Investors are being penalised by personal pension providers for taking up the offer of a good occupational pension - despite this being universally recommended as best advice, writes Andrew Verity.

Fresh research by Lincoln, a life insurer which sees 45 per cent of its regular pension premiums lapse within three years, shows that 20 per cent of the lapses occur because policyholders are offered an occupational scheme.

An independent poll of 200 policyholders who stopped paying in, conducted for Lincoln by Marplan, revealed that 34 per cent lapsed because of unemployment, 23 per cent because of a career break to raise a child, and 20 per cent because they were offered a good occupational scheme.

Wayne Taylor, marketing and communications manager at Lincoln, says: "The research shows that 77 per cent of those who lapsed did so for genuine reasons."

The findings echo the massive review of mis-selling of pensions being pushed ahead by Helen Liddell, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. This identified at least 600,000 people who had lost thousands because they opted for a personal pension rather than an occupational scheme.

Lincoln's findings, supported by Allied Dunbar research which arrives at similar conclusions, suggest that many personal pension holders are in a Catch-22 dilemma when they are offered an occupational scheme: ignore the occupational scheme and lose thousands of pounds by missing out on employer contributions; or join the scheme and lose thousands of pounds because of personal pension charges.

They come in the wake of separate research conducted by Bath-based Highclere Financial Services which shows that those who lapse early will often receive a sharply diminished pension fund when it matures. This is because a disproportionate amount of their savings disappears in life office charges.

Highclere principal Alan Lakey shows that some companies, including Skandia Life, levy heavy penalties on customers who lapse - despite the knowledge that they lapse for genuine reasons.

Lakey's research shows that despite appearing inexpensive, Skandia is the most expensive office for policyholders who lapse within five years and leave their pension with that office.