The cost of opting out of a Workplace Pension as minimum contributions rise

Millions of more workers are now saving into a pension thanks to auto-enrolment. The retirement saving initiative saw minimum contributions rise at the start of the 2018/19 tax year. While it may be tempting to opt out in light of this, it could mean you’re hundreds of thousands of pounds worse off once you reach retirement.

Whilst you may not be affected by auto-enrolment, it’s likely that someone in your life is, perhaps children or grandchildren. The majority of workers are now automatically enrolled in their employer’s pension scheme in a bid to improve financial security once they give up work. If you know someone that’s thinking about opting out of their Workplace Pension, speaking to them about the potential long-term impact could help.

Why is opting out a concern now?

When auto-enrolment was first announced there were concerns that a high level of employees would decide to opt out. However, these concerns proved unfounded and millions of workers have embraced saving for their future. Even following subsequent minimum contribution rises, opt-out rates have remained relatively stable.

As the new tax year started on 6 April 2019, the last of the currently planned increases came in. Employees now pay 5% of their pensionable earnings into their pension, an increase of 2% when compared to the last year. For the average worker, this means losing around £30 from each pay cheque.

Whilst that sum may seem small, it’s come at a time when many workers are facing low wage growth and a rising cost of living. As a result, it’s understandable that some may be considering leaving their Workplace Pension when the increased contributions are realised. However, it’s a decision that could significantly impact retirement income.

The cost of opting out of a Workplace Pension

Employer contributions: First, when you pay into a Workplace Pension, so does your employer. Should you decide to leave your pension scheme, it’s highly likely your employer will also halt contributions. In the new tax year, minimum contribution levels for employers also increased to 3%. It’s an effective way to boost your pension savings with ‘free money’.

Tax relief: Again, tax relief offers you a boost on your pension savings that could make your retirement far more comfortable. It means that some of the tax you would have paid on your earnings is added to your pension in a bid to encourage you to save more. Assuming you don’t exceed the Annual Allowance, tax relief is given at the highest rate income tax you pay. So, if you’re a basic rate taxpayer and add £80 to your pension, this will be topped up to £100. Higher and additional rate taxpayers can benefit from 40% and 45% tax relief respectively.

Investment returns: Typically, your pension is invested. This gives it an opportunity to not only keep pace with inflation, but hopefully outpace it too. As you usually save into a pension over a timeframe that spans decades, you should be able to overcome short-term market volatility and ultimately profit. As all returns delivered on investments in a pension are tax-free, it’s an effective way to invest with the long term in mind. When you start a Workplace Pension, you’ll often have several different investment portfolios to choose from, allowing you to pick the one that most closely aligns with our attitude to risk.

Compound interest: The effect of compound interest links to the above point. As you can’t make withdrawals from your pension until you reach at least 55, investment returns are reinvested, going on to generate greater returns. This effect helps your pension to grow quicker, building a larger pension pot for you to enjoy when you decide to retire.

It can be difficult to balance short, medium and long-term financial needs. Often the different areas you need to save for can seem conflicting. This is where creating a financial plan that reflects personal aims, both now and in the future, can help. If this is an area you’d like support in, please contact us.

Please note: The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Levels, bases of and reliefs from taxation may be subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor.