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First time access of retirement pots hit £40bn last year

One annuity sold for every three drawdown policies

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Pension freedoms popularity shows no signs of slowing down, with 646,530 retirement pots accessed for the first time between April 2018 and March 2019.

The total value of these pots was around £40bn ($49.6bn, €45.1bn).

The Financial Conduct Authority assessed the data of all regulated firms that provide pension and retirement and income products.

There were 73,977 annuities purchased in the fourth full year of pension freedoms, which equated to around £4.5bn (excluding pension commencement lump sum(PCLS)).

In comparison, the numer of drawdown policies entered into was 545,815.

Of these, 354,844 were fully withdrawn, with people taking out £4.5bn.

However, there were 190,971 policies not fully withdrawn valued at a staggering £28.2bn (excluding PCLS).

The number of pots where uncrystallised fund pension lump sum (UFPLS) were taken was 26,738‬, valued at £2.7bn.

Regular withdrawals

The FCA’s data also found that the number of plans where the plan holder(s) made regular partial withdrawals by the annual rate of withdrawal (usually around 4%) was 314,409, which came in at £3.2bn

Elsewhere, the number of plans where the plan holder made ad hoc partial withdrawals was 141,473, with values of £2.7bn.

Pension freedoms popularity

Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, said: “These figures demonstrate the enduring popularity of the pension freedoms, with almost three people taking a regular income through drawdown for every one person buying an annuity.

“This represents a monumental shift in retirement behaviour the impact of which will be felt across the UK economy.

“While, on the face of it, the fact more than half of pots accessed are being fully withdrawn could be a cause for concern, the bulk of these are small pots and so there is less risk of people being hit with huge unnecessary tax bills.

“It is impossible to make any reasoned judgments on the sustainability of these withdrawals without understanding the person’s overall financial position.

“Someone with a significant defined benefit pension pot, for example, might be able to draw from their self-invested personal pension at a faster rate without putting their retirement future at risk.

“There will also be others who have enjoyed strong investment performance and are reaping the rewards.”

Advice

Some UK retirees proved keen on advice but others appear unconvinced of its value.

Out of the 190,971 who did not fully deplete their drawdown; 125,888 used regulated advice, with 47,101 going through the process with no advice or guidance.

They were not so quick to get advice when purchasing an annuity however; as, out the 73,977 choosing this retirement option, 33,074 did not get advice.

Scarily, the majority of people did not get advice when making a full withdrawal, with 220,513 out of 354,844 not seeking information from an IFA.

“Far too few people are seeking advice or guidance about crucial retirement decisions across the board, and boosting these numbers needs to be a priority for the regulator,” Selby added.

“The nature of the pension freedoms means while some will use their new found flexibility responsibly, others risk sleepwalking into disaster.

“Increasing take-up of advice and guidance is crucial to help mitigate this risk.”

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