Worried about pensions

Pension flexibility – understanding the benefits and the risks

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The pandemic may have led many people in their mid-50s and over to rethink their retirement plans with people being furloughed, or made redundant as businesses downsized or closed for good, but  now that the economy has re-opened, those plans may have been put on hold.

Since 2015, the introduction of pension freedoms has been a huge benefit for the over 55s, allowing thousands of people to draw income from their pensions flexibly. A pension now offers the ability to take a more phased approach to retirement rather than buying your income all in one go, such as with an annuity. This emerging trend is seeing more people gradually reduce their working hours, blending a balance of work and leisure time to maximise their income and the benefits they may receive.

You may be tempted to access an income from your pension where you have been prudent to build up a retirement pot over your working life, however, if this is being considered, the right advice and support is crucial. In certain circumstances, this could help someone through a crucial period. There is then the potential to reduce or even switch the income off again once personal income or business revenue is back to normal. Equally, taking this approach, depending on someone’s circumstances, could be the wrong thing to do, hence why advice and support around this area of financial planning is crucial.

Risks of making early pension withdrawals

While there can be benefits of making early pension withdrawals, there are also consequences to consider. It is therefore vitally important that advice is sought to understand all the pros and cons. A pension accessed sooner could run out more quickly. Typically your money is invested in a mixture of assets including equities and over the last two years we have experienced some extreme fluctuations in stock markets: the first was in March 2020 as the world ‘shutdown’ due to the COVID pandemic, the second, and more recent initial fall relates to the invasion in Ukraine by Russia. Therefore, your pension pot could have fallen in value, giving you a smaller pot to draw from, and if you planned to retire at 65 but start to take your pension at 55, the pot will have to last longer.

“Sequencing Risk” is the risk that investment returns are lower than expected (or even negative) in the early stages of drawdown, meaning that your capital (the invested sum) is eroded faster than expected. This puts you at risk of running out of money.

The main attraction of drawdown is the control it gives you. So even while the markets may feel uncertain, don’t forget you can regain some certainty by switching-up your investment decisions.

Another downside to accessing a pension early is limiting the potential to make future sizeable pension contributions. Your annual allowance (the total you can pay into all pensions per year) drops from potentially up to £40,000 down to £4,000. Additionally, taking withdrawals from a pension count as income and are taxed as income, therefore any action in respect of accessing a pension pot does need careful financial planning, advice, and support. 

Tailoring your pension income

The flexibility that pension freedoms provide does mean that older workers can tailor their pension income to their individual requirements, giving rise to a new work/life balance. 

Pension freedoms have allowed many people aged 55 or over to throw off the shackles of traditional retirement and follow a plan that suits their individual needs and circumstances. While historically people benefitted from generous final salary pensions, one drawback of these was that they didn’t offer the same flexibility to decide how and when to take benefits, however, they did and still do, offer extremely valuable secure income.

Flexible access to pensions has changed the way people think about their retirement and is now enabling the rise of a more flexible transition into later life, including allowing people to choose to start accessing some retirement savings to support a reduced working pattern. However, not all schemes will allow this flexibility, especially older style personal pensions. This is another reason why seeking advice from a regulated financial adviser is vitally important.

At Armstrong Watson, our quest is to help our clients achieve prosperity, a secure future and peace of mind. We provide personalised financial planning to suit your individual circumstances. We may be able to help you explore options you hadn’t previously considered, or prevent you from making mistakes in what can be a complex area of financial planning. We will explain, in a jargon-free way, the pros and cons of different courses of action available to you and then, where appropriate, provide regular reviews to help keep you on track.

At Armstrong Watson, our quest is to help our clients achieve prosperity, a secure future and peace of mind. We provide personalised financial planning to suit your individual circumstances. We may be able to help you explore options you hadn’t previously considered, or prevent you from making mistake in this what can be a complex area of financial planning. We will explain, in a jargon-free way, the pro’s and con’s of different courses of action available to you and then, where appropriate, provide regular reviews to help keep you on track. 


For more information or pension advice, please contact Marcus Dodds on 07584 294529 or email marcus.dodds@armstrongwatson.co.uk

Using your Pensions in Retirement

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