Over-55s withdraw £25.62bn from pensions

The number of people accessing part, or all, of their pension savings from the age of 55 shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Admittedly government records have only been documented since April 2015, when pension freedoms gave over-55s more options when accessing their retirement savings.

More than 6.1 million people in this age bracket have dipped into their pension savings since pension freedoms came in.

Clearly, an increasing amount of savers are embracing the choice of options they have when it comes to accessing their pension.

Until 1995, when income drawdown was introduced, retirement savers usually bought an annuity with their pension, after withdrawing 25% of it tax-free.

It was a further 20 years until former chancellor George Osborne ushered in more choice for retirement savers through the introduction of pension freedoms.

Osborne was no freedom fighter - in a pensions context or otherwise - but his move continues to prove popular among over-55s.

Government statistics showed that £8.18 billion was withdrawn by over-55s in 2018/19 - the highest on record, and up from £6.65bn in 2017/18.

Up to the end of March 2019, around 648,000 people withdrew pension savings of around £2.06bn - the second highest quarter on record.

How popular are pension freedoms?

With more than £25.62bn being withdrawn from people's retirement savings since April 2015, total withdrawals remain fairly subdued in the grand scheme of things. According to the Office for National Statistics' most recent population estimates, there were just over 19.77m over-55s in the UK midway through 2017.

Only around 1.113m of those took flexible payments from their pensions since April 2015. A total of 6.136m payments were made over that time, although 2.436m of those were in 2018/19.

That means around 5.63% of over-55s accessed their retirement savings from the age of 55 since April 2015 - but 40% of those were in the last 12 months.

What can you do with your pension at 55?

The statistics show that most people reach the age of 55 and simply leave their pension pot alone, while many of those increase their savings.

You can usually take 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum from the age of 55, although anything above this percentage will be liable to income tax.

Alternatively you can access your savings in chunks, with 25% of each chunk being tax-free and the rest being subject to income tax.

Buying an annuity to provide guaranteed income for the rest of your life is regaining popularity, with around £4.5bn spent on these products each year.

For those with large sums in retirement savings, it may be suitable to mix any of the aforementioned options but be sure to seek expert advice before doing so.

Seek professional advice

If you are nearing the age of 55 or have already celebrated this birthday, you need to understand all your options if accessing your savings is on your mind.

The Government offers free guidance for over-55s through its Pension Wise initiative, which was introduced after the pension freedoms came in.

This guidance outlines your options in a similar way to this newsletter, and you should speak to an expert for tailored advice.

Talk to us about your personal finances.