Retirement and pension advice

We explain the free and paid-for advice that's available if you need help to understand your retirement options and make the right choices.

Gone are the days when people worked for a single company, and paid into a single workplace pension, their whole lives. These days, many of us will end up paying into more pension schemes than we can count on a single hand. This means that our decisions about how to fund retirement are much more complicated than they used to be. On top of that, we have the pension freedoms introduced in 2015. These gave us far more options about how to access defined contribution pensions. Combined, these factors mean that most of us will need retirement and pension advice at some point. Here’s a rundown of the help available.

Why should I get advice on my pension?

If you’re diligent about paying into a pension, chances are that by the time you retire, it’ll be one of the biggest assets you’ve ever owned. If things have gone well, you could end up with a pension worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

When you retire you’ll be responsible for making sure your pension pot – whatever size it is – is managed effectively. This is likely to mean making some important, and potentially complicated, decisions about how to use your pension funds. That’s particularly the case if you have a defined contribution pension, which you can access in lots of different ways.

So, unless you’re a financial expert yourself, getting retirement and pension advice from someone who can help you make the right decisions. This in turn will ensure you have the best possible lifestyle in retirement.

When should I get retirement advice?

There’s no wrong time to get pension advice. The nature of the advice you need will depend on whether you’re still building up your pension pot or starting to think about accessing it.

Getting advice to help you build up your pension

Some people might benefit from financial advice well before they retire, to help them build up their pension most effectively. This kind of advice is more likely to be beneficial to those with more complex needs. This might include, for example, those who are paying into a self-invested personal pension. This is a type of personal pension where you can take control of the specific pension investments you buy and sell, rather than leaving decisions to the pension manager.

Plus, if you’re lucky enough to have a lot of money to pay into your pension, you might need financial advice on how to avoid exceeding your annual or lifetime pension allowances.

These kinds of advice will almost always need to be tailored to your specific needs, so you’ll need to pay for regulated financial advice. You can get this kind of advice whenever you need it, either as a one-off to help you make a key decision, or to help you manage your pension on an ongoing basis.

Getting advice on accessing your pension

The best time to get advice on accessing your pension is at least a year or two before you plan to start taking money from it. That gives you plenty of time to consider your options and do any prep that’s needed. The best way to get advice, and the type of advice you’ll need, will depend on your personal circumstances. For example, what type (or types) of pension you have, your health and whether you have dependants. In the rest of this guide, we’ll be focusing on advice on how to access your pension, as it’s something almost everyone is likely to need some help with.

What kinds of pension issues might I need advice on?

Here are some of the most common questions that people might have about starting to take their pension. It’s not an exhaustive list of things that an expert can help with, but it will give you an idea of the things you might need to consider. Where Finder has more in-depth articles on each topic, we’ve included links for more information. Written guidance isn’t a replacement for in-person advice, but it can give you a better understanding of the issues and help guide your discussions with a pension expert.

Where can I go for retirement advice?

If you want to speak to someone to help you understand your pension options or decide what to do with it, you have a few options. The best choice for you will depend on the complexity of your pension arrangements and the types of questions you have.

Pension guidance services

There are a couple of linked government-backed services that offer free guidance on your pension options. These services can be invaluable to help you understand the rules and make decisions. However, they can’t offer personalised advice or make recommendations. For example, they won’t recommend specific companies or investments, or tell you what to do with your pension pot. Those choices are yours to make. The government’s main pension guidance services are:

  • MoneyHelper. MoneyHelper was created by government to, as it says on its website, “make your money and pension choices clearer”. As well as written guides, you can also get impartial guidance from trained specialists online or over the phone (call 0800 011 3797). You can contact MoneyHelper regardless of your age and the types of pension you have. MoneyHelper also operates the government’s dedicated defined contribution pension access guidance service, Pension Wise.
  • Pension Wise. If you have a defined contribution pension, from the age of 50 you can book a free appointment with a Pension Wise expert. They’ll focus on your options for taking money from your pension pot, such as an annuity, pension drawdown and taking a tax-free lump sum. The specialist will talk you through things to think about when making your decision – for example, how long you plan to carry on working, and the impact of your choices on any dependants. They’ll also help you understand the tax implications of different pension access options.

Regulated financial advice

If you want more in-depth help than is available from an appointment with Pension Wise, or a call or email with a MoneyHelper expert, you’ll need to speak to a financial adviser. Financial advisers are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). They can suggest the best options for your needs and recommend specific products and providers.

You can either pay for a one-off assessment and set of recommendations – to help you make the right choice the first time you want to access your pension, for example. Or, if you want, you can commission the adviser to work with you on an ongoing basis. The adviser could carry out an annual review to make sure you’re still on track, for example.

Financial advisers can either be:

  • Independent. This means they can advise on all types of product (pensions, mortgages and insurance, for example) from all providers that sell their products through financial advisers.
  • Restricted. This could mean that they specialise only in certain types of products – such as retirement products – but have access to the whole market for those products. Or, it could mean that they only have access to a limited number of providers. If you’re looking specifically for pension advice, the former may be just as suitable for your needs as an independent financial adviser. But if you go for the latter type of restricted adviser, which can only advise on limited providers, be aware that you won’t be getting a complete picture.

Regardless of the type, financial advisers must have minimum qualifications to meet the FCA’s requirements for authorisation. Importantly, if you follow advice from a regulated financial adviser and you feel the advice was poor, or you were mis-sold, you have legal protection. This includes the right to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service and seek compensation. Though, bear in mind, you can’t complain just because your pension investments perform badly, unless the investment product itself was inappropriate for your needs. Poor investment performance could be down to market conditions that the adviser has no control over.

What type of retirement and pension advice can I get for free?

If you don’t want to pay for pension advice, you’ll be limited to factual information and guidance about your options and the implications of different choices. You’ll need to digest that information and make your own decisions about what path to choose. You’ll also need to decide which providers to use.

The specialists you speak to at MoneyHelper and Pension Wise will be experts in pensions generally and will take your personal circumstances into account to an extent. For example, there’s no point in them talking you through the ins and outs of defined benefit pensions if you don’t have this type of scheme. But they won’t be able to do a detailed analysis of your financial situation and goals and make recommendations tailored to you. That’s not necessarily because they don’t have the knowledge to do so. They’re simply not allowed. The financial sector is heavily regulated, and only advisers authorised to do so by the FCA can give you personalised advice.

What type of retirement and pension advice will I need to pay for?

If you want a pension expert who will proverbially hold your hand through your pension decisions, you’ll need to work with a regulated financial adviser. While some offer an initial free appointment to talk through some basics, you’ll need to pay for personalised recommendations. This might include what pension access options are best for you and the best providers to use. Pension advisers may even be able to manage your money on your behalf.

You might wince at the idea of paying a pretty penny for this level of advice, but it will almost certainly save you time and effort as you won’t have to do the research yourself. And the adviser may have access to options that could save you money in the long run. Plus, if the adviser turns out to have given you duff advice, you’re legally protected and can seek compensation. If you make your own unadvised decisions, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame if they don’t work out as well as hoped.

How will I be charged for regulated pension advice?

Financial advisers can charge for their services in a few different ways. They might apply one or more of the following:

  • A percentage of the money in the pension, or pensions, that you’re getting advice on. They’ll typically charge an initial fee for their recommendations. This could be 1% to 2% of your pot’s value, for example. Plus, if you want them to manage your pensions or provide ongoing advice, you’ll pay a (usually smaller) annual fee.
  • A flat fee for each piece of work. So they might apply one charge to cover fact-finding and implementation of the plan, and further flat fees for annual reviews.
  • Hourly fees. According to Unbiased, which has a directory of financial advisers, £150 per hour is the UK average. If your adviser charges by the hour, get an up-front estimate of how long the work is likely to take.

Regardless of how they charge, advisers should make their fees crystal clear from the outset. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you’re not comfortable, walk away.

Is pension advice from a regulated financial adviser expensive?

Let’s not beat around the bush. It can certainly seem that way. If, for example, you have a defined contribution pension pot worth £300,000, even a 1% fee for regulated advice would cost £3,000.

It’s important to keep this in perspective, though. Unless you’re a financial whizz kid who knows the pension market like the back of your hand, using a financial adviser can help you avoid making bad decisions that could leave you worse off in the long run. Plus, financial advisers might have access to pension products with fees that are lower than you’d be able to access yourself.

And it’s important not to forget the value of your time. Of course, some people relish spending hours researching pension options to ensure they’ve covered all the bases. Kudos to you if you do. But if you’d rather watch paint dry, paying a professional could save you hassle and – potentially – money.

Is financial advice mandatory for pensions?

Zoe Stabler

Finder expert Zoe Stabler answers

In most cases, no. At a bare minimum, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the free Pension Wise service, but there’s usually no legal requirement to seek advice about accessing your pension. There are 2 notable exceptions to this rule.

  1. If you want to transfer a defined benefit (often called final salary) pension worth more than £30,000 into a defined contribution pension. Defined benefit pensions have a number of advantages over defined contribution pensions. These include a guaranteed income for life based on a proportion of your salary when you were working for the employer that provided the pension. Transferring a defined benefit pension is not a decision to be taken lightly. So, pension providers aren’t permitted to make this kind of transfer unless you’ve taken regulated financial advice.
  2. If you want to cash in either a defined benefit pension of any value or a defined contribution pension pot worth more than £30,000.

These rules are in place to make sure you’re aware of all the pros and cons of these decisions, which could be risky for many people. A regulated financial adviser will fully assess your personal situation and be able to make a tailored recommendation based on your circumstances. If their advice turns out to have been poor, you’ll have the right to complain and seek redress.

Bottom line

Your retirement savings have to literally last a lifetime – or what’s left of it when you retire. Happily, that can be a pretty long time. Average life expectancy for a 65-year-old in Great Britain is around another 20 years (18.5 years for men and 21 for women, to be specific). The last thing you need is to make pension access choices that don’t give you as much income as possible, or that result in you running out of money too soon. That’s where retirement advice can be worth its weight in gold. At the very least, you should take advantage of the government’s free guidance services from MoneyHelper. And unless your affairs are fairly straightforward and you’re a dab hand at financial research, it could be worth looking into regulated financial advice too. Head over to our full guide on how to find the best financial advisers.

Frequently asked questions


Written by

Ceri Stanaway

Ceri Stanaway is a researcher, writer and editor with more than 15 years’ experience, including a long stint at independent publisher Which?. She’s helped people find the best products and services, and avoid the pitfalls, across topics ranging from broadband to insurance. Outside of work, you can often find her sampling the fares in local cafes. See full profile

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