An appointment with Pension Wise: Part 1
A 3 minute read
In which your intrepid pension adventurer takes up her Pension Wise guidance appointment.
Did you know there’s a free government service designed to help you understand your retirement options?
There is, and it’s called Pension Wise. If you’re over 50 you can have a free appointment with an adviser for guidance about your pension options.
I’ve never heard of Pension Wise!
You’re not alone. Pension Wise’s most recent evaluation report found just under half the people who are entitled to a free guidance appointment had never heard of Pension Wise.
The Financial Conduct Authority has now suggested pension providers should offer to book Pension Wise appointments for their customers. And there’s a new TV advert trumpeting the benefits.
So what’s it like getting an appointment with Pension Wise? Your intrepid pension explorer decided to find out. To avoid this being the world’s longest blog post, I’m going to split it into two parts.
Part 1: how to use Pension Wise
Where is it?
It’s part of the government’s MoneyHelper service. You’ll find it on the internet at moneyhelper.org.uk/en/pensions-and-retirement/pension-wise
What’s on the website?
- You can find out whether the pensions you’ve got are defined benefit (DB) or defined contribution (DC).
- There’s a calculator you can use to estimate how much you might have when you retire, and how this could change if you pay more into your pension savings.
- Each retirement income option has its own page, with calculators you can use to get an idea of how much income each one could give you.
- And there’s a nice clear table about the tax implications of each option.
How do you book a guidance appointment?
You can do it online, or you can call 0800 138 3944 for an appointment if you prefer to do that. Most of the appointments are by phone, although in non-Covid times they also offer face-to-face appointments through Citizens Advice.
I found it was easy to book an appointment online and pick a convenient date and time. And they sent me a couple of reminders, by email and text, before my call.
Remember: you have to be over 50 to book a guidance appointment.
But I’m not 50 yet!
Great – you’ve got more time to plan your retirement. And Pension Wise still has a lot to offer you. Just visiting the website will make you better-informed about pensions and retirement than you were before.
Serious about privacy
What to expect
The adviser explained how the call would go. They would:
· ask me questions about my pension savings
· go through the six main options
· give more detail on any I was particularly interested in.
Afterwards they’d send me a general summary of the main points, including any useful web addresses that were mentioned during the call.
The adviser recommended taking notes (which I was going to anyway). They stressed this is impartial guidance, so they can’t recommend anything. The call was expected to take 45-60 minutes, but that they would try to be quicker.
What kind of pensions?
They began by asking me about my pensions. Pension Wise only gives guidance about DC pensions (the ones that build up based on contributions and investments). My adviser made this clear and explained this covers all personal and (nowadays) most workplace pensions.
They took some time to explain the difference between DB and DC which I thought was good. They also explained that some long-standing DC pensions can have guarantees that make them behave more like DB.
They asked if I knew how much State Pension I would get. Fortunately, as you’ll know if you’ve read my other blogs, I’d already checked this. They pointed out that, if I was to come up short on my State Pension, I might get Pension Credit if I haven’t got any other savings.
They also asked what other savings, mortgages and other debts I had. They also explained that if I needed to claim means-tested State benefits, any pension savings I hadn’t touched yet would be ignored.
Serious ill health
Here’s something I didn’t know. Serious ill health has a specific meaning. If you’re under 75 with a ‘life-limiting’ condition that means your life expectancy is less than a year, you can cash in your whole pension pot, however much it is, without paying any tax. And there’s no minimum age - you don’t have to be old enough to draw a pension. It’s the sort of thing you hope you don’t have to do, but it’s good to know it’s there.
Outlining the options
They explained the six options they outline are what’s legally available, but not all pension providers offer all of them.
- Leave your pot untouched – you don’t have to retire just because you’ve got to 65 or whatever. There’s nothing to stop you building up more savings if you want to.
- Guaranteed income – you buy a policy known as an ‘annuity’. You can buy an annuity for life, or for a fixed period of time (at least three years).
- Adjustable income – you put your money into a product called ‘flexi-access drawdown’ and take out as much or as little as you want.
- Cash in chunks. Each time you take cash, a quarter of it will be tax-free.
- Cash in your whole pension pot – again, a quarter will be tax free.
Or you can mix two or more of these options.
In Part 2: more about the guidance I received