Back to Ireland with a pension on board: Nic Cicutti looks at a scheme that makes it easier for people to return home

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The Independent Online
MORE than 2 million Irish-born people and their sons and daughters are now living and working in Britain. For many of them, forced to emigrate in search of work, the hope of returning home some day is a strong one.

For most, the dream is never fulfilled, but during festivities such as St Patrick's Day this Thursday, thoughts turn to family and friends left behind.

One problem is that the differences in tax and pension laws between Ireland and the UK make it difficult for people to start savings schemes in Britain that they can take with them if they return home.

Maximum contributions to a pension in Britain vary with age. Levels range from 17.5 per cent of earnings at age 35 or under, to 35 per cent at age 60.

In Ireland, maximum tax relief can be claimed on up to 15 per cent of earnings.

Personal pension benefits in Britain can be taken at any age between 50 and 75. In Ireland, they can be taken between 60 and 70. Different rules apply in each country on how pensions are taxed.

Despite the difficulties, tens of thousands of people have taken steps over the past few years to turn the dream of returning home into a reality, by starting pension plans and savings schemes that can be carried between Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Kevin O'Neill, an accounts manager with a large computer company, is one of them. Now aged 30, he settled in London seven years ago after working for some time in the United States.

He pays pounds 250 a month into a personal pension started 18 months ago with Irish Life, a company with offices in St Albans.

He first picked up one of their leaflets at an Irish club and decided to folow up the address on the back. His contact was Maurice Collins, of Collins Financial Services, in Wandsworth, an Irish Life representative.

Mr Collins explained: 'The advantage of this scheme is that it is effectively seamless. Because the company is also incorporated in Dublin, at the moment when a person decides to return to Ireland, the UK contract can be made paid up and an identical one is issued in the Republic.

'Payments continue to a new scheme, but are now made in Irish punts. Funds are managed in the same way as before. Because there are virtually no extra setting-up charges, it is possible for people's total fund to grow.'

Tony Dallison, head of marketing at Irish Life, said: 'A lot of Irish people believe they are likely to return home. In practice not many do. The scheme, called Home and Away, gives them the option.'

The scheme is growing in popularity and contributes 70 per cent of the total business carried out by the company's appointed representatives.

It is not hard to see why. About 1 million people of Irish descent live in Greater London and a further 500,000 in the South-east of England.

Contrary to stereotype, a very high proportion of Irish immigrants aged 24 to 35 are in managerial and professional positions. If the economic situation improves in the Republic and jobs become available there, many will want to return, Mr O'Neill among them.

He said: 'Britain is a good place to get experience and there is also a good lifestyle over here. It is hard to say what I will be doing in 10 years' time. When I first came to London I did not know that I would be doing this job today.

'The day will come when my sort of job - selling computer equipment to big City banks - will also exist in Dublin. I would like to have the choice of going back. If I did, the fact that I started to provide for myself early is a benefit and something less to worry about.'

(Photograph omitted)

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