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26 Jul 2020

Which? reveals best DIY pension providers

Find out which self-invested personal pension providers have the most satisfied customers and the best-value fees

AJ Bell, Halifax Share Dealing and Vanguard have been rated the best providers for self-invested personal pensions (Sipps) by Which?.

In the wake of the pension freedoms, Sipps have become an increasingly popular way for savers to build and manage their own retirement pot of shares, funds, investment trusts and other assets, often at a cheaper price than traditional pension providers.

To find the best options in the market, Which? surveyed 1,203 people about their Sipp providers and asked them to rate platforms across a range of factors, including investment information and online tools, as well as whether they would recommend it to others.

We also reviewed the core fees that they charged, based on seven different pot sizes.

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What is a Sipp?

A Sipp is a type of personal pension that allows you to choose and manage your own investments, so you'll need to have the time and confidence to do this.

Sipps let you invest in a wider variety of assets, including shares, funds, investment trusts, gilts and, in some cases, commercial property.

As with other pensions, you get 100% tax relief on contributions up to £40,000 a year or your annual salary, whichever is lower.

And when you retire, your options for accessing your money are the same as for other pensions: take a lump sum, buy an annuity, or switch to drawdown - where you can take an income as you wish and leave the rest of your money invested.

AJ Bell and Halifax top the table

AJ Bell and Halifax both received an excellent overall customer score of 72% and have been named Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) alongside newcomer Vanguard, which scored an impressive 70% despite only entering the Sipp market in February this year.

All three providers were rated four stars out of five for their value for money by respondents to our survey.

AJ Bell and Vanguard, in particular, were recognised by Which? as being competitively priced because of low percentage-based platform fees, while Halifax's charging structure means that it's the cheapest selection in our analysis for pots of more than £120,000.

Despite its low-cost offering, Vanguard investors only have access to a limited own-brand selection of funds, not shares or investment trusts.

At the other end of the table, James Hay and Bestinvest received the lowest customer scores (54% and 58% respectively).

Charges vary significantly

Our analysis found that annual costs for a £100,000 pension pot ranged from £180 to £450, while for a pot worth £500,000, switching from the most to the least expensive Sipp would save you £1,570 a year.

Of our WRPs, AJ Bell charges 0.25% for the ufb01rst £250,000, dropping to 0.1% for the next £750,000, while Vanguard levies an across-the-board fee of 0.15%, capped at £375 per year.

Halifax charges a fixed fee of £45 a quarter, working out at £180 a year (or £90 a year for pots below £50,000).

Both AJ Bell and Halifax also charge fees when you buy or sell investments. These vary by type (shares are generally more expensive), and can add up if you trade frequently.

Bear in mind that Sipp charges don't generally include the fees charged by individual funds you invest in.

When we looked at pension drawdown charges in July, our analysis showed that Sipps tended to be among the cheapest options for larger pots, compared with traditional pension providers.

How Which? rated Sipp providers

We carried out a survey of 1,203 members of the public in May 2020.

Our price analysis assessed core Sipp charges (fixed and platform fees) levied on seven different pot values ranging from £25,000 to £1m. It assumed that the money was held entirely in funds.

Only providers with a customer score of 70% or more and no core charges among the most expensive 25% of Sipps for any of the seven pot sizes are eligible to be a Sipp WRP.

  • The full version of this report originally appeared in the August edition of Which? Money magazine. Try Which? Money for just £1 to get September's edition delivered direct to your door.