What is a pension? Company pensions

From 2012 onwards, all employers will have to offer a pension to their staff

A workplace (or company) pension is one that's arranged for you by your employer. They work by you paying a percentage of your salary into the pension scheme every payday.

Should I take a workplace pension?

In most cases, the government and your employer contribute to your pension. This is the main reason for people joining company schemes – it's like receiving additional pay from your employer. Contributions aren't liable for income tax, which is another plus. To learn more about how tax affects you, visit the Which? tax calculator.

You can usually take some of your workplace pension as a lump sum when you retire. 25% of that will be tax-free.

Defined contribution pension schemes

Also known as money purchase or DC schemes, these work by your employer selecting a pension provider who will invest the money you pay in. Many schemes operate what is known as a glidepath, moving your money into lower-risk investments as you near retirement so that you can maximise your income.

The amount you get at retirement will depend on:

  • The administration fees charged by the provider
  • How much has been paid in
  • How long you've been paying in for
  • How well the investment has performed

Defined benefit pension schemes

Also known as final salary schemes, these are being phased out in favour of defined contribution pensions. This is because they cost more to administer. They work by promising to pay out a certain amount when you retire, based on your salary - unlike DC schemes, which are based on your contributions.  How the investments perform won't affect what you get.

People who work in the public sector, such as for the NHS, armed forces or police force, tend to be enrolled in final salary schemes. This has led to criticism of public sector pension schemes as being more generous than private sector schemes, and has been cause for reform.

Auto-enrolment

Since 2012, all employers have had to offer a pension scheme to staff. The reason for this is that currently, not all employers provide workplace pension schemes, and also, many employees don't bother to join their company's scheme. Read more about auto-enrolment in our guide, Auto-enrolment and Nest.

All workers who earn above £10,000 a year will be automatically enrolled into a pension. Companies without a scheme of their own can enrol workers into the National Employment Savings Trust (Nest).

What happens to my pension when I change jobs?

If you have left a job, you can transfer your pot to the scheme at your new workplace. However, this can be complicated. If you are transferring out of a defined benefit scheme into a defined contribution scheme, for example, you should consider the fact that you are giving up a promised payment at retirement.

Transferring defined contribution schemes is much easier – you can just take the funds with you. However, it's worth watching out for any exit fees imposed and the annual management charges on the new scheme, which could decrease your pot.

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Last updated:

April 2016

Updated by:

Paul Davies

Which? Limited (registered in England and Wales number 00677665) is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited (registered in England and Wales number 07239342). Which? Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited. Registered office: 2 Marylebone Road, London NW1 4DF.