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Time to get ready for old age

Information sources: where to go and what to read for advice on sorting out your pension
LIKE St Augustine, who prayed to be made chaste - but not yet, many of us intend to do something about our pension but still have not got round to it.

Since your old age is likely to be pretty miserable without one, it may be time to look at your provision. Here are some guidelines to start you off.

q Anyone under retirement age can get a forecast of what to expect from the state by completing form BR19 (from a DSS office) and sending it to the address on the form.

This gives you a forecast of both your Basic State Pension and your Additional Pension (that is Serps, the earnings-related part). To receive a forecast of just your Additional Pension, complete the form in leaflet NP38, Your Future Pension - how to check your right to an Additional Pension.

The forecast will also tell you about any shortfall in your National Insurance contributions over the past six years and how to make it up. You can get your contributions record checked by asking your local DSS or Benefits Agency office to take it up with the Contributions Agency (also an "executive agency" of the DSS).

q You will need the forecast of your Additional Pension to make decisions about contracting out of Serps and joining an employer's scheme, or taking out a personal pension. To get advice, you could consult an independent financial adviser. The Society of Pension Consultants (Ludgate House, Ludgate Circus, London EC4A 2AB) will supply a list of its members in your area. Alternatively, IFA Promotion (0117 971 1177) will send you details of three independent advisers near you. The Money Management Register of Fee-Based Advisers (0117 976 9444) will supply you with up to six contacts (specify that you are interested in pensions).

q Some of the Inland Revenue's leaflets are quite readable and cover more than tax. Try IR129, Occupational Pension Schemes - an introduction, and IR78, Personal Pensions - a guide for tax, which explains tax relief limits. IR 121, Income Tax and Pensioners, helps those about to retire. Ask your tax office or a tax enquiry centre for copies.

q The Association of British Insurers produces three free, clearly presented information sheets. Copies are available from the ABI, 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ.

q There is no shortage of DSS leaflets from Benefits Agency offices. FB6, Retiring?, might be helpful if you are about to retire, but NP46, A Guide to Retirement Pensions (aimed partly at professional advisers), gives more detail. WRP1, 2 and 3 are introductions to the state retirement pension for women who are married, divorced and widowed respectively. PEC4, What are you doing after work?, is aimed at younger people.

q General information (not advice) about Social Security and National Insurance is available by ringing Freeline Social Security on 0800 666555. For pensions, there is also a Pensions Info-line (0345 313233).

To protect your state entitlement in years you are not working, you may be able to claim Home Responsibilities Protection (HRP). You will receive protection without applying for it if you are the main payee for Child Benefit. If you are at home caring for elderly relatives, you will have to claim on form CF411 (available from a DSSoffice).

q Before selecting a personal pension, consult Money Management (pounds 4.50 from newsagents). Each October, it publishes performance figures and charges for all currently available personal pensions. The March issue highlights policies with above-average performance and below-average charges.

q Which? magazine also periodically reviews pensions (background information on all types of pension and a table of personal pensions). The most recent report was July, 1995, which you should be able to find in a local library.

q When you join an employer's scheme, you should receive a booklet describing the benefits. There will also be reports and accounts. If you do not receive a statement of benefits automatically once a year, you can ask for one.

q If you have a problem with a pension, which you cannot resolve with the scheme's trustees or administrators (if it is a company scheme) or the pension provider (if it is a personal pension) write to the Occupational Pensions Advisory Service, 11 Belgrave Road, London SW1V 1RB. You can phone to discuss the problem initially (0171-233 8080). OPAS is a voluntary body funded by the DSS. It does not have statutory powers but does have a high success rate in settling disputes.

q After OPAS, you may be able to refer your case to the Pensions Ombudsman, who can deal with maladministration and disputes of law or fact in occupational or personal pensions (though not state pensions). A leaflet, The Pensions Ombudsman - how he can help you, is available from the Pensions Ombudsman, Sixth Floor, 11 Belgrave Road, London SW1V 1RB (0171-834 9144).

q If you were possibly missold a personal pension when you opted out of an occupational scheme or failed to join one, and the provider has not already got in touch, contact the firm yourself and ask for a review. You can consult The Personal Investment Authority's Pensions Unit (0171- 417 7001) or, ultimately, the PIA Ombudsman (0171-240 3838) as misselling falls under his jurisdiction.

q If your adviser goes bust and you are owed compensation, the Investors Compensation Scheme comes into play, up to a maximum of pounds 48,000. If an insurer goes bust, you can recover up to 90 per cent of your entitlement under the Policyholders' Protection Act. There is currently no compensation if you lose money through an employer scheme, though from April 1997, up to 90 per cent will be recoverable.

If you think that your state pension has been wrongly calculated, ask your local Benefits Agency office to check it for you. You have the right of appeal to an independent tribunal - ask the Benefits Agency for the How to Appeal leaflet.