Showing posts with label Financial Service Authority. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Financial Service Authority. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pension Liberators Prey on UK People Feeling the Pinch

The UK financial crisis rumbles on. After the 'great recession' of 2008-2009 it was speculated that the financial stability of the UK would recover and technically the country would be out of the recession by the first quarter of 2012. 

But the economic recovery has failed to gain traction and the UK now finds itself in the longest financial downturn slump in more than a century.

The UK government has commenced savage cuts in public spending and average UK household debt is one of the worst and spiralling. In fact, nearly one in five people in the UK who plan to retire in 2013 have unpaid credit cards and mortgage debts. This equals an alarming number of middle-aged people within the UK population who are finding themselves desperately trying to keep the wolves from the door with limited financial weapons to choose from. But, there is one metaphorical pot of gold that many are turning to.

For those that have saved for their retirement into a personal or company pension, tapping into that pension pot can seem like an easy way out to clear that financial burden. But in reality, invading those pension savings before the age of 55 in the UK can have severe consequences in terms of financial comfort during retirement and can also land people in hot water with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) - the UK taxman.

Unscrupulous, unregulated individuals and marketing companies have been conning hard-up pension savers with "Pension Liberation Schemes". These schemes are unauthorised by the Financial Services Authority (the regulatory body in the UK for all Financial Advisors and Services). These schemes let pension savers "borrow" from their pension, before the age of 55 - which is the age that retirees can draw their pension.

These advisors and companies contact their victims usually via text message, emails or cold calling. They offer a "too good to be true" offer. They fail to explain the consequences of their scheme, which can leave people in financial ruin when they actually reach retirement. They take control of your pension fund, put it into a corporate bond and lend half of its value back to the victim...which must be repaid along with interest before retirement. They also charge hefty fees of between 10 to 50 percent of the fund value. HMRC will also require the victim to pay tax...but rarely do these scam advisors tell the individual this. This leaves the victim with a significant tax bill as well as penalty charges if they fail to disclose it to HMRC from the outset.

UK authorities are desperately trying to tackle pension liberation fraud, as are many pension providers - in the form of suspending transfers into schemes of which they are suspicious. However there are many people still being caught out.

Pension unlocking however is a perfectly acceptable way to utilise cash in a pension. From the age of 55, UK pension savers can take a tax-free cash lump sum from their pension of up to 25 percent of the total fund value which can be used to clear expensive debts. The remaining pension can then be either used to purchase an annuity, or one of a handful of other options designed to provide an income in retirement such as an income drawdown pension.

Above all it is important that people seek professional advice from regulated experts that specialise in post-retirement income. have a wealth of experience in UK annuities and pension transfers. Their website offers a wealth of information including the different options available and an annuity rates calculator. A UK regulated company will be able to provide their FSA number which can be verified.

Regardless of the options, a decision to raid pension savings should never be taken lightly and in reality should really be used as a last resort where debts are crippling and the economic benefit of paying them off with a tax free cash lump sum far outweighs the benefits of leaving the pension pot to grow until the saver stops working. In the UK, the state pension age is between 61 and 68, however individuals can continue working past UK state pension age if they wish. Even the perfectly legal practice of pension unlocking in the UK, will inevitably leave the individual with significantly less income in retirement than if the pension fund remained untouched.

Some questions that should start alarm bells ringing with any individual who has been approached by one of these pension liberation schemes, are as follows:

  • Are you a UK citizen aged under 55? 
  • Were you contacted by an unsolicited, email, text or cold call? 
  • Is the advisor or company regulated in the UK by the FSA and can you verify this? 
  • Have you recently left the UK Armed Forces, work in the UK Public Sector or have you recently been declared bankrupt? 
  • Is this scheme registered or newly registered with HM Revenue and Customs? 
  • Has the advisor or company mentioned "legal loophole"? 
  • Are you being pressured into transferring your pension quickly? 

In December 2011, the UK High Court ruled that schemes allowing savers to access their saved pension funds before the age of 55 are illegal. There are extenuating circumstances where individuals may be allowed to access before the 55 year old threshold and this is usually in the case of a diagnosed terminal illness.

Author Bio

Lee Rawding is an Independent Financial Advisor in the UK who specialises in post-retirement income options and pension annuities.

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