Your pension will be crucial when you retire, and you want to do so comfortably. Follow this advice to ensure you're optimising your income once you finish working.
Only one in four women believe they have enough pension savings to retire comfortably. And as the pensions gap continues to widen, more women could be forced to work longer or face a smaller income when they stop working.
Research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows women could be missing out on as much as £183,936 each, compared to the amount men receive from their pension. This is a stark rise from 2020—when the pension gulf was £157,263—reflecting the impact the pandemic has had on women’s finances.
Women’s smaller pensions are partly due to the pay gap—if you earn less, you’ll often pay less into your pension too.
“The big blow comes from career breaks and the compromises women tend to make for caring responsibilities,” says Sarah Coles, personal finance expert at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Take someone who has a career break after having children, then returns part-time while they’re at school and decides they can’t afford to pay into a pension during that time. Later in life, they might be called on to care for elderly parents and then a partner, which could effectively halve the potential time they have to pay into a pension.”
If you’re worried you may not have saved enough for life after work, there are things you can do to boost your pension. We show you the steps to take to help increase your retirement income.
1. Increase your pension contribution
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If you’re employed, then the chances are you’re already paying into a workplace pension thanks to auto-enrolment rules. But, did you know that if you pay in more, your employer may pay in more too? Many, although not all, employers will match your increased contribution. If they don’t, then you still get the tax relief from the government to help inject more money into your pot.
Even just an extra 1% pension contribution could make a big difference. Rebecca O'Connor, head of pensions and savings at the investment platform Interactive Investor, explains: “Someone starting working life on a salary of £35,000 and paying in 8% a year (including employer contributions) could expect to have a pot worth around £251,000 when they retire at age 67.
“If they pay in 9% a year, from age 50, they could expect £262,000—a difference of £12,000.”
The main caveat is that you can’t pay more than £40,000 into your pension each year—this rule is known as the annual allowance.
If you’re working part-time or do not meet the minimum income requirement of £10,000 to be automatically enrolled into a pension scheme, there’s no reason why you can’t ask to join anyway.
2. Pay a lump sum into your pension
If you receive a bonus at work, or perhaps inherit some money or win a prize on the Premium Bonds, then paying that money into your pension is a quick and easy way to give it a boost.
The added bonus is that you’ll get tax relief on the additional contributions. So, if you paid £1,000 into your pension scheme, the government would add £250 in tax relief if you’re a basic-rate payer. If you’re a higher or additional rate taxpayer, you could potentially claim back more.
3. Find lost pensions
While most people tell their bank and utility company when they’re moving house, few remember to tell their pension provider which could result in a lost pension. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), just one in 25 people tell their pension provider when they move home.
If you’ve had several jobs during your career, then it’s also likely that you have lost contact with your previous pension providers.
The average worker has 10 jobs, potentially resulting in 10 different pension pots, according to Schroders Personal Wealth. The ABI estimates there are 1.6 million lost pension pots worth a staggering £19.4 billion—the equivalent of nearly £13,000 per pension pot.
If you think you may have pension money you have forgotten about, it’s time to track it down. Use Moneyhelper’s template letter for this.
If you’re still struggling to find your lost pension, use the government’s Pension Tracing Service.
4. Top up your state pension
The full state pension is £179.60 a week, but you need at least 35 years of National Insurance contributions to get it. The first step is to check your pension to understand exactly what your situation is.
If you have fewer qualifying years, your pension entitlement will be proportionately lower. So, if you have 23 years of contributions, you’ll receive two-thirds of the full state pension. You need at least 10 years of National Insurance contributions to get any at all.
If you think you may not have enough, then you may be able to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions. The general rule is you can pay voluntary contributions to cover the past six years.
Most people pay class 3 contributions, which are voluntary and designed to fill gaps in your record. These cost £15.40 a week (or £800.80 a year). Self-employed workers pay class 2 contributions, which cost £3.05 a week (or £158.60 for the year).
Before you pay for any voluntary contributions, request a state pension forecast. This will show how much state pension you could get, and how to increase it (if you can). You can apply for one on gov.uk or by calling 0800 731 0175.
5. Defer your state pension
If you’re in no hurry for your state pension, you could delay it and get more.
For every nine weeks that you wait, your state pension increases by 1%. This works out as just under 5.8% for every 52 weeks.
So, if you were entitled to the full state pension of £179.60 a week, and deferred it by a year, you’d get an extra £10.42 a week.
You don’t need to do anything to defer your pension. You actually only receive your state pension when you claim it (it does not get paid to you automatically). So, if you don’t claim it, the government will know you’re deferring it.
Not sure how much income you need when you retire? Take a look at Moneyhelper’s pension calculator to help you get to grips with how much you’ll need and your likely pension income.
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Ruth is a contributing editor for The Money Edit and also covers finance for Woman & Home. Ruth is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times.
A multi-award-winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service.
Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, a magistrate and an NHS volunteer. You can follow Ruth on twitter.