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Civil Service Pension Scheme explained

This guide explains how the Civil Service Pension Scheme works - from how much you need to pay in to what you'll get when you retire.

In this article
What is the Civil Sevice Pension Scheme? Which Civil Service Pension Scheme applies to me? How much do I contribute to the Civil Service Pension Scheme? How much does the Civil Service Pension Scheme pay?
What happens to my Civil Service Pension when I die? What happens to my Civil Service Pension if I have a career break? Get expert answers to your pension questions

What is the Civil Sevice Pension Scheme?

The Civil Service Pension Scheme covers staff of employers made up of government departments and non-departmental public bodies, such as museums, commissions and other organisations. 

The type of pension you get from the Civil Service depends on when you joined, but it's one of the most generous of its kind. Known as a 'defined benefit' pension, civil servants get paid a retirement income based on the salary they had during their career. 

The Civil Service Pension Scheme has been through many permutations over the years, with the latest version of the scheme introduced in April 2015.

This guide explains exactly what you need to know about the Civil Service Pension Scheme, telling you how much you pay in, what you get back and worked examples throughout which explain how the schemes work. 

 

Which Civil Service Pension Scheme applies to me?

The scheme has five final salary sections: Classic, Classic Plus, Premium, Nuvos and Alpha.

Up to 30 September 2002, the only pension offered was the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS). On 1 October 2002, a new scheme, called 'Premium', was introduced and the old scheme was renamed ‘Classic’.

Members could either stay in the old scheme or join the new one. There was also a third option, Classic Plus, which is a hybrid of Classic and Premium.

Nuvos was the scheme offered to new joiners from 30 July 2007 until the latest version, Alpha, began from April 2015

Since 2002, new entrants have also had the option of joining Partnership, which is a defined contribution pension scheme with employer contributions. 

The Partnership scheme doesn't pay you an income based on your salary while you were working as a civil servant. Instead, your pension contributions are invested in a pot, with which you can generate an income in retirement. You can find out more about this in our guide to 'what can I do with my pension pot?'.

The different final salary arrangements are as follows:

 

Classic

 

This is a defined benefit occupational pension scheme, and your payout from the scheme is based on your final salary while you were working. 

It has a scheme pension age, the age at which you can collect your pension, of 60, but you do not have to retire at this age.

The Classic scheme was contracted out of the state second pension (S2P) between 1978 and 2016, which means you will have paid lower rates of National Insurance contributions and, therefore, won't have built up entitlement to the additional state pension, instead getting a higher private pension.

This will have an impact on the amount of state pension you get - your state pension could be lower, to reflect the fact that you're getting a bigger private pension. Find out more in our guide to 'how much state pension will I get?'.

 

Classic Plus

 

This is a defined benefit occupational pension scheme based on your final salary. It is actually a combination of two schemes - the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme, which ran until 30 September 2002, and the Premium scheme, which ran from 1 October 2002.

  • It has a scheme pension age, the age at which you can collect your pension, of 60, but you do not have to retire at this age.

The Classic Plus scheme was contracted out of the state second pension (S2P) between 1978 and 2016, which means you will have paid lower rates of National Insurance contributions and, therefore, won't have built up entitlement to the additional state pension, instead getting a higher private pension.

This will have an impact on the amount of state pension you get - your state pension could be lower, to reflect the fact that you're getting a bigger private pension. Find out more in our guide to 'how much state pension will I get?'.

 

Premium

 

This is a defined benefit occupational pension scheme, and your payout is based on your final salary while you were working.

It has a scheme pension age, the age at which you can collect your pension, of 60, but you do not have to retire at this age.

The Premium scheme was contracted out of the state second pension (S2P) between 1978 and 2016, which means you will have paid lower rates of National Insurance contributions and, therefore, won't have built up entitlement to the additional state pension, instead getting a higher private pension.

This will have an impact on the amount of state pension you get - your state pension could be lower, to reflect the fact that you're getting a bigger private pension. Find out more in our guide to 'how much state pension will I get?'.

 

Nuvos

 

This is a defined benefit occupational pension scheme, and your payout is based on a ‘career average’ calculation, which is the average of your salary over the course of your career.

It has a scheme pension age, the age at which you can collect your pension, of 65, but you do not have to retire at this age.

People who joined the civil service for the first time on or after 30 July 2007 will have joined the Nuvos scheme. 

 

Alpha

 

This is a defined benefit occupational pension scheme, and your payout is based on a ‘career average’ calculation, which is the average of your salary over the course of your career.

It has a scheme pension age, the age at which you can collect your pension, equivalent to your State Pension Age. Find out what this is using our state pension age calculator.

Many members were switched to the Alpha scheme in April 2015, which is slightly less generous than the other schemes and has a later retirement age.

If you were a member of Classic, Classic Plus or Premium who was under 46 years and seven months on 1 April 2012, or a member of Nuvos who was under 51 years and seven months, then you moved over to Alpha.

How much do I contribute to the Civil Service Pension Scheme?

No matter what part of the Civil Service Pension Scheme you're in, you make the same contributions. But the amount you contribute varies depending on how much you earn. 

The contribution rates for the period between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019 are:

Annualised rate of
pensionable earnings
Contribution rate
£0 to £15,000 4.60%
£15,001 to £21,636 4.60%
£21,637 to £51,515 5.45%
£51,516 to £150,000 7.35%
£150,001 and above 8.05%

How much does the Civil Service Pension Scheme pay?

The different schemes will pay out on a slightly different basis. Our examples will help you work out what you’ll get.

There are a couple of bits of pension jargon to watch out for here. 

Most of the calculations are based on 'pensionable earnings', i.e. all earnings that could count towards your pension. They may include non-cash items, such as uniforms or accommodation.

They also use your 'reckonable service' - this is the amount of time you've been working for the Civil Service and eligible for the pension it offers. 

 

Classic

 

The Classic pension is worked out as follows: (pensionable earnings x reckonable service)/80. 

For example, Jane has pensionable earnings of £20,000, and reckonable service of 30 years.

Her final annual pension would be (£20,000 x 30)/80 = £7,500 a year, or £625 a month before deductions.

 

Premium

 

The pension is worked out as 1/60 of final pensionable earnings for every year of reckonable service in the scheme. 

For example, John has 20 years’ of reckonable service, and his final pensionable earnings are £18,000 a year. 

John's annual pension would be 1/60 x 20 x £18,000 = £6,000 a year, or £500 a month

 

Classic Plus

 

The pension works in two parts.

You receive 1/80 of final pensionable earnings for each year of reckonable service in the scheme before 1 October 2002 and 1/60 of final pensionable earnings for every year of reckonable service in the scheme from 1 October 2002. 

This makes the calculation of what you'll get a bit more complex.

For example, Jeff retires after 30 years’ service, of which 20 years were in the Classic scheme (before 1 October 2002) and 10 years were in Premium (from 1 October 2002). 

His final pensionable earnings are £60,000 a year. The pension is made up of two elements, worked out as follows: 

Classic service (1/80 x 20) x £20,000 = £15,000 

Premium service (1/60 x 10) x £20,000 = £10,000 

Jeff's total annual pension will be £25,000 a year, or £2,083 a month

 

Nuvos

 

The Nuvos scheme is quite different from the other Civil Service schemes. 

Your final pension income is built up in blocks every single year, and increased by inflation to keep up with the cost of living. The amount you get to retire on will be the sum of all of these blocks, plus the annual inflation increases. 

With the Nuvos scheme, your pension will build up at the rate of 2.3% of your pensionable earnings every year.

Here's an example. Jenny has pensionable earnings of £18,000. So, 2.3% of her salary is added to her pension, equivalent to £414 a year. 

The following year, Jenny gets a pay rise, and her pensionable pay goes up to £20,000. So, £460 is added to her pension. 

The pension Jenny earned in the previous year has been increased by 2.5%, in line with rises in the cost of living.

So, after two years, Jenny has a pension worth £884.35 a year. That consists the £414 Jenny earned in her first year in the pension scheme that has increased to £424.35, plus the £460 that is added in her second year.

 

Alpha

 

The Alpha pension is worked out on the same basis as Nuvos, but with a slightly higher 'accrual rate' - the proportion of your income that is put into the pension -  of 2.32%.

The downside is that the age at which you can collect your pension is not fixed at 65. Instead, it is tied to your state pension age, which is rising to 66 from between January 2019 and October 2020.

What happens to my Civil Service Pension when I die?

Final salary pensions have the huge benefit of passing on your retirement savings to your beneficiaries. 

 

Classic

 

Death while still working 

Your beneficiaries receive a lump sum worth two times your pensionable pay. Your spouse or civil partner will get 50% of an 'enhanced' pension.

You can find out more about how this works on the Civil Service Pension Scheme website.

Death after you retire

Your beneficiaries receive a lump sum if you die within five years of retiring. It is worked out as the difference (if any) between five times your annual pension on the date of death and the total pension and lump sum payments already received.

Your spouse or civil partner will get 50% of your pension.

 

Classic Plus

 

Death while still working 

Your beneficiaries receive a lump sum worth three times your pensionable pay.

Your spouse or civil partner will get 50% of pension based on your service before 1 October 2002 and 37.5% of your pension based on your service from 1 October 2002. 

Death after you retire

Your beneficiaries will get two years’ worth of the pension you've accrued based on your service before 1 October 2002, plus five years’ worth of the pension you've accrued based on your service from 1 October 2002, less any pension you have already received.

Your spouse or civil partner will also get 50% of pension based on your service before 1 October 2002 and 37.5% of your pension based on your service from 1 October 2002.

This will be based on the full amount of your pension – in other words, before any reduction for using part of your pension to buy a lump sum.

 

Premium

 

Death while still working 

Your beneficiaries receive a lump sum worth three times your pensionable pay.

Your spouse or civil partner will also get a pension, but it will be calculated differently to yours. The pension is worked out as 1/160 of final pensionable earnings for every year of reckonable service in the scheme. The pension scheme will add extra years if you die in service, up to 10 years.  

So, say you worked for the civil service for 20 years, and your final salary was £30,000. Your pension would be 1/60 x 20 x £30,000 = £10,000 a year. 

If you died while still working, your spouse could get an extra 10 years of reckonable service. Their pension would be 1/160 x 30 x £30,000 = £5,625 a year.

Death after you retire

If you die within five years of starting to receive your pension, your beneficiaries will be paid a lump sum, equivalent to the amount of pension that would have been payable during the remainder of the five years, if it had continued at the annual rate in payment on the date of death.

Your spouse or civil partner will get a pension after you die. It is the same as above, but without the enhancement. In the same scenario, your spouse's pension would be 1/160 x 20 x £30,000 = £3,750 a year.

 

Nuvos

 

Death while still working 

Your beneficiaries receive a lump sum worth two times your pensionable pay.

Your spouse or civil partner will also get a pension. It is based on 37.5% of the pension you would have received, based on enhanced service.

How this is calculated is quite complicated. The scheme will take the amount of pension you've accrued until your time of death, and multiply it by the number of years left until you reached 65, or 10, whichever is lower. It will then divide this figure by the number of years you've been in the pension scheme.

It will add this amount to your pension, and your spouse will get 37.5% of that amount. 

See, it's complicated. Here's an example.

Joan has been in the Nuvos scheme for 25 years and built up £20,000 in her pension. She dies at age 55.

First, the scheme will enhance Joan's pension. The calculation will be 10 x £20,000/25 = £8,000. This is added to the £20,000 Joan had built up to give £28,000.

Joan's spouse will receive 37.5% x £28,000 = £10,500 a year. 

Death after you retire

If you die within five years of starting to draw the pension, the scheme will pay a lump sum representing the balance of five years’ pension (including any added pension bought) to the person or people you have named.

Your spouse or civil partner will also get a pension. It will be worth 37.5% of the pension you receive. 

 

Alpha

 

Death while still working 

Your beneficiaries receive a lump sum worth two times your pensionable pay.

Your spouse or civil partner will also get a pension. It is based on 37.5% of the pension you would have received, based on enhanced service. We've described this in detail in the 'Nuvos' section, above. 

Death after you retire

Your beneficiaries will receive a lump sum worth five times your annual pension including any adjustments based on prices, minus any pension and lump sum already received before death. 

Your spouse or civil partner will also get a pension. It will be worth 37.5% of the pension you receive. 

 

What happens to my Civil Service Pension if I have a career break?

Classic, Classic Plus and Premium

If you take a career break you will not build up any reckonable service during your absence and you will not have to pay contributions.

You will therefore not build up any pension for the duration of your career break. If you return you will return to whichever scheme you were a member of when you left.

Nuvos

 

If you are not paid, you will not build up any pension and you cannot pay contributions while on a career break.

 

Alpha

If you re-join Alpha after leaving, and also have some service in the other Civil Service Pension Schemes (Classic, Classic Plus, Premium, or Nuvos), how your pension is treated will depend on:

  • whether or not you have preserved benefits
  • how long your break was.

Get expert answers to your pension questions

Our Which? Money Helpline experts can give you independent one-to-one guidance on all kinds of pension queries. If you're not a Which? member and you'd like to get unlimited access to the helpline, you can try Which? Money for two months for £1.

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