Millions of pension savers are receive free and impartial guidance on their retirement options from independent organisations rather than scheme providers, the government announced today.
Setting out the government's response to the consultation on pension changes, Chancellor George Osborne confirmed his intentions to go ahead with the reform, seen as the biggest change to how people access their pension in almost a century.
He said the guidance would be offered through a broad range of channels, including web-based, phone-based as well as face-to-face. The advice will be delivered by the Money Advice Service and The Pension Advisory Service, he said.
From April, the government will also allow savers to take out their money from their pension pots when they reach the age of 55 and spend it as they see fit. Tax penalties will be reduced on those who withdraw their savings in a lump sum and subject to marginal tax rates.
The new rules follow a government consultation on 'how best to deliver the radical changes', announced in the Budget. In March, Osborne unveiled a radical liberalisation of defined contribution pensions when he scrapped a rule forcing people to buy an annuity.
The chancellor said today that he was pleased that responses to the proposals laid out in the consultation had been 'overwhelmingly positive'.
'These reforms create more choices for individuals, and the government wants people to be equipped and ready to make informed decisions,' he said in a ministerial statement.
'Individuals are supporting greater freedom and choice and the pensions and insurance industry [are] ready for the challenge of creating new, flexible products, which better suit individual needs.
'I can also confirm today that a new override will be introduced to ensure that pension schemes are able to offer individuals flexible access to their savings, and the tax rules will be amended to allow providers to develop new retirement income products that are tailored to the needs of individual consumers.'
He also confirmed that changes will be made to allow individuals to transfer from private sector defined benefit schemes to DC pension schemes, depending on two advice conditions being introduced to protect individuals and schemes. He said there will be a new requirement for individuals to take impartial financial advice before a transfer can be accepted and new guidance for trustees on the use of their existing powers to delay transfer payments and take account of scheme funding levels when deciding on transfer values.
Commenting on the Treasury announcement, Association of Consulting Actuaries chair David Fairs said he was pleased that the 'guidance guarantee' would be provided by independent organisations.
The ACA also welcomed the government's commitment to change tax rules so innovative products can be developed.
Fairs also said the government's decision to allow individuals to continue to be able to transfer funds from DB to DC schemes with certain advice conditions was a 'sensible and pragmatic solution and reflects the guidance we gave to government when responding to the consultation'.
Fairs said: 'Banning private sector DB to DC transfers - one of the options in the consultation paper - would have put UK plc at a huge commercial disadvantage with Europe as it would effectively have locked companies into funding for buy-out.'
Actuaries Lane Clark & Peacock added that it was pleased that Treasury concluded that DB to DC transfers can continue.
LCP partner Jonathan Camfield said: 'We expect many employers and trustees of pension schemes to review their retirement options and processes in the run up to April 2015, and most to conclude that it makes sense to offer the new flexibility to their members.'