Pensioners hit hard by government's annuities U-turn


Many pensioners have been plunged into debt by the government's U-turn on plans to let savers cash in their annuities.

Two years ago, the then chancellor, George Osborne, announced that people already receiving pensions would soon be able to swap them for a lump sum instead. However, last October, the government changed its mind and announced the plan was to be scrapped.

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It defended its decision by saying that it changed its mind after advice from regulators and consumer groups. Insurers weren't keen on buying the annuities back, and many pensioners faced fees of up to 20% for cashing in.

"It has become clear that we cannot guarantee consumers will get good value for money in a market that is likely to be small and limited," said economic secretary to the Treasury Simon Kirby. "Pursuing this policy in these circumstances would put consumers at risk."

But this U-turn has been a disaster for many retirees, who spent their savings in the expectation that they would be able to replace the cash when the new rules came in.

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One man, 66-year-old Mark Capon, tells the Daily Mail that he used his credit card and overdraft to put down a £3,500 deposit for a new car. He expected to be able to clear the debt by cashing in his £21,000 annuity with Prudential.

"I put myself in an exposed position of spending before I had the funds, because I had trust in the government," he says. "Now, I am worried that the bank will call in the debt and can't sleep at night."

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Others have gone so far as to increase their mortgages by tens of thousands of pounds, believing they'd be able to use annuity cash to straighten things out later on.

According to pensions consultancy Hymans Robertson, more than a third of pension holders between 55 and 70 say they expect to start their retirement in debt - or have already done so. Low interest rates mean annuity holders have seen their income fall.

"Sources of lump sum payments are needed but they are scarce," says the company's head of product development Karen Brolly. "The recent shelving of a proposed second hand market for annuities has shut down one of these avenues completely."

How we spend our pensions
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How we spend our pensions

Figures from Saga show that the over 50s now account for the majority of money spent by Brits on travel and tourism. They have the time to spare, the money, and they are healthy enough to take on the world.

A poll from Abta found that in the wake of pension freedoms, 35% of people were considering cashing in at least part of their pension to travel. A separate study by Senior Railcard found that pensioners take an average of three holidays a year, plus two weekends away, and 17 day trips.

Research from Senior Railcard found that retirees eat out an average of three times a month. However, one in ten do so more than twice a week, and one in three people said that one of the first things they did when they retired was to go out for lunch with their friends.

Of course, just because retirees want to enjoy themselves, it doesn't mean they are happy to throw money away. The vast majority are keen to eat at lunchtimes, when a fixed lunch menu tends to be cheaper, and canny retirees are skilled at tracking down pensioner special offers too.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that on average nearly a fifth of the money spent by people aged 65-74 is on leisure. This includes everything from the cinema and theatre to golfing and gardening. They spent more on this than on food, energy bills and transport.

A report by Canada Life found that retirees are spending £4,279 a year on having fun - that’s more than £1,000 more than they spend on boring essentials, and is a 74% increase over the past ten years. It went on to predict that this trend was set to continue, and that pension freedoms would encourage people to spoil themselves a bit more in retirement

Pensioner property wealth is now over £850 billion, and all these family homes don’t look after themselves. The Senior Railcard survey put home renovations in the top 20 activities people got stuck into on retirement, and figures from ABTA found that almost a third of people who were considering raiding their pension pots under the new pension freedoms planned to spend the cash on their home. This seems like an eminently sensible investment - looking after what is undoubtedly their most valuable asset.

Unsurprisingly, while some pensioners are very well off indeed, others are struggling with debt. Figures from Key Retirement found that the average retiree has £34,000 of debt.

Most of this is mortgage borrowing - in many cases driven up by the number of people who unwittingly signed up to an interest-only mortgage. However, credit cards, overdrafts, and loans are also common. It’s why so many pensioners have used pension freedoms to access enough cash to pay their debts.

The day to day basics are swallowing up their fair share of pensioner cash too. On average, people aged 65-74 spend a third of their weekly income on essentials like food and bills - which is hardly living the high life.
The bank of gran and grandad has become an increasingly vital source of cash for families. According to Key Retirement, of those who release equity from their property, 21% of them use the cash to treat their children and grandchildren. This includes an average of £33,350 to help children get onto the property ladder, £6,000 to buy them a new car, £11,000 on family weddings, and £24,780 giving grandchildren a helping hand.

While retirees are quite rightly spending what they need to enjoy retirement, they are hardly all throwing caution to the wind, buying flash cars and spending the kids' inheritance.

Most expect to have something left over to pass onto their family after their death. Some 69% expect to leave property in their wills, and 75% expect to leave cash - according to - because while baby boomers know how to have fun - they also know how to save for the future.


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