Pension release or pension unlocking

Pension release (also known as pension unlocking) means taking money out of your pension scheme(s) before you retire. Some ways of doing this are legal, others are not. If you’re 55 or over you can legally access the money in your pension schemes(s). But if you are under 55 normally you can only do this if you have very poor health.

Beware of pension scams

You might see adverts which talk about early pension release, pension unlocking or even pension loans.

However, if they say you can unlock your pension before age 55, they are illegal, have hefty charges and are scams which can cost you dearly.

Steer clear.

Here are things to look out for:

  • Being approached out of the blue over the phone or via text message
  • Companies that offer a ‘loan”, ‘saving advance’ or ‘cashback’ from your pension
  • Any reference to ‘loopholes’, overseas investments or creative or new investment techniques
  • Pushy advisers, often unregulated, saying they can help you access your pension before age 55
Don’t get caught out by unlocking your pension before you’re allowed to – Read our guide How to spot a pension scam.

Normal retirement age

The age at which most people start to take money from their pension schemes is set by the rules of the particular:

  • Workplace pension scheme
  • Personal or stakeholder pensions, or
  • The date chosen when the pension started.

The age is often 60 or 65, but could be lower.

If your pension scheme rules allow it, you are legally allowed to start withdrawing money from your pensions from age 55.

However, if the rules of your pension scheme don’t allow this you might have to transfer to another scheme before you can access your money.

Talk to your pensions administrator, trustee or to your employer to find out your options.

Early pension release warning

Think carefully before deciding to take money out early from your pension scheme(s) even if it is legal and your scheme allows it.

You’ll almost definitely receive less than if you had left your pension invested, and you might not leave yourself with enough income to see you through retirement.

The new rules from April 2015 mean you have more choices about how you access your pension pot than you did in the past, so make sure you consider all your options.

Pension unlocking is only suitable for a small number of people and only in some circumstances.

For example if your health is very poor, reducing the time you expect to live.

See our guide Options for using your pension pot for more information.

Deciding if unlocking your pension is right for you

If you’re 55 or over, haven’t reached your normal retirement age, but are still considering accessing some of your pension pot, get answers to the following questions first:

  • What ongoing charges might there be?
  • Do I really need to raise extra cash now?
  • How much would I have to pay an adviser?
  • Would I have to pay penalties if I unlocked my pension?
  • Is there another better way that I could raise the money I want?
  • How much would I have to pay in charges to get my money early?
  • Would the reduced income in future be enough to meet my living expenses?
  • What benefits could I be giving up – for example, ill-health benefits or death benefits?
  • How much retirement income would I get now and how much would I get if I left all the money in my pension until my retirement age?

Take advice

Before proceeding make sure you take advice from a regulated financial adviser.

They have to follow certain rules and must only recommend a product or course of action which is suitable for you.

If you buy without advice you have very little protection if the product turns out to be wrong for you, or even worse, is a scam which loses all your money.

You can find FCA registered financial advisers who specialise in retirement planning in our Retirement adviser directoryopens in new window.

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