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Five reasons to transfer your DB pension (and five not to)

Joanna Faith
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Joanna Faith

A quick guide if you’re not sure whether to transfer your defined benefit pension.

More than 100,000 people transferred out of their defined benefit (DB) pensions last year, according to Royal London. These people gave up their scheme benefits in return for a cash lump sum.

Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London, said: “Large numbers of people are still transferring out of traditional salary-related pensions, but whether this is a good idea or not depends crucially on your individual circumstances.

“For most people, a guaranteed salary-related pension that lasts as long as you do, and is unaffected by the ups and downs of markets will be the best answer.  But there will be some who want extra flexibility or are focused on passing on some of their pension wealth for whom a transfer might be the right answer.”

If you’re still undecided, here are five reasons why a transfer might be suitable…


  1. Flexibility – instead of taking a set pension on a set date, you have much more choice how and when you take your pension;  many people are choosing to ‘front load’ their pensions, so that they have more money when they are more fit and able to travel, or to act as a bridge until their state pension or other pension becomes payable;


  1. Tax-free cash – many DB pension schemes offer a pretty poor deal if you want to convert part of your DB pension into a tax free lump sum;  although the tax-free cash is in theory 25% of the value of the pension, you often lose more than 25% of your annual pension if you go for tax-free cash;  in DC, you get exactly 25% of the pot as tax-free cash;


  1. Inheritance – generous tax rules mean that if you leave behind money in a DC pension pot it can be passed on with a favourable tax treatment, especially if you die before the age of 75;  in a DB pension, while there may be a regular pension for a widow or widower, there is unlikely to be a lump sum inheritance to children etc.;


  1. Health – those who live the longest get the most out of a DB pension, but those who expect to have a shorter life expectancy might do better to transfer if this means there is a balance left in their pension fund when they die which can be passed on;  note that HMRC may challenge this for those who die within two years of a transfer;


  1. Employer solvency – while most pensions will be paid in full, every year some sponsoring employers go bankrupt;  if the DB pension scheme goes into the PPF [The Pension Protection Fund], you could lose 10% if you are under pension age, and may get lower annual increases;  if you have transferred out, you are not affected;


…and five reasons to stay put:


  1. Certainty – with a DB pension, you get a regular payment that lasts as long as you do; with a DC pot you have to face ‘longevity risk’ – not knowing how long you will live;


  1. Inflation – a DB pension has a measure of built-in protection against inflation, but with a DC pot you have to manage this risk yourself, which can be expensive;


  1. Investment risk – with a DC pension you have to handle the ups and downs of the stock market and other investments;  with a DB scheme you don’t need to worry – it’s the scheme’s problem;


  1. Provision for survivors – by law, DB pensions have to offer minimum level of pensions for widows/widowers etc., whereas if you use a DC pension pot to buy an annuity, it dies with you unless you pay extra for a ‘joint life’ policy;


  1. Tax – DB pensions are treated relatively favourably from the point of view of pension tax relief;  those with larger pensions could be under the Lifetime limit (currently £1.03m) inside a DB scheme but the same benefit could be above the limit if transferred into a DC arrangement.