Most occupational pension schemes and private schemes can be transferred, but there are restrictions and potential pitfalls. It is not usually worth transferring final-salary or public-sector pension schemes; the benefits are too good to lose. You should only transfer if you have actually left a company: if your current employer contributes to your existing occupational pension scheme, you should not switch. Also it is worth noting that the money in your pension can only be transferred from one pension scheme to another (until you have retired), and not every new pension scheme accepts inward transfers. If your pension pot is very small, it may not be worthwhile switching: you will have to pay charges when you transfer, and some providers impose harsh penalties if you leave their scheme. And, if you are relatively close to retirement, you might not have sufficient time to recover the costs incurred by transferring.
According to the Pensions Advisory Service, the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) is set to publish a consultation paper examining the consolidation of small pension pots. Possible approaches could see your pension pot moving with you when you change your employer; alternatively, when you change your job, your pension pot could be left behind and – unless you decide to opt out – the cash would automatically be transferred to a central aggregator fund. The DWP believes the changes would increase the visibility of pensions saving: instead of seeing several small figures, each individual would be able to view one larger, consolidated figure.
Transferring and aggregating your pension pots might generate significant long-term benefits; however, any decision to do so should be taken for the right reasons. Tread carefully and, above all, take expert advice before making an irreversible decision. Your financial adviser is well-placed to help you with this.
Chartered Financial Planner
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Census Financial Planning is an independent financial planning practice providing a professional and comprehensive financial planning service, located on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland.