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  • Writer's pictureJordan White DipPFS

How to transfer an old pension

Updated: Oct 13, 2023



Managing your finances can often feel complicated. But it’s surprisingly easy to transfer a pension (and some pension companies or financial advisers would have you believe it’s quite difficult).


The key thing is to make sure that a pension transfer is 100% right for you before making the move.


As a pension transfer expert, I’ve looked at many pension transfers.


In a hurry? Here are the key bits


  • Compare fees, available investments and any guaranteed benefits of your existing pension vs a new pension.

  • The pension transfer process is started by instructing the pension provider you want to move to.

  • There are typically no costs to transfer a defined contribution pension. But always double check.

  • As you approach retirement, a feature called ‘flexi-access drawdown’ is also important to have.

  • You do not need to pay a professional to help you transfer your defined contribution pension (but you might feel comfortable paying for advice).

  • Be wary of pension providers offering to find your old pensions for a fee.

  • If you have a defined benefit pension valued at over £30,000, you must legally take financial advice before transferring it.

  • The pension transfer process usually takes 4-8 weeks.


What you’ll need to transfer a pension


To transfer a pension to another provider, you’ll need to know a few things.


1) The pension you want to transfer to


For many people, this is their current workplace pension – the one with their current job.

But you might also want to transfer to a SIPP (Self Invested Personal Pension) if you’d like a separate place for moving old pensions to.


If you have Pension A and want to move it to Pension B, you have to ask Pension B to transfer over Pension A.

2) The plan/policy number of the pension you want to transfer


You can easily find this on a valuation statement or on your online pension account. It’s typically a series of numbers and letters. Sometimes it might just be your national insurance number.


3) The existing pension’s name and address


Nowadays, most pension providers are signed up to an online transfer system called Origo. So you should only need to know the name of the pension provider.


If your pension is from a small provider you may also need to manually add the address and phone number. Again, look for these details on a valuation statement.


4) The value of your pension or the amount you want to transfer


As pension values fluctuate all the time, don’t worry too much about this if you want to transfer the whole amount. Just put in the most recent figure you have.


The new pension provider will ask if you want to make a full transfer or a partial transfer.


A full pension transfer is a bit like switching bank accounts – once the transfer is complete, the old pension is closed.


A partial transfer is where you only transfer an amount less than the full value. So, the old pension remains open with anything left in it.


5) The investment you want to choose in the new pension


The new pension provider will need to know where to invest the transfer.


If you’re transferring to an existing pension, you will probably just choose the investment you already have.


If you’re transferring to a brand-new pension, you will need to pick a new investment.


How to instruct a pension transfer


Transferring a pension online is the simplest way to do it.


Have your existing plan number, pension provider name and the amount you want to transfer ready to input.


Go to the website of the pension you want to transfer to. If you already have a pension with this provider, you should be able to find a section within your account to request a transfer from another pension. If you don’t already have a pension, you’ll need to set up a new pension and choose to fund it with a transfer.


Type in the details, including your investment choice, and follow the instructions to confirm the transfer instruction.


That’s it! The pension provider does everything else and it should take around 4-8 weeks.


Things to check before transferring a pension


Think of this as the trifecta of pension transfers: fees, investments and guaranteed benefits.

When deciding where to transfer a pension to, or if a transfer is right at all, you should look at these three key elements of a pension scheme.


If you’re thinking of transferring Pension A into Pension B, then you should compare both to establish if a transfer makes sense.


1) Fees


Pension providers charge an annual management charge. This is basically an administration fee to run your pension plan.


Fees can vary so without doing a comparison, you run the risk of transferring your pension to something more expensive.


On top of annual management charges are fund charges. This is the cost of investing in a particular investment or fund.


Your valuation statement or online account will give you a breakdown of fees. But if you’re in doubt, contact the pension provider.


Ultimately, lower fees mean you keep more of your pension. As a general rule, I’d be cautious of paying over 1% in total fees unless you think you’re getting something very special for that fee.


Fund charges can vary considerably depending on the type of fund. An active fund will cost a lot more than a passive fund, because more work is involved to run it. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get a better return.


2) Investments available


Pension providers vary hugely in the number of investments they offer. Big players like Aviva or Aegon offer thousands of investments. Smaller providers may offer less than 50.


If you’re switching pensions but want to keep a similar type of investment, you may just want to check that specific investment is available with the new provider.


If choice is important to you, then comparing your existing pension with the new one should help decide if a transfer is right for you.


Ideally, look for investments split across different levels of risk. This gives you flexibility going forwards should you want to adjust your investments by taking more or less risk.


This is particularly important the older you are, as adjusting levels of risk when you approach retirement will be necessary.


3) Enhanced or guaranteed benefits of the existing pension


With some old workplace pensions, you may have had some extra benefits included.


It’s important to check if a) you have any such benefits and b) those benefits would be lost if you transferred the pension somewhere else.


This is the sort of question you’ll probably need to speak to your pension provider about.


But it’s very simple, you just need to ask them:

  • Does my pension have any enhanced or guaranteed benefits?

  • If yes, would I lose these benefits by transferring my pension?

In most cases, these benefits are not included. But some much older pensions may have them. So, it’s always best to double check.


Common examples of guaranteed or enhanced benefits include:

  • Enhanced tax-free cash

  • Guaranteed Annuity Rate (GAR)

Pension with enhanced benefits that would be lost on transfer usually mean it’s best to keep them where they are. And in some instances, taking financial advice could be valuable.


How long does it take to transfer a pension?


It usually takes 4-8 weeks to transfer a pension. The time it takes will depend on the providers involved, as some pension providers will have more streamlined processes than others.


Bear in mind that during the transfer process, your pension may be out of the market for a few days, or possibly longer. This means that when the value of your pension is transferred, the funds are sold, transferred to the new provider as cash, and used to buy new funds. Being out of the market for a short period of time is usually not something to worry about with a long-term investment like a pension, but it could mean you miss out on pension gains. On the flip side, if your transfer a pension during a stock market decline, you may benefit from avoiding a reduction in your pension value.


Can I transfer my Defined Benefit pension?


Yes, you have the option of transferring a Defined Benefit pension to a Defined Contribution pension. But remember that the FCA’s general guidance is that you’re better off keeping your Defined Benefit pension because of the guaranteed income it offers.


If you’re thinking of transferring your defined benefit pension, you must legally take advice if it's worth £30,000 or more.

Should I pay to transfer my pension?


In many cases, pension providers will not charge you a specific fee to transfer a pension. You may find that some pensions charge an exit fee for leaving or an initial fee for starting. But that’s related to the investments within the pension.


When you look at a pension statement, you’ll typically see two valuations: a standard valuation and a transfer valuation.


If the transfer valuation is lower than the standard valuation, it implies some sort of cost to transfer it.

That means some of your current pension value will be kept by the pension provider when you transfer it somewhere else.


If you’re taking financial advice regarding your pensions, a financial adviser may charge you a one-off fee for a pension transfer. But this fee is mostly for research and admin involved in establishing if a pension transfer is right for you.


Be wary of any companies offering to transfer your pension quickly for a cost. This guide has shown you that you’re able to transfer your pension by yourself without too much hassle or expertise.


Summary


If you've decided you want to transfer your pension, it is surprisingly simple to do.


Follow the guidance I've given you and ensure you've considered everything I've mentioned.


Pension transfers done properly can be a valuable part of retirement planning.



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