£9.2bn cashed in since pension freedoms launch

Pension savers have cashed in more than £9.2 billion from their pots collectively since the pension freedoms were launched, figures show.

More than 1.5 million payments have been made since the freedoms were introduced in April 2015 for people aged 55 and over, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) figures show.

Some 162,000 people have accessed £1.56 billion in total flexibly from their pension pots over the past three months.

This is a slightly higher number than the previous quarter, when 158,000 people withdrew £1.54 billion collectively.

The freedoms mean that people are no longer required to use their pension pot to buy an annuity as a retirement income.

Instead, they have more choice over how they use their pot. Generally, the first 25% of the pot is tax-free and the remainder is subject to tax.

Annuities have been controversial in recent years due to falling rates, but they do act as a guarantee that someone will not out-live their savings.

Plans to allow existing annuity holders to cash them in were ditched in October, as the Government said consumers could not be guaranteed that they would get good value for money.

Pension Wise - the free, guidance service set up alongside the pension freedoms - has had more than 3.7 million visits to the website and more than 100,000 appointments have been made, the Government said.

Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Kirby, said: "We are working with our partners, including Pension Wise, the regulators and pension firms, so that savers have the support they need to understand the options available to them."

There have been concerns that the pension freedoms could make the over-55s a particular target for fraudsters.

Proposed action to clamp down further on pension scams was announced in the Autumn Statement, including banning pensions cold-calling and giving firms more power to block transfers that raise suspicions. A consultation around the issue closes on February 13.

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 Unbiased.co.uk - because while baby boomers know how to have fun - they also know how to save for the future.


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