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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 09:07 GMT
Ask the expert: Pension lump sums
Malcolm McLean
Mr McLean runs an independent pensions helpline

BBC News Online's Ask the Expert column gives readers a chance to get their financial questions answered by experts.

This week Malcolm McLean, chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service (Opas), helps Margaret Aurin.

Ms Aurin turned 60 in January 2004 and should be receiving a state pension of about 63 a week.

She wants to know if she should claim her pension now while she is still working full time; or should she defer it for two years or longer to make the most of the new rules which will allow people to defer the pension for a lump sum.

Malcolm McLean says:

If Margaret can afford to defer taking her state pension for a few years whist she continues to work, this is certainly an option which could benefit her financially in the longer term - especially in view of recent government proposals in the pipeline for greater incentives for doing so.

It is currently open to anyone at state pension age to opt to not to draw their pension for a period of up to five years, whether they are working or have already retired. In return they earn a higher rate of pension when they eventually draw it.

If Margaret were to opt for this now under the present rules she would have her pension enhanced at the rate of about 7.5% for each year that she did not draw her pension covering the period from her 60th birthday up to April 2005.

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From April 2005 it is proposed that the rate of the enhancement will increase to a little over 10% per annum and will not be limited to five years only.

Margaret would therefore also benefit from that higher rate if her period of deferral extended beyond April 2005.

Alternatively, if she planned to delay receiving her pension until at least April 2006 she can now expect to have the additional option of a lump sum (in lieu of an enhanced rate) of all the pension she would have given up since April 2005.

The Government has confirmed that such lump sums will include interest and that the rate of interest will be at least 2% above the Bank of England base rate in force at any particular time.

They have also confirmed that there will be no adverse tax implications - no-one will be brought into tax or move up a tax band as a result of claiming the lump sum.

LUMP SUMS: A QUICK GUIDE
The maximum period to defer a pension under current rules is five years
It is proposed that from April 2005 a pension can be deferred for more than five years
Rate of interest on a deferred pension will increase from 7.5% to 10% a year, the government has said
Under new proposals the deferred pension can be taken as a lump sum, rather than as a weekly "top up"

Poorer pensioners also have been assured they need not worry about being short changed - Pension Credit and other benefits will be adjusted so that taking up the lump sum will not affect entitlement.

All of these measures make the lump sum an attractive option, as indeed is the improved enhanced rate.

It must be emphasised, however, that deferring your pension is not a viable option for everyone - it depends on your individual circumstances and crucially whether you can afford to manage without recourse to your pension for the period involved.

The Government quite clearly though wants to encourage people who are able to do so to stay on at work and defer drawing their pension beyond 60/65 - and are now prepared to offer greater financial incentives to persuade you to do so.

For those like Margaret this may be an opportunity to be grasped.

For others, it may be more difficult and they should do what is best for themselves without feeling pressurised either way.

If Margaret, having fully considered her position, wishes to proceed to defer her pension she should register that fact by writing to her local Pension Service office.

If she decides on balance she would prefer to have her pension now she should send in her claim as soon as possible.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.



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