How will the new pension freedoms affect your benefits?

Chris Torney / 28 April 2015

The Government has warned that people who access their pension pots may not be able to claim means-tested state benefits if their money runs out. Chris Torney explains how the new pension freedoms will affect benefits.



Changes to the UK’s pension system, introduced at the start of the 2015-16 financial year on 6 April, mean that savers now have much more freedom over how to use their funds.

Not sure what the new pension freedoms mean? Read our guide. 

Easier to access cash

It is no longer obligatory for most people to buy an annuity as it has been in the past: instead, it is significantly easier for those who reach retirement to keep their money invested in the stock market or even to withdraw cash from a pension fund to spend or invest as they wish.

But the Government has warned that people who spend their pension savings or give funds away to family members, for example, may not be able to rely on state means-tested benefits if they run out of money.

What is an annuity?

How benefits are assessed

At present, pensioners who have lower incomes can apply for benefits, such as pension credit and housing benefit, to help them pay bills and meet living expenses.

When assessing eligibility for these payments, local authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) look at what income individuals have – from the state pension as well as from private or company pensions, for example – as well as any savings or investments.

New rules for new regime

But shortly before the changes came into effect, the DWP published information showing how it will treat benefit assessments under the new pension system.

Even if you do not use your pension to buy an annuity, officials will work out what income it would be able to generate and make their eligibility calculations on this basis.

A significant change is that if you “spend, transfer or give away any money that you take from your pension pot”, the DWP could decide that you have done so deliberately to boost your benefit entitlement.

Read more about the benefits you may be entitled to in retirement.

Lower benefit entitlement

As such, you would be assessed as if you still had this money and, therefore, end up with a lower or no entitlement to state benefits.

The government already uses a similar “deprivation rule” when assessing how much people should contribute towards the cost of long-term healthcare, for example.

But it is not clear what criteria the DWP will use to decide that an individual has “deliberately” spent or given away money just to get a higher level of benefits.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.