Pensioners hit hard by government's annuities U-turn

Many got into debt - and now have no way to pay money back


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."

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