Pension information: guide to the basic facts

You might have one or more different types of pension. Understanding which you have is important because it affects the decisions you need to make as you approach retirement.

What type of pension do I have?

What is a pension pot?

‘Pension pot’ refers to a type of pension you build up with pension contributions you and/or your employer make. You’ll have one if you have a ‘defined contribution’ pension which includes workplace, personal and stakeholder pension schemes.

There are three main types of pension:

  • The State Pension
  • Defined benefit pensions
  • Defined contribution pensions

State Pension

Most people get some State Pension. It’s paid by the government and is a secure income for life which increases by at least the rate of inflation each year.

You build up your entitlement to the State Pension by making National Insurance contributions during your working life.

In some cases you can do this even when you’re not working, such as when you’re bringing up children or claiming certain benefits.

From April 2016 a new flat rate State Pension was introduced. For the current tax year 2017/2018 the full new state pension is £159.55 per week. However you may be entitled to more than this if you have built up entitlement to ‘additional state pension’ under the old pre-April 2016 system – or less than this if you were ‘contracted out’ of the additional state pension. For more information see our guide on the State Pension [link].

To be eligible for the full State Pension you will need 35 years NI record.

You’ll usually need at least 10 qualifying years on your national insurance record to qualify.

Defined benefit pension

You’re most likely to have a defined benefit (DB) pension if you work in the public sector or for a large company.

This is a salary-related pension which pays out a secure income for life and increases each year.

The pension you get is based on how long you’ve been a part of the scheme and how much you earn.

You might have a final salary type scheme where your pension is based on your pay when you retire or leave the scheme.

Alternatively you might have a career-average pension where your pension is based on the average of your pay while you were a member of the scheme.

Defined contribution pension

With this type of scheme you build up a pension pot which you can draw a retirement income from. The amount that builds up depends on how much you and your employer (if you are employed) pay into the scheme, how well your investment performs and the level of charges you pay.

Defined contribution (DC) pensions include workplace, personal and stakeholder pension schemes.

Your State Pension choices

Once you’re 4 months away from State Pension age, you can either claim your State Pension or defer it.

Do nothing if you want to defer. Your pension will automatically be deferred until you claim it.

If you decide to defer, your State Pension will increase by 1% for every 9 weeks you defer. This works out as just under 5.8% for every full year. The extra amount is paid with your regular State Pension payment when you finally take it.

Your pension choices if you have a defined benefit pension

Most defined benefit pension schemes have a normal retirement age of 65.

If your scheme allows, you might be able to take your pension earlier but this will reduce the pension you get quite considerably.

Again depending on your scheme, you might be able to defer taking your pension and this might mean you receive a higher income when you do take it.

When you take your pension you’ll usually have to decide whether to take some of it as tax-free cash.

You can take roughly up to a quarter of the value of your pension benefits like this.

Reducing the amount of tax-free cash you take might increase the amount of income you receive.

It is possible to transfer your defined benefit pension to a defined contribution pension which would then allow you to access your pension more flexibly, however consider this option very carefully as you may be giving up very valuable benefits.

Its a good idea to speak to a regulated financial adviser before making a decision to do this. See below for how to find one. Be careful, also, that the scheme you are transferring to is not a scam. See our guide How to spot a pension scam.

Your pension choices if you have a defined contribution pension

Once you reach 55 (or younger if you’re in poor health) you have complete freedom over what to do with your pension pot.

However, the longer you leave your pot to continue building up, the more money you will have to live on in retirement.

To understand the choices for using your pension pot, use Pension Wiseopens in new window – the free and impartial service backed by government.

If you are still unsure of the best option for you, consider taking regulated financial advice. You can find FCA registered financial advisers who specialise in retirement planning in our Retirement adviser directory.

Find out more about your options with our Retirement Income Options tool.

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