With over £9.2bn cashed in since April 2015, have pension freedoms been an unequivocal success?

Money, Money, Money
Hundreds of thousands have taken money from their pension pots since April 2015 (Source: Getty)

Ros Altmann, the former minister of state for pensions, says Yes.

Pension freedoms could be the most popular pension reform ever. Suddenly, instead of having to lock into inflexible, potentially unsuitable insurance company annuities, you can choose how and when to use your fund.

The average amount withdrawn was just around £5,000. If that’s all you had, then buying an annuity would hardly be worthwhile. If this is just part of your pension savings and you have other guaranteed income, then such pension freedom can be a life saver.

Trusting people with their own money is right. It is also vital to help them understand why pensions are so valuable and should be treasured for later life, not spent too quickly. Those who use the government’s free Pension Wise service get the chance to make a properly informed choice.

Private pensions are essential to top up the low state pension. If everyone spends their pension too soon, that would be a worry – but it is not clear that is happening. Government must monitor and research this, of course. But on current information, the reforms seem to be doing their intended job.

Gareth James, pensions expert at AJ Bell, says No.

While there is no doubt that the pension freedoms have been a positive development, it is too early to label them an unequivocal success.

The greater flexibility they have given people has clearly been popular, given the numbers making use of the options. However, focusing on how much has been withdrawn does not equate to success until we know what people are doing with the money.

Hopefully the majority are using it to provide a regular and sustainable income, which is what pensions are designed for. The government data implies this if you drill into the numbers. Both the average withdrawal per person and average withdrawal per payment are decreasing, while the number of payments individuals are taking each quarter is increasing.

This suggests people are settling into a pattern of regular monthly withdrawals rather than big one-off payments. That is encouraging, but further behavioural analysis is required before we can hang the unequivocal success label on the pension freedoms.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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