Pensions Basics

The topics covered in this section are:

This part of workSMART answers the most commonly asked questions about pensions, particularly for those of you trying to get to grips with your pension prospects for the first time, or those faced with a sudden problem.

Pensions can easily get complicated, but the basics are not hard to grasp. With fewer people at work now covered by good employer schemes, many people working today have no idea how rich or poor they could be in retirement.

And arrangements that have seemed secure and reliable for years can go suddenly wrong. Many companies have closed good schemes to new members, and even to future contributions by existing members, and some people have even lost their pensions when their employer has gone bust.

At the same time, all employers are now being required to provide a workplace pension, with a minimum level of contributions, for eligible workers. By 2018, that will include even the very smallest. It's known as "auto-enrolment". Not everyone is eligible (and individuals can opt out once they become members), but many more people have now joined a workplace pension scheme – in many cases for the first time.

Rules on what you can do with your pension savings have changed too, an approach the government calls 'freedom and choice', but the TUC is worried that workers risk being plunged into insecurity in old age. That means it''s up to you to take control of your pension prospects, understand your own situation and make what changes you can to help ensure a reasonable retirement.

How workSMART tackles pensions

Because pensions are complicated and there is so much ground to cover, we have organised the information a little differently in this part of workSMART.

As usual, we have sections that answer the detailed questions that people put to us.

But to get a grip on your own pension situation, you need more of an overview. So as well as detailed questions and answers on workplace and State Pensions, we also provide:

  • some longer briefings on what kinds of pensions are available;
  • many links to other sources of pensions information; and
  • a section on how to give yourself a pensions check-up.

Any guide dealing with such a complex issue such as pensions needs to balance making pensions easier to understand and setting out every bit of detail. We hope we have got the balance right for you here, but this does mean we have to gloss over some of the finer points of detail and some of the exceptions that only affect a very few people.

If you work in the public sector, you should note that we do not cover the public sector pension schemes in any detail, as they all have their own dedicated websites where you can find this information. Public sector pension schemes changed after 2013, so if you are looking them up, make sure you are looking at the right information for you.

You should always take further advice before taking major decisions about your pension, and we provide a guide to further sources of pensions advice and information.

If you are talking to an adviser or the provider of your pensions, you can use workSMART to work out the questions you need to ask, and to give you the confidence to ask for more detail.

Other information and advice

We have provided lots of links to government, official and non-commercial websites, and in particular to the GOV.UK website, the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise, as we are impressed by the efforts they have made to provide clear and easy to understand material. Unfortunately, there are lots of "scams" that try to take advantage of people and their pension savings, so it is important that you only use trustworthy web sites like the ones mentioned above.

We've provided other links where we think they can help. We would also like to thank the Plain English Campaign for permission to use material from their pensions glossary in our jargon buster, though we've also added our own definitions as well.

Just because we like these other sources, it doesn’t mean that they endorse us in any way.

Please bear in mind that pensions legislation changes fairly often, and although we try to keep this site up to date, we cannot guarantee that it will always show the most recent information.

Also please note that you should not regard anything on this site as financial advice: the TUC is not authorised to provide financial advice. You should always consider taking advice from an authorised Independent Financial Adviser before making decisions about your pension.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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