Pension Transfers Explained

The key information you need to know about pension transfers in 2019

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We get lots of enquiries from people in the UK who want to understand how pension transfers work and what the benefits or drawbacks could be, depending on the type of pension they have.

To answer all of these questions we’ve put together this comprehensive guide where we will cover:

Seeking professional advice before deciding to transfer a UK pension is highly recommended (in certain circumstances it is a legal requirement). Once you’ve read through the details below, make an enquiry and we can arrange for a pensions advisor we work with to contact you directly.

Pension transfer definition

A pension transfer is a transaction between two different pension schemes at the behest of a member where the fund value from one scheme is transferred to another of their choosing.  

You can see the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) official definition here.

How does a pension transfer work?

A pension transfer involves a member making a written application to either the scheme administrator or pension provider requesting an up-to-date value of their benefits and informing them of their intention to transfer these funds to a different scheme.

The administrators then have a particular time frame in which to carry out these instructions. The member may also be legally required to seek professional advice before they can proceed (see sections below for further details).

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Why transfer a pension?

Transferring pensions from one provider to another can be a tricky decision to make and is one that requires careful thought. The suitability of a pension fund transfer will really depend upon your own personal circumstances.

What are the benefits of a pension transfer?

The key benefit of a pension transfer would be to provide greater flexibility and control over your retirement fund. There are a number of valid reasons why you may want to consider transferring your pension, such as:

  • A desire to consolidate a number of different pension plans under one umbrella
  • Your existing pension fund is due to close
  • The investment choice available with your current provider doesn’t fit your investment objective
  • Your unhappy with the existing terms available with your current scheme
  • Your current scheme charges seem high and you want to consider cheaper options
  • You’re moving abroad and want to transfer your pension fund to a provider based overseas
  • Your investments are under-performing in your current plan
  • The investment risk does not match your attitude to risk
  • Your existing pension fund may require an annuity to be purchased and/or not allow benefits to pass to loved ones on death
  • Your current plan may not have provision for Pension Freedoms like cash free from 55 years of age
  • You are 55 or over and need funds (perhaps from your tax-free lump sum in your pension) but your existing plan won’t allow this

For more information about the advantages and disadvantages of transferring your pension funds take a look at our detailed article here.

It is a legal requirement to seek professional advice if you want to transfer your pension pot and you are:

  • A member of a defined benefits pension scheme and your fund is worth more than £30,000

Or

  • A member of a defined contributions scheme where the fund is worth more than £30,000 and you are entitled to a guaranteed annuity rate.

If you do not fall into either of the above categories but still want advice on transferring your pension funds, get in touch and we can arrange for a specialist to contact you directly.

Pension transfers – who can do what and when?

The feasibility of whether a pension plan transfer is possible will largely depend on the type of pension you currently hold, as explained below.

Can I transfer my defined benefit pension?

Yes, it’s possible but only with certain schemes. Unfunded defined benefit pensions, such as those offered to teachers, police and NHS employees do not allow transfers under any circumstances.

Of all the different types of pensions available in the UK, transferring out of a defined benefit (also known as final salary) scheme represents the largest risk of being worse off as a result, due to the level of benefits available to members and their families.

For example, a transfer from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution scheme means you are exchanging pension funds that guarantee an income for life once you retire and a commuted pension for your spouse when you die (assuming that an ‘expression of wishes’ has been completed).

A defined contribution scheme cannot offer such security nor can it guarantee the fund value will not fall as well as rise due to its reliance on the performance of the underlying assets of the fund.

Can I transfer my defined contribution pension?

Yes, this is possible. Before deciding to proceed with any transfer of pension funds it’s important to scrutinise the features and perks of each scheme to ensure you’re not missing out on any benefits.

For example, it’s quite common in a UK pension scheme for your employer to make regular contributions in addition to your own. However, these payments would be lost with a transfer to another provider but only if this was an ongoing pension. If it were frozen/dormant, then this would not be the case. 

If you have a number of different pension funds it may feel easier to manage them all within the same pot. However, you need to be sure these funds will not incur any significant fees or charges by transferring them all to one provider.

Can I transfer my SIPP pension?

Yes, you can transfer your SIPP to another provider. It may be that you have identified a provider who offers a wider variety of investment asset classes or more sophisticated software to allow you to switch and monitor your pension fund.

In keeping with the nature of these types of UK pensions you can transfer between providers by yourself rather than using the services of a professional advisor. However, if you would prefer to speak with a SIPP specialist, make an enquiry and we can arrange for someone to get in touch.

Can you transfer Stakeholder pensions?

Yes, you can transfer stakeholder pensions to other providers. Of all the different schemes available in the UK, stakeholder pensions are regarded as the most portable and should not incur any charges for transfers going out or coming in.

Transferring pension plans is quite a complex affair, if you get in touch we can arrange for a pensions expert to contact you to discuss your own scheme and whether a transfer is the best thing to do.

How to transfer your pension fund

If you’ve decided you definitely want to transfer your pension to a new provider of a similar scheme or a different type of pension altogether, the procedure for transfer of a pension account will differ depending on what scheme you have.

Not every UK pension provider will accept transfers, therefore, it’s important you check that this is possible before proceeding.

How to transfer out of a defined benefit pension

If you are no longer in the pensionable service of an employer where you were a member of a defined benefit scheme you have a statutory right to transfer your pension benefits to another scheme.

To transfer out of a defined benefit (DB) pension you first need to inform the scheme trustees of your decision and request a statement of entitlement (usually in writing). They will then convert the benefits you’ve accrued at that point into a cash sum called a cash-equivalent transfer value (CETV).

The trustees will send your statement of entitlement within three months of receiving your request, which will include your CETV. For DB schemes the CETV is guaranteed for three months during which time you will need to decide whether to go ahead with the transfer of your pension account or not.  

Once you’ve decided to go ahead the CETV must be transferred by the trustees within six months of receiving your request. Your CETV can be transferred into a:

  • Employer pension scheme
  • Personal pension
  • SIPP
  • Stakeholder pension

If your pension fund is worth more than £30,000 then a scheme trustee will need confirmation you have taken professional advice before they are able to authorise any transfers.

It’s an advisor’s responsibility to outline the key differences between a DB pension and the new scheme you want to transfer into, including all the inherent risks attached with this course of action.

Why would someone want to transfer out of a defined benefit pension scheme?

Following the changes introduced in April 2015, allowing for much more freedom with how pensions can be utilised in retirement, there has been a steep rise in the number of transfers out of defined benefit (DB) schemes and into defined contribution plans.

The flexibility of income drawdown in retirement, highlighted in this article here has made such transfers much more appealing to DB members.

Other reasons typically given for transferring out of DB pensions include:

  • Allowing access to pension funds sooner (from age 55)
  • Adequate retirement provision already in place
  • Inheritance planning
  • Concerns that DB scheme may go bust
  • Employer incentive

Existing DB members receiving enhanced transfer values from an employer as an incentive to move out of their schemes are also becoming more common as companies struggle to cover existing pension commitments. This is due to annuity rates being so low, meaning that it is costing the schemes more that the moment to buy an annuity to meet the monthly payments. 

These enhanced values can either be transferred in full to another pension or taken as a cash payment. If taken as cash, they would be subject to income tax and national insurance at the member’s marginal rate.

How do I transfer my defined contribution pension fund?

For defined contribution (DC) schemes the process is quite similar to defined benefits and starts by requesting a statement of entitlement including an up to date fund transfer value from either your scheme administrator or pension provider.

Unlike defined benefits, a DC scheme does not guarantee the transfer value for three months and it can still continue to fluctuate in line with the performance of the underlying assets.

If you decide to proceed your provider has six months from receiving your request to complete the transfer.  Your DC pension can be transferred to an alternative DC provider (including a SIPP and/or stakeholder pension) or an employer pension scheme.

Remember, if the value of your fund is higher than £30,000 and has the benefit of a guaranteed annuity rate on retirement, you will need to seek professional advice from a pensions expert before the transfer can be completed.

How do I make a pension transfer application?

Before even contemplating making an application its important you seek specialist advice in order to talk through, with a pensions expert, what your plans are and why you want to take this action.

Following this, you should approach your scheme administrator or pension provider, make them aware of your intentions and ask them to explain what their process involves.

Different schemes or providers may have certain bespoke actions or need specific documentation for transferring a pension fund and it’s best to have this information to hand before completing an application.

Transferring pension funds is quite a regular occurrence in the UK, particularly since the new pension freedom rules introduced in 2015. However, care needs to be taken to ensure the transfer is completed properly and is the right course of action.

If you make an enquiry we can arrange for a pensions advisor we work with to contact you to answer any concerns you may have before proceeding with a transfer request.

Can I transfer my UK pension plan overseas?

Yes, if you currently live and work overseas it’s definitely possible to transfer any UK pension benefits to an offshore scheme. This can only happen if the pension scheme you want to transfer your funds into is recognised by HMRC as a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme (QROPS).

To gain QROPS status a scheme must be regulated in the country where it is established and registered for tax purposes. If it does not have QROPS status your provider will not grant permission for the transfer to take place. If it does, the process is the same as for transferring to another UK-based pension.

There are a few extra steps involved if your pension transfer includes any UK contracted-out benefits.

If you’d like to know more about QROPS take a look at our detailed article on pension transfers from the UK to overseas schemes here.

Is it worth transferring a pension if I’m close to retirement?

This depends upon your own circumstances, however, most pension schemes do not allow any transfers within twelve months of your nominated retirement age.

Once you’ve started claiming your pension in retirement certain schemes, such as income drawdown, do allow you to transfer from one provider to another if you’re unsatisfied with the amount of income you’re receiving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here you’ll find the answers to some of the questions we hear most often about pension transfers…

What is critical yield and how does it affect a pension transfer?

A critical yield is a term often used during a transfer from a defined benefit (DB) scheme to a defined contribution (DC) scheme and provides guidance on how much the DC investment funds will need to grow to match what a member would have received from their DB pension.

It is used as an indication of risk and is something an advisor would be expected to cover when discussing the viability of a transfer with a DB scheme member.

What is an in specie pension transfer?

An in specie transfer usually applies to more specialised pension schemes (such as SIPPs). It is a term used when the ownership of an asset previously bought by a scheme member – such as property or shares – transfers across to a pension scheme rather than making a cash payment.

There are some quite specific rules laid out by HMRC for such transactions. If you’re keen to know more, get in touch and we can arrange for a pension expert to contact you and discuss further.

What happens if an employer who operates a defined benefit scheme goes out of business?

This is an ongoing risk for many members of a defined benefit (DB) pension. All employers who operate a DB pension must ensure the scheme has sufficient funds to provide full entitlement to their members.

If your employer goes out of business, leaving insufficient pension funds, as a member you can appeal to the Pension Protection Fund for compensation. If you’re successful it is not guaranteed that you will receive the full amount of your pension benefits.

Why can’t I transfer my pension?

There could be any number of reasons. Perhaps you’re in a scheme that does not permit transfers or want to move your fund to a country that does not have QROPS status. Whatever the reason, your best course of action to seek specialist advice from an independent pensions expert, like the ones we work with.

The could be alternative options that you didn’t consider, so make an enquiry to speak to one of the advisors we work with today.

Can I transfer my pension to my bank account?

You can, although only a quarter of your pension pot can be withdrawn as a tax-free lump sum. The remainder of your funds will be taxed as income.

For example, if you had £80,000 in your pot, you could take £20,000 as a tax-free lump sum. The remaining £60,000, along with any other income earned that year from work or state pension, would make you a higher-rate taxpayer.

An alternative to this bank account option is pension drawdown, where a portion of your money stays invested, and you get a steady stream of income from it. For advice tailored for your situation, contact us today.

Speak to a pension transfer expert

Pension transfers are an area of financial planning where it’s absolutely crucial you make the right choice. Getting it wrong could create issues for your retirement plans which can so easily be avoided with the right guidance and advice.

If you’re considering transferring your pension fund it’s really important you seek professional advice before making a final decision. It may also be a legal requirement.

If you have questions and want to speak to an expert for the right advice, call Online Money Advisor today on 0800 304 7880 or make an enquiry here.

The advisors we work with have a wealth of experience in areas such as this and deal with customers in your situation all the time.