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Government defers Help to Save scheme for low income families

Cherry Reynard
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Cherry Reynard

The government has deferred its Help to Save scheme, which will now be introduced in three stages over 10 months from the start of next year.

The scheme will start in January but will not be fully available until October. The government had previously said Help to Save accounts would start no later than April.

The system is aimed at the 3.5 million people receiving working tax credits and on Universal Credit. The government will provide a 50% top-up for savings into the scheme up to £2,400 – a potential bonus of up to £1,200.

The scheme is designed to improve financial resilience among lower income families, ensuring they can withstand short-term financial shocks such as car repairs.

The scheme will start in January on a trial basis before being introduced in stages over the following 10 months.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “A six month delay in rolling out Help to Save isn’t a great endorsement of the level of planning and detail that went into the proposal when it was first announced in January 2016. However, we are where we are, and if it isn’t ready to roll out by April, it makes sense to introduce it slowly and test it along the way.

“We can only hope the scheme is worth waiting for. We have seen with the Junior ISA, Lifetime ISA, Help to Buy ISA and pension savings that when you give people an incentive to save, it does encourage them to do so. The fact that this will be run by National Savings & Investments (NS&I) means savers have the comfort of a familiar, trusted brand, which will also help overcome hesitancy over saving.”

Coles believes that the success of this scheme is likely to hinge on whether the attractive incentive will change people’s savings habits at a time when incomes are squeezed, inflation is biting and the target group is struggling.

Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon, said: “The government has announced a number of policies aimed at the lower paid in recent years, including the Living Wage, the rapid increase in basic rate income tax threshold, increasing take-home pay and their flagship auto-enrolment policy helping to kick-start pension savings.

“One to watch is whether ‘Help to Save’ will disrupt auto-enrolment causing workers to opt-out of pension saving in return for the more flexible, but short-term savings. People’s incomes are under pressure and they have a finite amount of cash they can afford to save. They will need to balance their long-term plans against more short-term considerations. Saving in an employer’s pension scheme will still be the best deal around.”