UK Pension Changes – 2015
A number of very significant changes have been made to UK pension laws over the past year, which are now just coming into effect. We have mentioned these changes in a number of places on the website, but thought it might be appropriate to bring those altogether and provide a summary:
Greater flexibility in pension fund access
From April 6, 2015, UK pension schemes will be able to offer full lump sum payments and greater flexibility in terms of pension draw downs (known as flexi-access) post age 55. Prior to these changes, most pension schemes could only pay 25% of the members fund benefit as a lump sum, if their fund benefit exceeded £30,000. The intention is to provide individuals with more flexibility to choose the level of their income in retirement - in contrast to being forced to purchase annuities.
No transfers from unfunded public service schemes
In an effort to reduce future pension fund liabilities, the UK government has effectively banned transfers from unfunded public service final salary/defined benefit schemes to non-UK funds - for example through QROPS – and to domestic defined contribution schemes from April 6, 2015. Actual transfers from these schemes, in practice, can occur after this date but all paperwork needs to be in the scheme before April 6 - with some schemes having set even earlier closing dates.
Formal advice being required prior to certain pension transfers
From April 6, anyone contemplating transferring a (fully funded) UK defined benefit/final salary scheme either into an overseas scheme through QROPS, or even into a domestic UK defined contribution or “money purchase” scheme, will need to obtain advice from a financial advisor who is independent of the fund. These advisors will need to be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and have appropriate experience. We expect that access to this advice, at least in the short term, will be both difficult and expensive. Note that advice is not required if the funds in question have a value of £30,000 or less.
Management of the transfer process
At the present time, overseas advisers are able to communicate and liaise directly with their client’s UK pension funds if they have appropriate Letters of Authority. Recent legislative changes in the UK will make that process impossible to continue - clients will need to themselves contact their pension funds and arrange to receive information, such as current transfer values, and all appropriate documentation.
Taxation in Australia
Concurrently, in Australia, a recent ruling by the ATO has "clarified" how any taxable portion of an overseas pension fund transferred to Australia is calculated. In very general terms the only portion of the fund which is taxable in Australia is the growth that has occurred in the fund from the date the fund member became resident in Australia until the date of transfer - as long as the transfer was from a fund which qualified as a "foreign superannuation fund" (FSF). Previously, the "usual" approach taken was to calculate the AUD value of the pension on the date of first residency, based on the exchange rate (AUD vs. foreign currency) on that particular day, and subtract it from the AUD value on the date of transfer to arrive at the amount subject to taxation.
The ATO ruling however has indicated that the correct approach to calculating the amount of any taxable portion into AUD is to use exchange rate applicable at the time the pension fund lump sum is received in Australia. So, the same exchange rate is used for both calculations and it is the one applying at the date the lump sum is received in Australia.