Julian Knight: This licence to print money won't put pensioners at their ease
Sunday 08 March 2009
We've heard a lot about how the 0.5 per cent cut in the UK base rate will hurt savers and particularly those who are retired. However, the Government's decision to follow the financial path trodden in the past by the Weimar Republic and Robert Mugabe and in effect print an extra £75bn could have a far more damaging long-term effect on pension pots.
On the day of the announcement, the income earnt on government gilts fell by the largest percentage since Black Wednesday, and analysts Hargreaves Lansdown reckon it will only drop further.
But what does that mean for you and me? Insurers rely on the return they receive from gilts to pay people annuities. So by flooding the market with cash, the Government has dealt a blow to pensions potentially even more damaging than the tax grab by Gordon Brown that hit final salary schemes. When you come to exchange your pension pot for an annuity, you'll get far less bang for your buck.
It has already started. Someone with a £100,000 pension pot a year ago could have expected an annuity income of some £8,000 a year. Today, the same pot will buy around £7,000, and could plunge to £6,000 or even lower.
Making life difficult
I can't help thinking that this is a good time to invest at least a little in an individual savings account. ISAs are tax efficient and there's no need to buy an annuity. The optimist in me thinks that although we may only be entering stage two of the credit crunch – government financial chaos and insurers under pressure – we are a lot nearer the "bottom".
So last week, looking to start saving regularly into a tracker fund, I walked into my local Nationwide and asked to set one up. As a member of the building society, it seemed a convenient option as I wouldn't have to jump through all the ridiculous anti-money laundering hoops. The custo-mer account manager said he needed to do a fact-find to ascertain "what was right for me and my circumstances". I said I knew exactly what I wanted and would he sell it to me, please? No was the answer, unless I made an appointment to see a "super" salesman – who would have probably tried to flog all manner of products.
I left and bought a fund online instead, but why are banks and building societies so incapable of dealing with people who simply want to make their own decisions and their own mistakes? Can you imagine any other business turning away custom like this?
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