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   Pension annuity
  What type of pension funds can buy an annuity?
  Can a tax free lump sum be taken from the whole pension fund?
  Is a retirement income always guaranteed?
  Why is the annuity offered by my provider such poor value compared to an open market option?
  How can an open market option offer a higher income than my provider?
  Could my pension provider offer a competitive enhanced life annuity?
  How ill do you have to be before receiving an impaired life annuity?
  Are there any disadvantages of waiting to take an annuity until later?
  If I don't want a conventional annuity income, are there any other options?
  If I buy an annuity and die shortly afterwards, will there be any money for my beneficiaries?
  Are annuity rates expected to rise in the future?

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What type of pension funds can buy an annuity?
Not every pension arrangement can purchase a pension annuity. A member of an occupational final salary pension scheme is provided an income from the employer based on the final salary and years of service. Although it is possible to transfer from this scheme to a private pension arrangement, this process would be subject to passing the GN11 test.

Certain pension arrangements must buy pension annuities. These include a personal pension, stakeholder pension, retirement annuity policies (RAPs), section 32 policies and free standing additional voluntary contribution (FSAVC) plans. If the pension is an occupational money purchase scheme the scheme trustees can buy an annuity on the members behalf.

Can a tax free lump sum portion be taken from the whole pension fund?
Since Pension Simplification from 6 April 2006, all pensions can commute tax free lump sum on the 25.0% of fund value basis for an occupational final salary and money purchase schemes including the protected rights portion.

There is an absolute limit to the amount of tax free cash as this is subject to the Lifetime Allowance which is a total fund of £1.5 million in the 2006/07 tax year rising to £1.8 million in the 2010/11 tax year. Currently the limit is £1.65 million for the 2008/09 tax year and the maximum 25.0% tax free lump sum that can be taken at retirement is £412,500 with any amount in excess of this figure attracting a tax charge.

The balance of the pension fund must still be used to purchase a pension annuities at retirement. The individual has the option to search for the highest annuity rates using an open market option, however, before making a decision at retirement, learn more about annuities, compare annuity rates and secure a personalised annuity quote offering guaranteed rates.

Privious to A-Day tax free cash could be taken only from the non-protected rights portion with, at the time, the exception being personal pensions taken out before 27 July 1989 where 25% could be taken from the pension fund including protected rights, but excluding transfers in from an occupational pension scheme and that portion of the fund used to purchase a survivors pension or dependants benefits.

Is a retirement income always guaranteed?
Once a pension annuity or purchased life annuity has been bought the income is guaranteed for the life of the annuitant. If this has been established as a joint life annuity, the income will continue at the same income level or as a reduced dependents or survivors pension for the whole of the spouses life.

Further annuity protection is offered by the Policyholder Protection Act 1997 (PPA 97) in the event of the insurance company becomes insolvent. In this case 90% of the income provided is guaranteed.

If phased retirement or pension drawdown has been opted for by the individual, the residual pension fund is likely to be invested in equities or fixed interest securities. In this case the fund value can go down as well as up so the future income is uncertain and could reduce. This also applies to other options such as a unit-linked annuity or open annuities.

Why is the annuity offered by my provider such poor value compared to an open market option?
Providers of pension arrangements have a legal obligation to offer annuities to individuals at retirement, whether they are in this market or not. There is also a compulsion for people to buy a pension annuity with at least 75% of their fund when they do retire and take their pension fund.

As 2/3rds of people retiring buy the pension annuity offered by the provider anyway, even if it is up to 30% less than an open market option from a competitor, pension fund providers do not feel they need to offer good value for money.

How can an open market option offer a higher income than my provider?
Some providers specialise in offering annuity products. They could provide the whole range or specific types of annuities such as a compulsory purchase annuity (pension annuities), purchased life annuity and impaired or enhanced annuity for both pension and life products.

The provider can use the pension annuity market to balance their overall liabilities. For example, all policies involve paying money out at some time in the future, whether they are investments, endowments or life assurance. A disaster at an industrial plant could mean a sudden claim of millions against the providers life assurance if there are many deaths. Pension annuities can provide a large amount of money quickly with a relatively small cost in the short term.

Many providers only offer very competitive annuity rates when they need to improve cashflow, as annuities can attract tens of millions of pounds per month to a single insurance company. This could occur if the provider has a large number of maturing endowments and rather then sell investments (possibly at the wrong time) to pay out the maturing claims, improve some or all of their annuity rates to attract the capital sum to meet these obligations. This could mean offering good rates for a single week only.

When a pension annuity is purchased the provider takes about 4% as a charge initially paying 1% to 1.35% to an intermediary, thereby improving liquidity, and invests the balance. Over time some annuitants die early and do not receive their original capital returned as payments, thereby creating a mortality profit for the insurance company. Some of this is returned to future annuitants in the form of higher annuity rates.

To find the providers that are offering the best rates at any particular moment,individuals must seek an annuities and pension firm offering specialist advice of an independent financial adviser (IFA) that has the qualification K10 (retirement options).

Could my pension provider offer a competitive enhanced or impaired life annuity?
It is unlikely that the existing pension provider can offer a competitive enhanced or impaired life annuity, if they offer one at all. As 2/3rds of people at retirement accept the rate offered by the provider without considering an open market option that could add up to 30% more pension income to a standard annuity, there is little incentive for the provider to be competitive.

There are only a small number of life companies that offer enhanced or impaired life terms and the only way to secure the increased income is to exercise the open market option. In most cases it is possible to get a free quote of the best pension annuity at that time and this could increase the pension income substantially. Once you have purchased an annuity it cannot be changed, so always secure a personalised annuity quote offering guaranteed rates and research your options.

How ill do you have to be before receiving an impaired life annuity?
An individual aged 50 to 75 could be healthy now but due to their lifestyle have a reduced life expectancy. For example, they may have smoked 10 cigarettes per day for the past ten years and could qualify for an enhanced annuity.

May be the individual has been a manual worker most of their working life or lived in a particular location and this could mean they qualify for enhanced terms. For a more serious illness what is important is how this reduces the life expectancy of the individual, even if they can get around and do things today. So for impaired life annuities the medical conditions as well as the age are taken into account by the underwriters.

Are there any disadvantages of waiting to take an annuity until later?
An individual with a personal pension could leave the money until they are aged 75 before having to buy annuities, if they do not need the income, or transfer to a pension drawdown plan, take a tax free lump sum and a smaller flexible income.

There are risks associated with doing this. The equity markets could fall further and thereby erode the pension fund value. The future trend could be that the annuity rates will fall and this would mean a lower income from the pension fund.

Also, by not buying annuities the individual does not benefit from the mortality profit. This means that mortality drag impacts on a pension fund the investment return must be greater, usually by 1% compound each year, in order to match the income produced by an annuity.

If I don't want a conventional annuity income, are there any other options?
This depends on the size of the pension fund on retirement. Other options involve taking some risk and this means a larger fund is required. For example, an individual could transfer a fund, usually recommended to be £100,000 or more, to a pension drawdown plan where a tax free lump sum can be taken immediately. The balance can provide a variable income between Inland Revenue set levels and the fund can be invested in equities for growth.

Other options could be a with-profits annuity or unit-linked annuity where the individual chooses the income from the annuity. A with profits annuity pays at a bonus rate which could go down if the income level chosen is too high, but ultimately the income is smoothed out over time. A unit-linked annuity carry a much higher risk as they are dependent on the performance of the equity market and the annuitant should have other sources of income.

For those with £250,000 or more, an open annuity can offer the greatest flexibility of income for the individual and spouse while they are alive with the opportunity to pass the residual pension fund to their beneficiaries on their death. The underlying assets are invested in equities so there is a higher risk with open annuities. However, due to the large initial investment, an open annuity may be more attractive to people with a self invested personal pensions (SIPPs) plan.

If I buy an annuity and die shortly afterwards, will there be any money for my beneficiaries?
For both a compulsory purchase annuity (or pension annuities) and a purchased life annuity a survivors pension and dependents income can be selected to provide an income for a spouse or children under the age of 18 years.

However, if these options are not selected, then on the death of the annuitant there can be no capital for the beneficiaries. This results in a mortality profit for the life company of which part of the profit is used to improve annuity rates for future annuitants.

It is possible to buy an open annuity where the beneficiaries can receive any residual pension fund on the death of the annuitant but this would require a minimum investment of £250,000, and therefore out of reach for the majority of individuals.

Are annuity rates expected to rise in the future?
The expectation is that annuity rates will remain at their current levels or fall in the future. This is because of a number of economic factors. The rate of inflation in the UK is now under control between the range of 1.5% to 3.0% reducing the yields from investments and gilts which are purchased by the insurance companies to pay annuity income to annuitants.

The UK Government uses the gilt market to raise money to increase public expenditure. It does this by offering attractive rates of interest, but currently this money is not required. The market expectation is that the UK will eventually joint the Euro. As the interest rates in Europe are lower than in the UK, this means that UK interest rates must fall to match that of Europe.

Finally, in the past there was only a single annuities market where the early death of an annuitant resulted in a mortality profit for the other annuity holders. However, these annuitants are now selecting against the insurance companies by opting for an enhanced or impaired life annuity, phased retirement or pension fund withdrawal. This has the effect of reducing the mortality profit and hence the annuity rates.

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