As defined contribution pension plans overtake defined benefit (in terms of money paid into schemes) for the first time ever, more and more people are taking an interest in how the two differ and the relationship between them. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that in 2018, employee contributions for defined contribution pension pots reached £4.1bn, compared to the £3.2bn that employees contributed to DB schemes.
With April 2019’s increase to minimum contributions for DC schemes seeing employer contribution hitting 3% and employees contributing 5% towards their pension, the trend of DC contribution increases in relation to DB isn’t set to slow any time soon.
So before DB Pensions become a distant memory, let’s take a look at exactly what they are. A defined benefit pension, which is sometimes referred to as a final salary pension scheme, promises to pay a guaranteed income to the scheme holder, for life, once they reach the age of retirement set by the scheme. Generally, the payout is based on an accrual rate; a fraction of the member’s terminal earnings (or final salary), which is then multiplied by the number of years the employee has been a scheme member.
A DB scheme is different from a DC scheme in that your payout is calculated by the contributions made to it by both yourself and your employer, and is dependent on how those contributions perform as an investment and the decisions you make upon retirement. The fund, made of contributions that the scheme member and their employer make, is usually invested in stocks and shares while the scheme member works. There is a level of risk, as with any investments, but the goal is to see the fund grow.
Upon retirement, the scheme member has a decision to make with how they access their pension. They can take their whole pension as a lump sum, with 25% being free from tax. They can take lump sums from their pension as and when they wish. They can take 25% of their pension tax free, receiving the remainder as regular taxable income for as long as it lasts, or they can take the 25% and convert the rest into an annuity.
One of the reasons for DB schemes becoming more scarce is that higher life expectancies mean employers face higher unpredictability and thus riskier, more expensive pensions. This is a trend that looks likely to continue. If you’re unsure of how to make the most of your pension plan, it’s recommended to consult with a professional.