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  • 6 pensions you shouldn't transfer

    Some pensions are typically better off left where they are. Below we explain what kind of pensions these are likely to be and how to find out if you have one.

    Last Updated: 29 November 2023

    Transferring certain pensions and consolidating old pensions can be a good idea if you're looking for an easier way to manage your finances. Especially if you've found a provider who offers better value or investment choice.

    But in a few cases, some pensions are just best left where they are. In this article we look into six different types of pension where it's unlikely to be a good idea to transfer.

    This article isn't personal advice. If you're unsure whether transferring is right for you, please ask for advice. Pension rules can and do change and the benefits will depend on your circumstances.

    1. Pensions with Guaranteed Annuity Rates

    An annuity provides you with a retirement income that's guaranteed for life. If your pension scheme comes with a guaranteed annuity rate (sometimes referred to as a GAR), it may be a higher rate than what is available on the open market. You could be better off sticking with your current pension and buying the annuity through your existing provider.

    To find out whether you have one of these, just contact your pension administrator. If you have a pension without a GAR, you'll usually get a higher annuity income if you shop around.

    If your pension has a GAR, the way the annuity income is paid is often hard-wired into the plan, which might not be what you'd automatically choose. You might be able to change the basis of the annuity, but this could affect the initial rate offered. You might also need to take financial advice if you decide to transfer one of these pensions and it's worth £30,000 or more.


    2. Defined Benefit pensions

    These pensions offer a guaranteed income when you reach retirement. It will normally increase each year, and usually continue to be paid to your spouse, civil partner, or dependants, often at a reduced rate, when you die. You're more likely to have one if you've been employed in the public sector or have worked for a large company in the past.

    There can be some niche circumstances where a transfer can make sense. But the transfer value you get in return normally undervalues the benefits you sacrifice. A starting point could be to assume that transferring this type of pension might not be the best option.

    Some of these pensions will also have an additional voluntary contribution (AVC) pot linked to the scheme, which can give more flexibility when it comes to accessing tax-free cash. Your pension provider should be able to confirm these details and your options if they apply. And again, you'll need to take financial advice if you decide to transfer this type of pension, providing it's worth £30,000 or more.

    3. Pensions with Guaranteed Fund Returns

    These pensions (also referred to as ‘guaranteed drawdown') have been around for a while, but they tend to be few and far between. They can be looked at as a halfway house between an annuity and drawdown. The returns might not be very high, but they can offer security for some, so it might not be worth transferring. You should check these details with your provider.

    4. Old Company Pensions or Section 32 Plans that allow enhanced tax-free cash

    Some company pensions that contain benefits that were built up before April 2006 might allow members to take more than the maximum 25% tax-free cash entitlement that applies to most pensions. This can mean more of your plan can be claimed without paying tax on it.

    However, just because it has this feature, it doesn't automatically mean a transfer shouldn’t be considered. It depends on the size of the enhanced tax-free cash and the growth prospects in the scheme, as well as the retirement options available to you (which could be limited). You can ask your provider for a pension statement which should explain your options and detail any protected benefits you hold.

    Some old company pensions might also allow you to take benefits from them before age 55 (the earliest you can usually take money from a pension, rising to 57 from 2028).

    It might also be possible to retain the enhanced tax-free cash entitlement or protected retirement age when transferring, although certain conditions do need to be met. Again, it's worth speaking to your provider for more information.

    5. Pensions with large exit penalties

    Most modern pension plans charge little or nothing to transfer. But some older style pensions can charge bigger sums, including market value reductions if you're invested in a ‘With Profits' fund. So, it's important to contact your provider and check this before deciding to transfer.

    There is an exception to the rule though. If you're 55 or over and have a personal or stakeholder pension, early exit fees are capped at a maximum of 1%.

    Previously, early exit fees penalised those who had reached 55, but not the ‘retirement age’ agreed with their pension provider.

    This cap means if you’re fed up with your existing provider, a low-cost transfer is usually available ahead of taking any income, or lump sum. This might be of particular interest if your current provider doesn't offer access to all the main retirement options – drawdown, lump sums and annuities.

    If you are 50 or over, the government's free and impartial Pension Wise service can help you understand the options.


    6. Ongoing employer contributions

    Your employer might have put you into a pension scheme that you don't like. However, transferring that pension will only make sense if the contributions your employer makes on your behalf can carry on being paid into the pension scheme you want to transfer to.

    Some employers will allow these to be redirected, but most won't. In these instances, it's usually best to wait until you leave their employment before deciding to transfer, so that you continue to collect the contributions in your current scheme. If your provider doesn't allow for redirected payments, you might consider transferring just part of your pension. That way you can keep your employer pension open and benefit from the best of both worlds. Just check for fees first, and that you won’t lose any valuable benefits or guarantees.

    More about pension transfers

    If your pension's not on the list

    If you've considered the above, including all exit fees and valuable benefits, and you still want to transfer, or have a different pension you're not happy with, transferring to a scheme that better meets your needs is possible.

    If you want a wide investment choice with good value for your money, you could consider transferring to the HL SIPP. All you need to do is confirm the details of the pension you want to transfer, and we'll normally do all the legwork for you.

    If you decide to transfer your pension as cash, you will need to sell your investments first. This is particularly important to consider during times of market volatility. It could play in your favour if the market falls, but if it rises you'll miss out on the potential gains.

    If you decide to transfer your investments without selling them, you'll normally be unable to make any changes to your portfolio until the transfer is complete. Due to their nature, and third parties being involved, these transfers tend to take longer than cash transfers.

    More about transferring

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