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The true cost of pension freedom

Which? highlights big differences in charges

retired person

Which? research has revealed huge differences in what pension providers are charging people looking to benefit from the pension freedoms.

Big differences in the cost of drawdown

Nearly four months on from the pension reforms, we’ve looked at income drawdown products from 18 companies to find out exactly what it costs to take out your money as you wish. 

We’ve calculated that someone with a pension pot of £50,000, taking 4% a year through income drawdown, could be over £3,000 better off over 10 years if they used the cheapest provider, Fidelity (£4,993), rather than the most expensive, The Share Centre (£8,100).

Someone with a larger pot of £250,000, who withdraws 6% a year, could face charges anywhere between £16,325 (LV), and £26,490 (Scottish Widows) over a decade – a difference of more than £10,000.

Find out more: What is income drawdown? – read our comprehensive guide

A variety of fees and charges

Some pension providers aren’t offering drawdown at all, which means that in coming years millions of people may be forced to transfer to a new company to get flexible access to their cash. However, we found it can be difficult to compare and find the cheapest provider as there are wide variations in how they charge, with some people facing as many as five separate types of fees.

Of the 18 companies who responded to our survey:

  • Six companies charge to set up a drawdown plan; 
  • Seven companies charge an annual fee for using drawdown; 
  • Eight companies charge an annual fee if you have a self-invested personal pension. 

Seven companies charge a simpler, single annual ‘platform fee’, but even on top of this there can be annual management charges and additional fees for certain types of investments.

Those who don’t want to use income drawdown can still take ad-hoc amounts of money from their pension through Uncrystallised Fund Pension Lump Sums (UFPLS), but our research shows this can also lead to hefty charges, particularly with investment brokers. 

Charles Stanley Direct charges £270 for the first withdrawal each year, James Hay charges £100, and Barclays Stockbrokers, Halifax Sharedealing and TD Direct all charge £90. This is compared to Fidelity and Hargreaves Lansdown, and some pension companies, which don’t charge anything at all.

Which? calls for cap on income drawdown charges

The government is looking at making it easier for people to move pension companies, including considering a cap on exit penalties, but we think they could go further to ensure everyone can access their money flexibly without facing excessive fees.

We want the Financial Conduct Authority to work with the industry to simplify charges so it’s easier to compare and for the government to introduce a charge cap for default drawdown products sold by someone’s existing provider.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd said: ‘The old annuity market failed pensioners miserably and the government must ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again with drawdown. With such big differences in cost, and confusing charges that make it difficult to compare, it’s clear more needs to be done to help consumers make the most of the freedoms.

‘We’re campaigning for a cap on charges for drawdown products sold by someone’s existing provider to ensure people get good value for money.’

Our Better Pensions campaign is calling for the government, pension providers and regulators to protect people when they take money out of their pension by:

  • Establishing a government-backed provider to ensure everyone can access a good value, low cost product;
  • Introducing a charge cap for default drawdown products;
  • Safeguarding savings in schemes that go bust.

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