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No 'mad rush' for pension cash

Published 07/04/2015

Pension savers are resisting the urge to make a "mad rush" for their cash after new flexibilities have come into force, according to financial firms.

Firms taking calls from people keen to make the most of the new retirement freedoms, which started yesterday, said that in general, savers appear to be behaving "reasonably" and are taking time to consider their options.

Richard Parkin, head of retirement for Fidelity Worldwide Investment said call volumes were fairly low over the Easter weekend, although last week had seen a significant increase.

He said: "The Bank Holiday was just the start of the new rules and it is pleasing in some ways that we did not have a mad rush as it may mean people are properly researching their options before making these important decisions."

Mr Parkin continued: "Generally, behaviour seems reasonable with those wanting to cash out completely generally having smaller value pots and those with larger savings just looking to take tax-free cash. We have got a number of sizeable accounts looking to cash out completely but they seem to be the exception at this stage."

The new rules mean the 320,000 people who retire each year with a defined contribution (DC) pension are no longer required to use their pension pot to buy a retirement annuity, which gives a guaranteed regular retirement income.

Instead they can take their pot in one go or use it like a bank account and withdraw cash in slices. People aged 55 and over will only pay their marginal rate of income tax on money they withdraw from their pension and t he first 25% of the pot is generally tax free.

But concerns have been raised that some people may fall prey to scams, run out of money too early, or not realise the tax implications of withdrawing money from their pots.

Fidelity said it had received just under 1,500 calls over the last week from people putting in expressions of interest, of which only around 150 were over the Easter weekend lull.

Fidelity had received another 50 calls by around 10am today. Among Fidelity's DC clients, around one quarter so far have wanted to take their tax-free cash only while three-quarters wanted to cash out completely or take a specific amount of money.

A spokeswoman for Fidelity said while the response to the reforms so far is "encouraging", there have also been calls from people who have misinterpreted the reforms, for example younger people thinking they can cash in their pension or people believing that April 6 was a deadline to take action .

Since last week, Fidelity's call centre has been receiving two to three calls a day from people under the age of 55 who mistakenly think they can access their savings now, including one from a customer who was aged just 23 years old.

Scottish Widows is expecting two years' worth of queries in the next couple of months as people respond to the reforms.

It has taken on extra staff to help deal with the 350,000 extra calls it is expecting and said it received around 400 calls over the Easter weekend. The calls it has received so far have mainly been general enquiries about how the reforms work and from people looking to fully or partially cash in smaller pots.

Scottish Widows said a "retirement planning" page on its website which helps both customers and non-customers to understand the reforms and calculate their retirement income has had 175,000 hits in the last three weeks alone.

Hargreaves Lansdown said it only received a couple of hundred calls yesterday, which it said was unsurprising as "it was a Bank Holiday and the sun was shining".

Over the past year, Hargreaves Lansdown said it has had more than 150,000 requests for information about the new pension freedoms.

It said that around one in 10 calls from investors have been about retirement annuities, just under 8% have been about taking all their pension in one go and just under 7% have been about taking tax-free cash only. More than 40% of calls were asking about drawdown, where a pot is left invested and an income is taken from it.

Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "Initial demand has been focused on an investment income rather than buying an annuity, though we do expect this balance to swing back to some extent in the weeks to come. Relatively few people are asking to take all their money out."

Michael Gunn, a 57-year-old retired chartered accountant from Sidmouth in Devon, was among the first wave of people to start withdrawing amounts from their pension under the new flexibilities. He said yesterday that he will use the money to help repair a church, pay for his daughter's wedding and take his wife on a cruise.

Everyone eligible for the freedoms will be offered free, impartial guidance under the branding Pension Wise.

The service is being delivered face-to-face by Citizens Advice, on the phone by The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) and online by the Government.

More than 750,000 people have visited the Pension Wise website since it opened seven weeks ago and the Pension Wise helpline has handled around 3,600 calls since opening two weeks ago, according to the Treasury.

Around 1,400 people have booked telephone guidance appointments with TPAS and just under 200 people have already had appointments. A further 400 face-to-face guidance sessions have been booked with Citizens Advice.

Pensions minister Steve Webb has said that the Department for Work and Pensions had trained more than 300 staff and he is "confident" adequate capacity is in place.

Urging against any hasty decisions, he said yesterday: "We want people to make informed choices. This isn't a mad scramble rush."

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