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10 things to consider before opting out of a Defined Benefit pension scheme

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Thinking of opting out of from a defined benefit pension scheme into a defined contribution scheme? WEALTH at work has drawn up a 10 point list of things to consider before making that transfer.

With retirees living longer, defined benefit (DB) pensions schemes, also know as final salary schemes, have become increasingly increasingly expensive owing to the fact they have to pay out for an extended period of time.

To try and contain these increasing costs a number of DB schemes are offering members pay-outs to leave them, but here are 10 points to consider before transferring into a Defined Contribution (DC) scheme, according to Jonathan Watts-Lay, a director at WEALTH at work:

1 – Is the cash really needed?

“Make sure you have a purpose for the cash. Drawing on pensions has tax implications; usually the first 25% is paid out tax-free but the remainder is taxed at your marginal rate. Additionally, if the money simply sits in a bank account it may be subject to inflation risk as the cost of living is likely to increase. However, transferring funds out may be appropriate for someone who does not require dependent benefits, is in significant ill health, or someone who requires a large cash sum to start a business or pay off debts which are creating life pressures. But even these are not definitive reasons for doing so.”

2 – Is the paperwork correct?

“When making the decision, make sure that all the information is correct. We have heard of many transfer value statements arriving with confusing pension income figures. This is because they tend to quote the pension entitlement at the date the member left the scheme. This could have been many years ago and with deferred pensions benefitting from annual inflationary increases; the actual pension entitlement at the date of the statement could in fact be a lot higher. This obviously makes a big difference as to whether or not the transfer value offered looks a good deal.”

3 – Compare transfer value against annual income

“A simple calculation is to compare the cash equivalent transfer value against the ‘current’ annual pension entitlement, not the pension at the date of leaving the scheme, to find out how many years annual income would need to be received before reaching the transfer value offered. For example, if a DB annual income guarantee is £1,355.58 and the transfer value is £27,384, then the conversion factor would be twenty times (27,384/1,355.58 = 20.20). This should be taken into account when considering if it’s a good deal or not.  However, it should be noted that this is not an accurate definition of ‘value’; the annual pension usually increases each year to maintain its purchasing power (indexation) but at the same time, it’s unlikely you are going to leave the money uninvested, earning no return. As mentioned above, the tax implications also need to be considered.”

4 – Don’t forget the perks

“Most DB schemes have very good benefits. Often they include 50% for a spouse’s pension (upon death, either before or after your retirement date), some offer increases of up to 5% on the deferred pension until the point at which benefits were taken (to help keep the values in line with inflation), and then provide inflation proofing once in payment. Others also have an element of death benefits in payment if the policy holder passes away within five years of receiving benefits.  Some DB scheme members may also be entitled to ‘scheme protected tax-free cash’ higher than the standard 25%. This benefit would be lost if transferred into a DC arrangement, unless transferred under certain circumstances.”

5 – Compare the value against an annuity

“Look at what kind of pension fund would be needed in a DC scheme to buy a similar income to those guaranteed by a DB scheme. For example, a pension transfer value of £37,000 offered in lieu of an income of £1,500 would actually cost £82,000 to buy an annuity for the same rates and perks as outlined above. This is subject to needing a joint life annuity paying for a spouse’s pension, taking it from age 60 and including indexation, which is an expensive addition to any annuity.”

6 – Check the Guaranteed Minimum Pension (GMP) value

“The GMP is the minimum pension value which an occupational pension scheme has to provide for those employees who were contracted out of the State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) between 6 April 1978 and 5 April 1997. The amount is said to be ‘broadly equivalent’ to the amount the member would have received had they not been contracted out. This valuation is rarely up to date on transfer value statements, as this is not normally calculated until retirement. Depending upon the scheme rules and when they are left, GMP increases could be as high as 8.5% p.a. fixed.  This figure applied to some schemes if you left before April 1988, some 28 years ago!  The compounding effect of over 28 years is to increase that element of the GMP pension by 9 times. Using an up to date value of GMP would make transferring out even less attractive.”

7 – Changing transfer values

“DB transfer values can fluctuate year to year based on a range of economic and demographic factors such as investment performance and mortality rates.  This can impact the underlying scheme value and lead to varying transfer calculations.”

8 – Transfer Value Analysis Systems (TVAs) 

“Calculating accurate transfer values is incredibly complicated and even financial advisers turn to their TVAs for guidance on how to value a DB pension. Individuals may want to consider if they want an expert to do this for them.”

9 – Will the scheme pay out?

“Some individuals are worried whether their scheme is secure, and if it will be able to continue to pay out as promised. After all, the scheme is only as good as the company behind it and should it go bust, your pension is likely to be at risk. So transferring out may be something to consider if the company is in a precarious financial position, but don’t act in haste and weigh up all options before making any decisions.   And although there is the PPF (pension protection fund) which will pay up to 90% of your pension value, there is an annual cap of £33,678.38 at age 65 and you may get much less than you had expected.”

10 – Are you equipped to understand your options without advice?

“The rules stipulate that those with a DB pension value of over £30,000 will need to take regulated advice before transferring to a DC scheme. But for those with less who want to transfer out and do not have to take regulated advice, will they be able to get a good deal? As outlined above, pension transfer documents are often unclear, full of jargon, and it is hard to understand the value of the actual benefits that will be given up. The average price to fit a new kitchen is £8,000, and very few people would choose to fit it themselves, so why would someone with little or no experience of pensions want to make a decision about a pension fund up to £30,000 without getting expert advice?”


While Watts-Lay says that in some cases, such as being seriously ill or where you are starting a business meaning cash is more important than your long-term income planning, it may be worth considering cashing in your DB scheme.

“However, in the majority of cases, an individual would be better off to leave it as it is and both the Financial Conduct Authority and The Pensions Regulator agree,” he concludes.