Most people find they have less money to live on when they retire, but that doesn’t have to mean living in poverty. Rosie Murray-West helps you make the most of your pension and any benefits.
Rosie Murray-West is a journalist specialising in personal finances. She was Deputy Editor of the Money pages on the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and was awarded Consumer Journalist of the Year 2013 by Headline Money and here she has contributed to a new guide on retirement from McCarthy & Stone.
Over the fourteen years that I worked as a money journalist at the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the issue of managing income during retirement was always a hot topic.
I received many letters from people who were either approaching retirement or had already stopped work. Some of them were disappointed by the performance of the investments they had made for later life while others simply wanted to make the most of their assets. Whether you plan to stop working completely or wind down your employment in preparation for retirement, it is important to think about how your finances will be affected.
Even if you have saved up for this stage in your life, it is very likely that the amount of money that turns up in your bank account every month will drop dramatically. Analysis of official tax data shows that most people lose a third of their monthly income when they retire, while many lose even more. Forewarned is forearmed, so it is worth getting the facts straight about how your circumstances will change as soon as possible.
Financial realities are not always easy to face — but once you know the facts you can make the best of what you have.
If you are yet to retire, the first step is to get estimates of what you will receive from any pensions that you have. The government will give you a state pension statement as long as you are more than four months away from state pension age, and you can write to the trustees of your private pension schemes to get similar forecasts. If there is still some time until you retire, you may be able to plan to save more in order to retire more comfortably.
But if you’ve already stopped working, you’ll be more aware of the money you have coming in each month, and may feel you have missed the window for maximising your income. Be aware that you may not be getting all of the cash to which you’re entitled. It’s easy to forget about pensions from old employers, or not be aware of benefits that you should be claiming from the government.
This is illustrated by figures from the government’s Department of Work & Pensions which suggest that £2.8 billion of Pension Credit is not taken up. This benefit is for those on the very lowest incomes, and is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg for unclaimed pensioner cash.
To ensure that you are not missing out, you should carry out a full check on the benefits you are receiving and those to which you could be entitled. As well as the state pension, these include the two elements of pension credit, which are called guaranteed credit and savings credit. Depending on your income and savings, you may be entitled to receive one or both of them.
Guaranteed pension credit may be paid when you reach the qualifying age — it tops up your weekly income to a guaranteed minimum. Savings credit is an extra payment for those who have saved some money towards their retirement such as a pension.
Sometimes people do not realise that receiving these benefits gives you eligibility for other discounts. If you qualify for pension credit, you may not have to pay council tax.
As well as free prescriptions and sight tests, many pensioners don’t realise that this automatically qualifies them for help towards NHS health costs. They can get free NHS dental treatment and a voucher towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses as well as help with travel costs to receive NHS treatment if referred by a doctor or dentist.
If your home is worth a lot of money but you’re struggling to make ends meet, you could, of course, consider downsizing to free up some cash. However, if circumstances still seem daunting, there are charities and organisations that can offer advice:
The local branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau (www.citizens advice.org.uk) can help you to understand your entitlements; and for legal advice on your financial situation go to ww.solicitorsfortheelderly.com. Age UK provides fact sheets and free help (0800 169 6565, www.ageuk.org.uk); and residents who are considering living in a McCarthy & Stone apartment can arrange a free and confidential review of benefits they are entitled to by contacting its benefits advice team on Freephone 0800 027 2445.