Many savers are apparently moving money out of pension pots into other savings vehicles, which could be ‘disastrous’. Photograph: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images/Cultura RF
The TUC has warned that millions of workers risk being “plunged into insecurity in old age” after an official report revealed a surge of people grabbing their pension cash early without taking advice.
More than two years after the government brought in a range of pension freedoms, the Financial Conduct Authority concluded that accessing pension pots early had become “the new norm”. The regulator warned that early intervention may be needed to ensure this multibillion-pound market worked well.
The FCA’s study of the retirement market also found that in more than half of the cases where all the money was taken out of a pension pot, the cash was not spent on cars or holidays, etc; instead it was shifted into other savings or investments, partly because of a “mistrust of pensions”.
For many people the freedoms introduced in April 2015 effectively abolished the requirement to convert a pension pot into an annuity – a product that provides an income for life. Instead, older people are free to do whatever they like with their retirement cash – although those withdrawing large sums may well incur a considerable tax bill. Earlier this year it emerged that the reforms had raised five times more tax for the Treasury’s coffers than was originally forecast, suggesting that people were withdrawing larger sums than expected.
The FCA found that almost three-quarters (72%) of the pots accessed since the freedoms came in were held by people under 65. Most are choosing to take lump sums rather than a regular income. Meanwhile, more than half (53%) of the pots accessed had been fully withdrawn.
“Several factors motivated consumers to access their savings early, including a perception that ‘everyone is doing it’ and a general climate of mistrust,” stated the report. Meanwhile, moving cash from a pension into another savings or investment vehicle “can result in consumers paying too much tax, missing out on investment growth or losing out on other benefits”.
The report also found that income drawdown, which allows savers to take out regular amounts of money while the majority of their savings remain invested, had become much more popular. However, the proportion of drawdown plans bought without advice leapt from 5% before the freedoms to 30% now. “Drawdown is complex … There is a question about whether further support and protection is needed to manage drawdown effectively,” said the FCA.
Responding to the findings, Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “This is a damning verdict on so-called ‘pensions freedom’. Workers who are facing insecurity in their working lives now risk being plunged into insecurity in old age. Savers are increasingly dipping into their pots early. And others are following the path of least resistance and risk buying rip-off products.”
Moving retirement cash into other investments “can have disastrous long-term consequences”, said investment firm Old Mutual Wealth. Another firm, Retirement Advantage, said that to do this was “frankly bonkers”.