pension?

Many people have lost track with old pensions, frankly it is hardly surprising given the number of name changes, mergers and acquisitions of various pension companies over the last 40 years or so.  Perhaps you have lost your pension too.

Consider the various jobs that you have had over the years, however small, perhaps there is an old pension lurking somewhere in the midst of your curriculum vitae.

Pension evolution…. perhaps revolution

Pensions have improved dramatically over the years and almost unrecognisable from those I first understood over 20 years ago. The evolution continues and something that adviser firms like ourselves spend a lot of time researching and reviewing. Cheap is not always best, but then neither is the most expensive.

The media, consumer groups and various politicians have regularly made statements about the charges on pensions, some of which are accurate, some are not. However, I imagine you would like to know if your old style pension could be brought up to date.

Find your lost pension

The Pension Tracing Service (PTS) was set up to help find lost pensions. In essence everyone has a National Insurance number that is unique to them, this is the main tool used to search for lost old pensions. It is believed that there could around 50million dormant or lost pensions “in the system” by 2050 due to the growing number of small pensions (due to auto enrolment, or workplace pensions).

Once lost, now found

Last year the PTS was contacted over 145,000 times and we expect this to increase considerably. They aren’t always successful in tracing pensions, but last year managed to trace 87% of those believed to exist.

Regain control of your pension

So it would be advisable to check if you have any lost pensions and then check them (and any old pensions that you haven’t lost) to determine if they can be improved. I have put a free guide together about this, which I have called “Regaining Control of Your Pension”. You can download it for free (tell your friends and colleagues) simply by completing the online request below this item.

Dominic Thomas
Solomons IFA

You can read more articles about Pensions, Wealth Management, Retirement, Investments, Financial Planning and Estate Planning on my blog which gets updated every week. If you would like to talk to me about your personal wealth planning and how we can make you stay wealthier for longer then please get in touch by calling 08000 736 273 or email info@solomonsifa.co.uk

Lost your pension?2017-01-06T14:39:26+00:00

Pension Timebomb

Solomons-financial-advisor-wimbledon-blogger

Pension Timebomb

Ok its April 1st, but this isn’t an April Fools Day joke…. this is data from the Policy Exchange, founded in 2002 to help contribute the national thinking about society. I don’t know if it is the case, but it would appear that the Coalition Government had a look at this before deciding to introduce the pension rules that come into effect next week. However if you are someone still saving for a pension or an employer, the findings are not great reading, with both needng to contribute rather more to pensions. Clicking on the graphic should make it larger.

Help to Save: Defusing the pensions time bomb

Dominic Thomas
Pension Timebomb2017-01-06T14:39:29+00:00

Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions

Solomons-financial-advisor-wimbledon-blogger

Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions

As expected, the pensions regulator is taking auto enrolment (workplace pensions) rather more seriously than it took stakeholder pensions. Employers were warned about the prospect of fines and as the number of firms that should have started their pensions has multiplied, so have the fines. This is unlikely to alter as the momentum increases. This year medium sized and some small firms will be expected to comply with the rules. 166 penalty notices were issued in the last quarter of 2014 and over 1,100 compliance warning notices sent to firms.

Avoid the FinesAE in a Box

Employers need to get on with their auto enrolment compliance. In practice this is a project management exercise rather than about finding a good pension. As a result I advise employers and Accountants to use the very low cost software from AE in a Box. It enables you to fully comply in time and avoid fines. Importantly it is an ongoing project – much like PAYE is an ongoing project, so data and processes need to be adhered to strictly.

AE in a Box

AE in a Box is very inexpensive, £79+VAT to set up and then £29+VAT a month thereafter. The monthly subscription will only begin 6 months prior to your staging date. I would urge you to consider this bit of kit. It isn’t a financial product, its a tool to help you do the job yourself, cost-effectively rather than getting a more expensive planner like myself involved.

Dominic Thomas

Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions2017-01-06T14:39:30+00:00

A morning of auto enrolment

Solomons-financial-advisor-wimbledon-top-bannerA morning of auto enrolment

Today I spent the entire morning hidden away in the company of auto enrolment experts…. Its almost as though there is a theme building in this blog. Anyway, there were some great speakers and presentations, thankfully nothing was terribly surprising, other than perhaps the candour. As I had outlined here previously, the real issues have little to do with pensions and everything to do with compliant processes and systems that work.

 34 and counting…

Reliance on a payroll system may be misplaced (its not easy to tell) but one major pension provider outlined that there are 34 data fields required for each employee…can you think of 34 questions about your staff? Name, date of birth, NI number, salary, home address, email address, contribution rate…. And so on. There was no denying the importance of accurate and correct data and of course this needs proper checking and policing for security – involving your IT department or if you don’t have one… your IT person/supplier etc.

Concern about loss of pension allowance protection

My only real concern was in relation to lifetime allowance protection, after all payments into a new pension (such as auto enrolment) will, (under current rules) undo any pension protection. The thing is that employers are not permitted to advise staff not to join the auto enrolment scheme and indeed most financial advisers aren’t either due to a quirk in the rules which prevents anyone that does not hold G60 (an exam that can no longer be taken) from advising people not to join an employers pension. Yes, its daft and everyone seems to be relying on HMRC providing some sort of exemption or providing the advice themselves…. Yet here we are with lots of firms with auto enrolment already under way… now call me a cynic, but waiting for the right thing to be done seems unrealistic and naïve.

Good employer?

One of the good things about today was that many, well most, employers are actually pretty keen on providing staff with a pension. Yes there are some that seem to think it won’t happen (good luck with the fines) and as one commentator put it, there will be 100% take up, because 100% of employers have to offer and run a scheme, some (about 10%) of the staff will opt out, but even if 99% opted out, the rules must still be adhered to. So… better get on with it. Here is a little video about AE from a SME… yes the jargon is now in full flow! thanks to Standard Life.

Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA

A morning of auto enrolment2017-01-06T14:39:40+00:00

“What have I missed about auto enrolment?”

Solomons-financial-advisor-wimbledon-top-banner

What have I missed about auto enrolment?

Yesterday I suggested that auto enrolment was not really about pensions, that’s because despite it being about setting up a pension, the real emphasis is much more about communications with staff and with Government agencies. The new system is rather like PAYE, though nothing quite as simple. I have come up with 11, that’s eleven, key issues where auto enrolment will challenge your business or charity.

Contracts of employmentEmployeeOfTheMonth

Contracts of employment will need to be altered reflecting the new pension arrangements; this may be a difficult discussion depending upon your type of business and workforce. Do you need to get the help of HR or even legal advice to do this properly?

Pay reviews and salary sacrifice

Some employers may use this as an opportunity to consider “salary sacrifice” or “salary exchange” this is a bizarre scenario where having a reduced gross income with the reduction paid into a pension, saves both employer and employee national insurance contributions and PAYE, yet invariably the net pay is a bit more, with more money going into a pension. Odd but true.

Payroll integration, live and up to date

Your payroll software will need to be able to integrate the new scheme, if you are a small firm and outsource this to your book keeper or Accountant; they need to be up to speed and have software that does the job.

IT overhaul

Schemes will be managed online and the Pension Regulator may demand data going back 6 years in a format that they can readily use). This therefore has implications for your IT systems and security and in particular how you hold and backup your data about staff.

Garbage in, garbage out?

Communication with staff is also a big deal. You need to be able to evidence that you have provided all of the relevant information to your staff, email is the most obvious and cheapest delivery option, but we all know that not everyone uses email or has provided you with an up to date email address, so do you need everyone in the business to have a company email address, and what happens when they leave? Do you maintain records properly?

Money Laundering

As a pension is an investment, there are issues about possible Money Laundering and politically exposed people. As an employer do you have evidence that you have done thorough identity and residency checks? Can you prove this? This will also identify any illegal immigrants or visa’s that have expired.

Staying silent and impartial

You might see auto enrolment as a valuable part of your staff package, however some see it as another tax and a whole lot of bureaucracy. You are not permitted to give advice about pensions or entice or discourage staff from joining the scheme. This isn’t just frowned on, it carries hefty financial penalties if revealed.

Disgruntled employees

Non compliance with the rules is a dangerous approach. You may believe that you know your staff, but perhaps you should reflect on what could go wrong for you if a member of staff falls out with you, or is just plain awkward anyway (these people do exist in 2014) so make sure you have complied and that you can demonstrate that you have done so. It is pointless to ask for a bullet proof vest after the event.

Tax triggers

You may not be aware that some people have very large pension scheme benefits. The Lifetime Allowance has reduced and will reduce again in April. Some people have protected their larger allowances, but should they accidentally enrol into a new pension, this would scupper their plans. This could trigger enormous tax penalties (55% of £1m for example) and you won’t be terribly popular with the employee that is presented with such a bill because you didn’t communicate well enough.

Honest guv….

The cynic in me might suggest that this is another way to join-up the Government agencies, which is fine if you are doing everything properly (unless you have concerns about information flow) but of course will catch out more people that have undeclared earnings anywhere.

Impacting your budgeting

Finally, don’t rely on your costs being 3% of your payroll. It is likely that contributions levels will be raised above 8%, in Australia (where they have had compulsory pensions since 1992) employers now contribute 9.25%. You ought to allow funds for the scheme and your systems to be reviewed and of course you might be wise to provide seminars or meetings for your staff to ensure that they understand their pension.

So, auto enrolment is about pensions… well yes, but it is also about rather more besides.

Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA

“What have I missed about auto enrolment?”2017-01-06T14:39:40+00:00

I have plenty of time to sort out auto enrolment right?

Solomons-financial-advisor-wimbledon-top-bannerI have plenty of time to sort out auto enrolment right?what to expect

Love it or loathe it, auto enrolment is under way. The biggest companies and organisations are now running their schemes. As an employer you may be thinking that you have plenty of time to sort out your auto enrolment, you don’t.  On the face of it one would think that setting up a pension for everyone to be opted in from the outset would be straight-forward (if I were King…) however there are all manner of obstacles to overcome, many of which employers are not terribly aware of. The truth is that this is not really about pensions, but about compliance and communication. Whilst the process is dressed as a pension, the reality is that the pension bit is probably the easiest element to resolve.

The real issue is to ensure you are compliant with the rules. This means not being late for your date, that is your staging date (find it here). If you are a small firm with 4 or fewer staff the fixed penalty is £400 and then £50 a day. If you have 5 staff its £500 a day, rising to £10,000 a day for firms with 500 or more staff. So it simply isn’t worth being late and in practice the entire process is likely to take 12 months from start to “implementation” and rather like having a baby, the pregnancy and then birth is not the end of the job… its an ongoing process, requiring a lot of time, effort and understanding.

So in preparation (the pregnancy part) quite a lot needs doing, this is where a financial adviser can help, though many employers will hope that they don’t need assistance, they probably will. In this analogy (and I don’t want to stretch it too far) the financial adviser is rather like the local GP, who is involved with the care, monitoring and progress and the life-long after care, but the parents (the employer) carry the responsibility.

To make matters harder there are a lot of companies all trying to do the same thing at the same time. Staging dates have been staggered, but there is a genuine problem with capacity. An estimated 1.4million firms will be attempting to bring their schemes into life. This is not going to be easy and most of the pension companies that you have heard of are alarmed at the prospect and cherry picking those that they want to work with, some are also simply closing the doors. This will leave pensions that you haven’t heard of as your main choice. Here is a chart showing the staging dates over the next 3 years by quarter. So you are just going to have to trust me on this – get on with the process, wave of applications is going to cause all sorts of capacity problems for pension companies.

Staging-Numbers-by-Quarter5

So, let’s see how far I can get away with the analogy…whilst you have be currently of the view that you are searching for a new date (Valentine’s is shortly upon us) you are actually already in an arranged marriage and fairly stern in-laws have planned the baby-shower and booked a hotel to be near your local maternity ward…. Well maybe it doesn’t work too well as analogy, but you get the point. Time is running out whilst auto enrolment provides the opportunity for opting out (by employees) employers are not permitted to do the same and under no account permitted to influence employees.

Tomorrow I will outline some of the key issues that have little or nothing to do with pensions, but everything to do with compliant auto enrolment… after all how many small firms can afford fines of £15,000 a month?

Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA

I have plenty of time to sort out auto enrolment right?2017-01-06T14:39:40+00:00
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