/ Money

Update: it’s time to future-proof pensions

Pensions savings

What should be done to ensure pensions really do support a comfortable retirement?

I have given evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee as part of its inquiry on the pension freedoms. Drawing on Which? research and insight looking at the impact of the reforms, I’ll be making the case for greater safeguards for consumers who haven’t engaged with their pensions, improved services to help consumers make informed choices and the need for better value pension products.

Pension problems

For too long the complexity of pensions, high (and often opaque) fees and charges and low engagement levels across the sector have meant that people are often not financially prepared for a comfortable retirement.

We know that while the pension freedoms have given savers more control over how they access their pension, but more choice can also mean greater risk for individuals. The sheer scale of potential harm that consumers face if they make a bad retirement decision or fall victim to a pension scam underlines the urgency of the problem.

That’s why we are launching our new pensions campaign. We want the government and regulator to ensure we have a system that gives savers the right tools, products and information to help them make the right decisions for their retirement.

The pensions dashboard

The government has already committed to the delivery of the pensions dashboard, but it remains unclear exactly how we are going to get there by the 2019 deadline while making sure it works for savers.

A fully functioning dashboard needs to provide consumers with transparent, consistent information about all of their pension pots in one place. Savers should be able to see charges, projections of values, services offered and benefits associated with each pension pot to help them make informed decisions and comparisons.

If the average consumer is expected to have 11 pension pots in their lifetime, a dashboard is only useful if all 11 are visible via the dashboard. The government needs to mandate participation of all pension schemes and recommend that the Financial Conduct Authority consults on regulating pensions dashboard providers.

Better products

However, getting the right outcomes for savers is not just about the pensions dashboard. As well as help when planning for the future, savers need to have access to better products when it comes to making those key decisions at retirement.

Part of the FCA’s review of retirement outcomes is looking at the costs and charges associated with income drawdown products. That’s why we want the FCA to introduce measures to protect savers when they take money out of their pension this way.

In a sector that already suffers from low engagement and trust, it is especially important that we address these high fees now, particularly for those who have not made an active choice in the matter. That’s why we want the FCA to introduce better safeguards for disengaged consumers at the point of retirement.

Update: 21 November 2017

Ahead of the Autumn Budget (22 November), we have called on the Chancellor Philip Hammond to set out a clear timetable for the delivery of the new pension dashboard by 2019.

How do you feel about your pension? Do you have all the information you need to save for a comfortable retirement?


Some companies stop giving pay rises to older long-standing employees. This should be illegal as it also affects their pensions.

Some bodies give exceptionally large pay rises closer to retirement to artificially boost a favoured person’s pension. Equally distasteful. I’d like to see all pensions, public and private, provided by savings in investments and bonds, and not dependent directly on final salary.

There could be a publicly-administered scheme that decides the mix of investments and the administrative fees, but independent of any political interference. We could have minimum compulsory contributions to ensure everyone who works, public or private sector, has to save towards their retirement, and any one else who wishes to contribute can join., Private schemes could also be joined. Contributions to be free of the basic rate tax only, with a limit on annual contributions that remain free of tax.

I agree with the dependence on final salary being a dodgy thing in either direction. I also like these ideas: a publicly-administered inclusive scheme independent of any political interference, minimum compulsory contributions, and a limit on annual contributions that remain free of tax.

Most defined benefit schemes have moved to career average for reasons alluded to above. In many organisations a few people rise to head of department or ‘board’ level on multiples of the average staff salary in the last five or ten years of their careers. In final salary schemes they then receive huge pensions despite having paid in much the same as everyone else for most of their working lives. Career average defined benefit schemes go some way to removing that unfairness.

Agree with all you say – especially on making it compulsory for everyone to save for their retirement. Stakeholders’ Pension was supposed to provide this. It did not because it was not made compulsory – ignoring the example set by Australia where it became compulsory in second year.

If we do not make pension/retirement saving compulsory we will simply extend the shame of elderly care, where those who saved have to stump up for their care, effectively subsidising those who chose to spend, spend.

Must also look to limit excess charges by financial sector on pension admin charges – which can represent up to 5/6% loss of pensions funds.

When will any Government take charge of the financial sector, in the way other countries do. US mortgage interest rate goes up of down in line with the Fed Rate – exactly! UK lenders have already increased rates in expectation of Base Rate rise – and will add Base Rate increase when that comes along, too.

It will be interesting to see how much – or how little – of the Base Rate gets added to savers’ rates! Want to bet it might be a fraction less? Look how quick the Banks were to reduce savers’ rates, by using QE funding to reduce their dependence on savers’ income – not what it was intended to do.

Colin says:
2 November 2017

Final salary schemes have another disadvantage, in that they are a deterrent to employees gradually easing themselves into retirement over several years. No-one is going to reduce their working hours, or hand over some of their responsibilities, ahead of retirement if by doing so they’ll reduce not just their salary but also their pension for the rest of their lives. Consequently they feel forced into ‘cliff-edge’ retirement which is often challenging for both the pensioner and those who take over their job responsibilities. Career average defined benefit schemes avoid this problem.

why would you want to make people with final salary pensions worse off. Surely these are the standard to keep.

Very few young people are now on final salary schemes. If they’re lucky, they’re on a career-average salary scheme. But they’re more likely to be on a money purchase scheme with no idea what they might get from it at retirement. Also, most of the young people (in their 20s and 30s) I know expect to have to work til they’re into their 70s because of the way the state pension age keeps moving. So they have little incentive to save for a retirement they don’t think they’ll ever have.
We need pension schemes that enable people to retire at an age when they can expect a few years of reasonable health, and enable them to live rather than exist.

I agree with Malcolm r,
However would like to add my two pen’ath. I think it is totally wrong to give civil servants free, non contributary pensions. This is all civil servants from the boiler house attendant, the customs office, the chaufeur, the politican. ALL people employed and paid for by US . How can this be fair in the 21st Century at times of austerity.

In many of the UK’s former superannuation fund the employees contribution and the employers were seen a deferred salary, in other words a compulsory contribution scheme a lower salary whilst at work to ensure a comparative income in retirement less the travel to work costs.

Do not understand what you are saying, I was employed from 1957 to 1996 and a contributory member of two superannuation funds where the employee paid in around 6% of his annual salary into the fund and the employer around 23% with a full pension in retirement that was approximately two thirds of the employees final salary. This applied to the lowest employee in the fund to the highest paid manager. So in retirement your life style whilst employed would continue without the cost of travel to work. We were also encouraged to save as well.

this also extends to council workers, while the rest of us who pay their salaries only have access to 2nd class pensions

That was a great scheme, pity the rest of us don’t have access to it

People have got to be made to realistic about the amount they save. A simple calculation: if interest rates were zero and you wanted to retire on half pay for twenty years, you’d have to put away 25% of your salary for forty years. Obviously it doesn’t work like that but it comes close. I was paying, along with my employer, well over 20% of my salary into the career average scheme from which I recently retired. Those gold plated pensions which the Daily Mail hates so much don’t come cheap.

Decent pensions have to be paid for; as a society that’s a nettle we seem unwilling to grasp.

Hi Nick, you make a fair point there. We think pensions should work both for those saving for retirement and those making decisions at retirement. Ultimately, we want all pensions savers to have more control of their financial future with a pensions system that provides the right tools, products and information to make help make better decisions about saving for a retirement.

As the mother of 3 children in their 20s I can’t see how millennials are going to be able to afford to put away the sort of money that is needed to build up a decent pension. My kids are putting every spare penny into trying to build up a deposit for a house to escape the tyranny of sky high rents. Their wages are depressed, pay increases are a dream and they also have money taken out of their wages to pay back student loans. They half jokingly say they will have to use whatever inheritance they get as their pension pots. I really worry about their futures. On the bright side by the time they get to what we call retirement age the government will have raised retirement age to equal death!!!

You sure don’t get something for nothing very often. Decent pensions, local services, healthcare, we all should probably pay more to fund them. Look at Denmark, and it can be considered that they are investing in themselves.

Some incomes are so very low, however, that every penny is spent even before beginning to think of a pension (or a deposit for a house). Obvious thing to say, but, to begin with, a much higher minimum wage and proper rent regulations would help. Next, utilities. Then food, and this is where culture perhaps comes in too, as with renting vs owning – look at eg France and Germany. And then the rest.

So far in my life I remain optimistic. Where there’s a will, it may be difficult, but there will be a way.

Deb Frost says:
2 November 2017

I have never had much money so have never gambled by using stocks and shares. I know very little about the choices and wouldn’t feel comfortable using my limited comprehension on financial products. I would have preferred to have a professional giving me advice and telling me how to get the maximum from my pension pot. Pensionwise was a waste of my time as told nothing of any use whatsoever

My inheritance is being used to pay for my elderly parents’ care needs… Any inheritance my children might think of getting will undoubtedly be used the same way.

Amanda – surely your elderly parents are paying for their own care needs … it’s not ‘your’ inheritance until they pass.
I’ve always taken the view that I need to save, in case I have care needs. If I’m fortunate to remain in good health, my younger relatives will benefit. But only then.

I’d agree however what happens when you work for an agency who could leave you weeks without work- or have to work part time where your wage is so low you don’t pay tax or NI ? I also think there is a ticking timebomb with people working in the ‘gig economy ‘ or zero hours contracts who don’t always even know if or how much they will be paid every week or month

A brief comment from a non-expert – for what it’s worth. The trouble is that these contributions have been spent long before we get to claim our share. The idea of what one pays in is what one gets out, is great if someone else hasn’t hi-jacked the money in the meantime. Inflation also hits the fund so that entitlement goes up and the fund has to make enough money to cover for this. If a pension fund makes a bad investment this will again compromise the money available for those who have earned it. Likewise, those paying in now have to provide sufficient to cover for those claiming now. As the proportion of elderly pensioners increases this balance will become lop sided.

Some years back we heard of failure of pension schemes, leaving many in serious difficulties. We have the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to protect investments but it is important that pensions are protected too.


One reason I suggest we have an independent public scheme is to avoid the problems that private pension schemes can run into, from underfunding or insolvency.

I did not think that all schemes are protected by the PPF, but I hope I’m wrong.

Trouble is, this lets pension schemes that have raided the assets, or not topped them up, off the hook at the taxpayers’ expense.

All pension schemes need to be run in a sustainable way. That means regulation.

phil says:
4 November 2017

your dead right! If any goverment requires all workers to contribute to a pension then it should by law be regulated and ring fenced so nobody can get their sticky fingers on it except the people who paid into it.

Slightly off topic but I hope valid.
If the Govt. want everybody to “save for retirement” then I feel they should stop pushing the less academic to go to Uni. & provide more apprenticeships & training schemes. How can youngsters possibly afford to pay back student loans, save for a house deposit AND save for retirement / pay into a pension scheme.
My niece is 24 & working for Amazon as a despatch person. Why does she need a degree and a mountain of debt to do this job?

Hello Carole,
Spot-on! Its time that pupils at school are given better training in how to go through life, starting with higher education which should include apprenticeships. We need to dispel the dogma that a university degree is the only way to succeed. Your niece will gain valuable experience and if she shows potential, management will soon notice and start promoting her to greater responsibilities, however will she seize the opportunity?

Yes I do not disagree David and Claire, there is also a big problem for many who leave university with their brand new Degree which when they come to find a job finish up having top work at a filling station or in a supermarket filling shelves because the jobs they hoped to get when their education finished did not exist!

It is not just the youngsters that have a problem. I have a PhD and was recently made redundant at 62. Because of my studies and work patterns I didn’t marry till later in life. I am now looking at stacking shelves on minimum wage till I am 68 or 70 as no company wants to employ me (yes, ageism is illegal but it still happens with comments such as “you’ve not worked in the NHS for 23 years so are not up to date with procedures” for an entry level job, “We appointed someone with more up to date knowledge” – CPD is compulsory in my field so I have to be up to date and they were told so in my application) but I still need to support my family as my pensions are either too small (deferred NHS since 60) or do not kick in till 65 or 66.

Some public sector pension schemes are funded eg for local government officers, and pensions are drawn from a real pot of money. . Others, such as for firefighters and civil servants, are paid for on an ongoing basis by existing employees; there is no pot of money. Are both schemes sustainable?

Pensions are a logical idea to fund retirement. The system however has allowed the pension providers and advisors to chisel their fees with nil regard to the Client funding the system.
What is called”The Pension Industry” is an unacceptable scheme to take Client’s regular payments and pay a substantially reduced value, plus then retain the Fund on the Client’s demise.
The changes which have occurrred recently have started to give the Cline the power of discretion re investment and how to receive pension payments from their investment savings.
It would be cynical to suggest that the ability to totally liquidate funds was to increase tax revenues.

As a self employed person and now retired, I found out a long time ago that private pension plans managed by insurance companies do not perform well, so I paid the penalty to transfer my pension portfolio to a SIPP which I manage myself and it has done pretty well over the years. The problem with a SIPP is that when you withdraw money from it, you have to pay tax at your top rate. Meanwhile I also have an ISA account that I manage myself, but I do not have enough spare money to put into it up to the annual maximum. Since one is not taxed on the withdrawel of funds from an ISA account, I am losing out on this tax advantage. I think it would be fair for funds in a SIPP to be able to be transfered into an ISAaccount; the annual maximum that you can pay into an ISA would limit the possibility of withdrawing all the funds in a SIPP account in one go, tax free.

Presumably you have had tax relief on the payments you made in to your pension pot? If so, you should not also expect the drawdown to be tax free (subject to your normal allowances), should you? I don’t see that a pension payment from a SIPP is any different from any other form of pension, which is taxed.

An ISA is subscribed to from taxed income, and the concession is that the interest or dividends are then free of tax. I think a stocks and shares ISA is well worth having as a vehicle for regular savings, alongside a pension plan – providing you find the right company to deal with it.

Hi Malcolm,

For most people you are absolutely right, however in my case I had a pension plan before I returned back to the UK many years ago which I then transfered into a commercial plan, so that money was originally funded from taxed income outside the UK. Its all a bit complicated and a long time ago and ISAs didn’t exist back then.

Mike Jozefiak says:
2 November 2017

Why should pensions companies hold on to your money when you die, continuing to earn them profits, when it is you who have worked and slaved to provide that pension? They are simply stewards of your money and your pension pot should automatically be returned to the deceased’s estate.

That happens with an annuity. This is an insurance where, in exchange for a one-off premium, you are given a guaranteed income for the rest of your life. You will win if you live longer than average, lose if you die earlier (well, it doesn’t affect you of course – just your heirs 🙂 ). You can make provision for an income to be paid to your spouse on your death,

You have the choice of putting your pension pot into other plans that give an income, but they may involve more risk. However they will usually pass any residue on to your estate (subject to tax) when you depart.

I agree, my husband & I enquired regarding possible lump sums and pensions when one or other of us die leaving a partner to pay for funeral etc. We were told there would be no lump sum as we’d had one when we retired and the pension would be a much smaller monthly income. We are now paying for Funeral Plans as we don’t want to burden either of us or our children

There needs to be ……. and should be …….. more safeguarding, by government, of pensions and what is allowed.
Since 2015, when people were allowed to access their pension pots and make their own decisions, £43 million have been ‘stolen’ by disreputable scammers.
What sageguards and advice did George Osborne put in place to stop/prevent this?
His treasury department expected to raise (i.e. make a tax profit from the spending by those who chose to withdraw some of their money) £320 million in the first year.
It actually raised almost 5 times that amount …….. £1.5 billion!
(Source: BBC ‘Call You and Yours’ 10.10.17.)
Is he and his team proud of this? Has anyone asked him?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Firstly, while we might regret the passing of the final salary pension scheme, they are not going to return and those that remain will probably go. As regards contributory schemes, although they pass the investment risk to the scheme member, I do not necessarily see them as inherently bad. They are certainly better than no pension provision at all which was a major problem until auto-enrolment came along. We certainly need simplification and I would like to see an independent, not for profit, professionally and expertly managed fund created (by the Government?) which contributors could elect to join instead of the multiplicity of schemes existing currently, some good, some bad. This would also solve the problem of someone retiring with numerous small pension pots built up with a succession of employers and the headache of remembering who they were with and tracking them down.

Deb Frost says:
2 November 2017

Hi Vic, I totally agree

Before anyone worries about making pension schemes ”future proof” they need to make them THIEF PROOF!!
Too many pension funds have been robbed by their managers, who then live the ”Life of Reilly” ever after, while those who paid into them all their lives end up in poverty for the rest of their lives.
It has been happening since Maxwell, and nothing, effective, has been done to prevent it happening over and over.
That is probably the main reason why people are reluctant to trust their life savings in a pension fund. The funds should be, ”ring fenced” to prevent them being robbed, and laws passed so that the managers who do so can be prosecuted, and the WHOLE of the money reclaimed.
Only then will people start to trust them.

THIEF PROOF … too true … especially from the Treasury.
My wife and I listened to Thatcher’s plea for us to “take our own responsibility for our old age” and, while we could afford it, took out individual personal pension policies in mid 1980’s … with Equitable Life (EL), known for reliability, not high interest returns.
In 2000 we policyholders learned that EL was bust, but that was at least 2 years AFTER the Treasury and regulator learned of the problem, but kept schtum.
Our losses were covered by the Policyholders Protection Act 1975, but the Lab Gov cancelled it.
Eventually some EL customers had a minimal refund, but to restrict that cost the Treasury claimed that those who took out their policies before (an arbitory) 1992, as we had, would not have been effected, so no payment.
When I eventually transferred my policy from EL I lost 50% of its then value, and my wife, who stayed with EL until she retired, lost 25%.
So, who can you trust to look after your pension savings? The experiences of many of our retired friends indicate very few … and especially any scheme dreamed up by ANY POLITICIAN OF ANY HUE … most of which are based on self-interest and the short term … until they get kicked out for yet another c**k-up.

Couldn’t agree more!
Equitable Life – the oldest life company in the world, respectable, and ‘regulated’ by taxpayer-funded bodies (including the Treasury itself). What could possibly go wrong?
Like over a million others, I also tried to take responsibility for my retirement by saving with ELAS. As a consequence of the incompetence/culpability of the regulators, though, I am now unable to trust any of them.
If we are to save for our futures, there MUST be trust.

After cashing in a couple of life insurance policies, and getting back less than I had paid in, I put my hard earned cash into property, by buying an old rundown house, and refurbishing it and remodelling it. I later sold it to my kids at a knock down price.
£4000 invested in it 1977, is now worth close to £1m. No one can run off with a house, especially if you are living in it. If the whole building was let, it would have a monthly rent income of about the same as it cost to buy, 40 years ago. Find a pension scheme that can do that!
One thing to remember, insurance, and pension schemes are there to make money for the people that run them, NOT the people who pay into them! So if they siphon off the cash, and then go bust, THEY can live happily ever after. Effectively, they are just Ponzi schemes in disguise.
Also, if the pension managers dont steal it, the banks surely will, by ”Quantitative Easing” or in plain language, money printing, which devalues your cash, steadily, and remorselessly.
When I started work, £1000 was an executives annual wage. Now its a just weeks wage for many workers. Thats inflation!

Have to agree, property has proved to be the only cast iron investment for many years.
Also your describing most pension schemes as Ponzi schemes is 100% correct.
QE however is an invention of central banks e.g. Bank of England, the Fed etc which allows banks and building societys to pay derisory interest rates to savers e.g. 0.05% thereby forcing us to spend more and more on our credit cards.

At my ex wife’s insistence, and against my better judgement, I paid into a pension scheme, which had ”glowing promises’ for the future, for about 25 years.
It now pays me £96 per MONTH!
Whoopee! I’m of for a grand tour, ……of my garden!!
It probably wouldn’t even keep me a ca, if I had one.
When Oi larfs, Oi farts, and when Oi farts, Oi poops myself….. etc.

That should read, ”keep me a CAT”

Re the BHS pension scandal, this is worth a read, as well as Nils Pratley’s article linked to the page:

(Different topic: this also shows you how much a knighthood really is worth if Philip Green ultimately gets to keep his.)

I wish a state pension were all we needed, once overhauled and made as fair, flexible and workable as possible. Dream on.

Stop retrospective changes. The NHS pension scheme changed when I was pregnant but I was unaware nor was my husband (he was a very busy GP in East London). When he died in 2003 I found out if I repartnered or remarried I’d lose his pension. I remarried in 2011 and his pension was stopped as he died before 2005.
I’m 61 and now have to wait an extra 6 years for my state pension.
Luckily I saved in my own USS pension (AVCs and Added Years ) because I worked PT when my children were young . I also set up a private pension (rather than spend on luxuries annd expensive holidays or cars) . I’ve now been hit by reductions in size of pension pot I can hold (reduced to £1million in April 2016). The final salary scheme has stopped too.

So I have very little trust in Governments or the security of our pensions. The rules are changed without consultation and prevent sensible retirement planning e.g on state pension age and on NHS pension entitlement and on pension pot size too.

Many private sector friends have speculated on housing as a pension alternative and that isn’t good for the young. We should have stable secure pensions with low charges as in the Netherlands.

Jenny says:
2 November 2017

Sounds an excellent proposal…

I would like to keep the ‘triple lock’

Retired already and in the fortunate position of having been in a final salary scheme

People doing a carers job or something similar cant afford to pay in for a pension and yet the country could not do without them. A raise in their salery would be a good thing. The country will always badly need them and they do a wonderful job. How are they going to fare when leaving their jobs?

If someone is not able to earn much during their working life, how should they fund their retirement? At present this is dealt with by the state pension. There is also the compulsory pension scheme that all employers have to offer.

“Millions of workers are being automatically enrolled into a workplace pension by their employer.
Saving into a workplace pension is easy – you don’t have to do anything. Once you’re enrolled by your employer, not only will you pay into the scheme, but so will your boss and you may also get tax relief from the Government.

Your employer will need to enrol you into a workplace pension scheme if you:

Are not already in one, or they’ve not enrolled you into one
Are aged between 22 and State Pension age
Earn more than £10,000 a year
Usually work in the UK
You can opt out if you want to, but that means losing out on employer and government contributions – and if you stay in, you’ll have your own pension that you receive when you retire.

From 6 April 2018, the minimum contributions for the workplace pension will increase.

Date effective Employer minimum contribution / Staff contribution /Total minimum contribution
Currently until 5 April 2018 1% / 1% / 2%
6 April 2018 to 5 April 2019 2% / 3% / 5%
6 April 2019 onwards 3% / 5% / 8%”


I think it is a little out of order malcolm to add facts to a Which? Conversation piece. : )

I did wonder that given for a large number of Britains the payment of rent or mortgages was their primary expense that perhaps Which? might examine this as a more immediate and perhaps soluble problem. Nice dashboards are great but actually having sufficient money to make any choices would be nice.

I should own up to having considerable experience of plotting people’s expenditure when they had barely enough income. Employed or already a pensioner. The inability to put away enough is the problem not really the end game.

For some people this might be a good start:

Is your life unmanageable because of debt?
Are you vague around what you spend?
Are you anxious when bills come through the post?
Are you unable to save any money and build a future?

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What is Debtors Anonymous?
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DA encourages careful record keeping and monitoring of finances – including purchases, income, and debt payments – so that you get a clearer picture of your spending habits. This information is used to develop healthier spending practices, supporting you in keeping a reasonable quality of life while still repaying debt. Similarly, DA recommends developing plans for the future to increase your income.

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I agree for most part however, the fundamental problem about pensions in general is that the Government overlooks the fact that many people do not have any spare money to save for a pension even if they want too. WAKE UP!

So Brenda, what is the solution? oh yes, we could take the £10bn that was wasted on a new NHS IT system or the overspend on 2 aircraft carriers.
But at least we are better off than most 3rd world countries where there is no NHS, or state pension.

Bryan Thomas says:
2 November 2017

Sorry, but I have no problem regarding a pension, which has been
running for about 19 years.

I fully endorse the pension freedoms.I would say however that there are many firms who will not accept a final salary transfer even if you can show you have taken financial advice (unless the advice is specifically to make the transfer in some cases) regardless of the advice. If I am frank it is none of their business to dictate to people;some say they are afraid of litigation but the paperwork is written in such a way that that could not happen as the advisor makes sure you fully understand the risks etc,so I find this a bar to the pension freedoms we are supposed to now have.What I would say though is that there should be a little more onus placed on the administrators of transferring schemes(ALL not just final salary) to make due diligence checks on receiving schemes as i feel this is the only way to try to eliminate some of the scams that are all too present now.

Its not just about future pensions, my annuity with Prudential has gone down every year since they took it over in 2007 ! Impossible to challenge them they come back with ‘smoke and mirrors’ jargon and every trick in the book blaming others , the recession, smoothing, yet the company make billions £ in profits every year.
Once you start taking your pension you can’t change or shop around and are at your providers mercy of which thy have none.
The Ombudsman is useless too.

I thought it was impossible for an annuity to reduce!