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Editor’s Column: Retirement ignorance is far from bliss


A couple of surveys we reported on this week reminded me about the epic scale of pension ignorance among the great British public.

Just to be clear, I do not blame pension savers for this ignorance. They have some responsibility for failing to consider their retirement properly but most of the blame

must fall on successive governments and the pensions ‘industry’ for utterly dismal efforts in this area.

The two surveys were from SunLife and Aviva. They looked at pension savers from different ends of the timescale, those who had already retired some time ago and those still saving for retirement.

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SunLife’s survey found that over 85% of retired people over 50 think they retired too early. This rose to 88% for those who now aged over 70. On average, those that are retired or semi-retired said they did so two and a half years too early. Those aged 70+ think said they retired three years too early. 

A lot of this regret is related to lack of money but some is about lifestyle. Many felt they would be happier working a bit longer, they just retired when they felt they could, likely depriving themselves of extra income and a more active lifestyle.

Many were caught out by the State Pension Age rising to 66 and cutting their income but there were also clearly signs of mis-calculation, a lack of planning.

Less than 10% got it right.

It’s a natural desire for many to want to retire as early as possible. Personally I think this is often a bad idea and phased retirement makes more sense for both financial and wellbeing reasons. But it is understandable that someone would want to take their money as early as possible and head into the retirement sunset. Unfortunately many of them, probably due to lack of advice, got their retirement ‘number’ wrong.

The second survey, by Aviva, backs up this view. Aviva found that over half (53%) of 45-64-year-olds have never calculated when they can afford to retire. Its survey of 3,000 consumers found that three in five (61%) had also never requested a free state pension forecast. I would put money on most people not knowing they can get a State Pension forecast.

This is just not right.

Successful retirement planning is virtually impossible without accurate forecasting of retirement income. Cashflow planning would be a boon here and I wish the whole population enjoyed access to cashflow planning tools but that’s not too likely in the near future although the Pensions Dashboard, if it ever arrives, could be of some benefit.

It is blatantly clear that every worker in the UK should know their pension number – how much they need to retire on and when they can retire comfortably – as a right. Proper pension forecasting is also the key to engaging pension savers in the challenging and difficult decisions they must make on how much to save now for later life.

When it comes to pensions planning sadly most of the population have yet to get to the starting line and that is truly shameful.


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Kevin O’Donnell is editor of Financial Planning Today and a financial journalist with 30 years experience.  This topical comment on the Financial Planning news appears most weeks. Follow @FPT_Kevin 


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