Lockdown is challenging in so many ways but it really has made me realise how important it is to keep active. We sit when we work, we sit when we drive a car, we sit when we get on public transport, we sit when we watch tv, the list goes on. I listened to a webinar recently where the speakers likened lack of movement to be the new smoking, which was really thought provoking and highlighted the importance of this topic. Whilst everyone is aware of how bad smoking is for our health, inactivity is also a big issue and not getting enough exercise can lead to a host of health problems both physically and mentally.

I know plenty of people are very active and I see social media posts about 10 mile runs at 5am (I wish I was that disciplined!!) There are however many of us who don’t move nearly enough, which has a huge impact on both our physical and mental health and wellbeing. The diagram below (taken from Gov.uk) was uploaded in October 2019, so prior to the pandemic. However, it illustrates the benefits physical activity has on our health and the figures are powerful to say the least:

Source: Public Health England

Let’s face it, the modern world doesn’t encourage us to be mobile and it’s all about convenience (drive throughs, online food delivery etc). During lockdown, we need to be more creative about activity. Below are some suggestions on how to get yourself moving more:

Stand up

Since you are stuck in the four walls of home even for work, make sure you try and do it standing up. You burn on average of 50 calories more per hour by standing. If you stand for 3 hours per day, five days per week, it adds up to 750 calories burned. In a year that adds up to 30,000 calories, which is almost 9 pounds. This is the equivalent of around 10 marathons per year!!

Place your laptop on a high table and stand for a while as you do your work. Take a work conference call whilst walking around the house, and make sure you take regular breaks away from your screen. The more you stand the more activity your body gets.

Work out

Gyms may be closed but we have so there are so many other ways we can keep fit. Whether it’s walking, running, or trying out one of the many workout videos which are being posted online. Try and find a routine that suits you best and dedicate at least 20 to 30 minutes daily to exercise.

Set realistic goals

Don’t throw yourself straight into a 10 mile run if you haven’t been running in a couple of years, start smaller and then work your way up.

Stretch

We can all do simple stretch and rotation movements in our homes or outside, to make sure we keep mobile. This, alongside being active, will help reduce the risk of back problems, shoulder pain, neck issues, headaches, not to mention our mental wellbeing.

Being more active during my working week is certainly one of my new year’s resolutions. This has never been more important, given the difficult times were are all currently going through.

If you would like to discuss this topic further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Since the first lockdown parts of the economy and businesses have been suffering hardship and unfortunately the recent lockdown has not helped. Who knows what is around the corner with the forthcoming regional tiered lockdown?

To date there has been some help from government with the initial furlough scheme covering some wages and employer pension costs. Unfortunately, each new version of the furlough scheme has been less generous. The current scheme which is available until 31.03.2021, only covers 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 per month and no contribution towards employer national insurance and pension contributions.

It is sometimes forgotten that an employer has a legal obligation to maintain employer pension contributions regardless of whether staff have been furloughed. Failure to fulfil this requirement may lead to legal action by The Pension Regulator (TPR). Unfortunately, The TPR’s quarterly compliance and enforcement bulletin has highlighted there has been an increase in unpaid contribution and compliance notices compared with last quarter. The quarterly bulletin shows a 191.4% increase in unpaid contribution notices from 352 to 1,026 and a 17% increase in compliance notices from 13,185 to 15,420 compared to the previous quarter.

If you are having problems making contributions, there are options available. The first of which should be to contact the regulator, TPR via 0345 600 1011 who may be willing to issue an easement notice to give you time to catch up on any missed contributions.

Also if you are contributing more than the minimum contributions or have self-certified via one of the three tiers a review by a qualified pension adviser such as Wingate BS may highlight the ability to reduce contributions to the statutory minimum which could significantly reduce the employer (ER)pension contributions.

There are a number of factors you should consider when deciding to decrease the ER contribution, including:

  • your employment contracts with your staff and whether any changes need to be made, by agreement. You may wish to seek legal advice on the process.
  • any agreements you have with recognised trade unions or other staff representative forums to discuss or notify of such changes.
  • the rules or governing documentation of the pension scheme you use, whether these currently permit you to reduce your contributions to the statutory minimum or whether you will need a change to the scheme rules. If the pension scheme you use is a Group Personal Pension, you might be able to do this by changing the arrangements you have for paying contributions without the need for a new or amended contract. If you are unsure of your scheme provisions, you should speak to your scheme trustees or provider.
  • who has the power under the rules to make changes if you have a trust-based scheme,this might be you or the trustees or a shared power. If the power is a trustee power or shared power, you will need to engage with the trustees of your scheme. Even if you have the power to amend the scheme rules, we would recommend that you notify the trustees beforehand.
  • whether there are rules that apply under pensions legislation, even if employment law permits. For example, employers with at least 50 employees with a defined contribution pension scheme, are legally required to consult with members if they are making changes that decrease employer contributions.

There are other changes which could be considered such as delaying  new joiners being added to the scheme and introducing salary sacrifice which could lead to considerable ER national insurance contribution savings and these savings could help pay towards the cost of ongoing ER pension contributions. Some legacy pension schemes set up at the start of auto enrolment can have monthly administration charges payable to the insurance company, a review of the scheme could result in the removal of this cost.

If you would like to discuss your options to maintain compliance with pension legislation whilst reducing the cost of running and contributing to the pension scheme, please get in touch.

 

 

The government are currently making a massive push to ensure that individuals age 50 or over understand the options available to them with Defined Contribution (DC) pensions which may either be a personal one, workplace one or both.

To do this the government are promoting the services of Pension Wise which is a free and impartial service set up by government in 2015 which offers guidance for people regarding their options at retirement. Demand for the Pension Wise service has grown every year since its launch in 2015. In 2019/20, the Money and Pensions Service delivered over 200,000 Pension Wise interactions, including telephone appointments, face to face appointments and online sessions, more than triple the number delivered in the service’s first year.

All in all, I truly believe that access to Pension Wise should be seen as a positive and the fact that the government are promoting this service should be commended however…once a Pension Wise appointment has been attended, what happens next.

As part of the appointment with Pension Wise, they will present options to the individual which will guide them down a particular path leading to one of several outcomes which could include but is not limited to:

  • Full Encashment
  • Annuity Purchase
  • Flexi Access Drawdown

Once the end of this path is reached the adviser at Pension Wise (who cannot give advice on the most appropriate option) will recommend that the individual visits a website called unbiased.com and seek advice from a qualified financial adviser who can then put into place a plan which meets the needs of the individual. As the qualified financial adviser will need to carry out their own fact find on the individual to provide advice, would the individual have been better off going to the financial adviser in the first place? I am not saying that there is no value to the Pension Wise service, it certainly has its place and a general information service certainly saves time than carrying out your own research but…

If my car broke down or had a problem, I would take it to a dealer or local garage to understand what is wrong with it and find out what needs to be done to fix it. Of course, cost and potentially length of time to fix the problem would be factors in my decision in using a particular garage/dealership but at least I would have all the facts with which to decide.

If we compare this to the Pension Wise service, they would very much be able to diagnose the problem with my car, tell me what needs to be done to fix but in effect direct me to the garage down the road as they can’t actually fix my problem. If this happened to me I may possibly think that my time spent with Pension Wise was OK, but not necessarily the best use of my time and that perhaps I should’ve just gone to the garage/dealership down the road in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, Pension Wise certainly has a place in the market and for many people it will be an invaluable resource from which to obtain guidance around retirement options and the next steps available however taking the above into account, should an individual just go to a qualified Financial Adviser in the first instance?

If you would like to learn more about Wingate Benefit Solutions standard workplace pension service proposition which includes pension access guidance as a minimum, then please contact Wingate on 01883 332260 and info@wingatebs.com

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we live and work and many employees are still working from home. We are in lockdown again and this time we don’t have the sunshine as a consolation. Some of us may be dealing with possible job losses within the family, having to shield loved ones, or having to provide home schooling. Winter is nearly upon us and for these reasons and more, employees may well feel isolated.

Since March, many employers have responded by putting more focus on promoting mental wellbeing and supporting employee engagement to make sure nobody feels alone.

There are lots of initiatives an employer can introduce, such as providing training for appointed employees to become mental health first aiders. They can then be the first point of contact to support staff who may be experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress.

Mental health webinars would be another great addition, these are readily available and generally free of charge. Such webinars can provide employees with valuable information and tips on how to maintain their wellbeing, especially as we go into winter where isolation naturally occurs.

I think the majority of us have become accustomed to virtual meetings through platforms like Zoom and Teams. These have proven to be such valuable tools for business but it’s important to utilise these for social purposes too. We all miss going out for a team lunch, or a trip to the pub. Let’s hope we can get back to these in the not too distant future, but in the meantime we can make use of these online platforms to help create an inclusive environment for all for things like a virtual breakfast, a Friday quiz, an after work drink or maybe just a general catch up. The social element cannot be forgotten in these difficult times, we need this to bring our colleagues together.

Physical wellbeing is also so important, especially for those with busy sedentary jobs. It can be challenging to take yourself away from your PC/laptop to get that all important dose of daily exercise. Employers can promote healthy activities, perhaps a running ‘club’ or a challenge to achieve a certain number of daily steps. Communications to encourage hydration and health eating habits would also be a great way to promote physical wellbeing.

The challenges we have all faced over the last few months mean that employers need to make sure their employees feel supported and connected to the organisation and more importantly, each other. This is essential to make sure no one feels isolated, especially with those cold, dark days ahead.

If you would like to discuss your wellbeing strategy please do get in touch.

 

You know you have a problem when the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman says:

‘For too long pensions have been shrouded in complexity and technical jargon, limiting people’s understanding of their savings and hampering their retirement planning.’

To be fair, I completely agree with him and make him absolutely correct!

Historically pension statements have been issued on an annual basis, are usually 8-10 pages long and may potentially grab the reader’s attention for the first 2 pages, possibly 3 at a stretch. The reader is likely to simply file this statement into their dusty old pension file where it will sit with the last 5 years’ worth of statements. Most lay people tend to want to know 3 things:

  • How much money is in my pension pot?
  • How much money will this give me when I retire?
  • What can I do to improve these figures?

Recently, pension providers have been taking steps to make their pension statements more engaging such as including colourful pie and bar charts and also issuing them online to make them more accessible but is the message getting across to the consumer?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced proposals that will mean that annual pension statements for workplace pensions will have to be condensed to a maximum of two pages.

The DWP proposals will require pension providers to provide pension statements and structure them in such a way that draws members’ attention to the three key areas mentioned above.

The initial focus will be on defined contribution schemes used for Automatic Enrolment, with a view to later improving consistency across all types of pension schemes.

Simpler statements will include a line on costs and charges and a clear signpost for a more detailed assessment of this information elsewhere to help members see what they have paid for their pension.

Guy Opperman has also said:

‘Simple statements will usher in a new standard for how schemes communicate with their members – vastly improving people’s understanding and engagement with their pensions.’

With more people saving for their retirement than ever before thanks to Automatic Enrolment, it is vital they can understand what’s going on with their hard-earned money and actively plan for their future.

Simpler pension statements support the department’s ambition to make information about pension saving more accessible to consumers, running parallel to the department’s championing of the use of dashboards, an innovation that will allow savers’ pension information to be accessed on digital devices at any time they choose. Further work to encourage and drive the consolidation of small pots will also lead to better outcomes for pension scheme members.’

If any of your employees are having any difficulty in understanding their pension statements in their current form, then please do not hesitate to direct them to our experienced team at Wingate on 01883 332260 or at info@wingatebs.com who will be able to help them make sense of what they have and how it works.

Ref: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/simple-statements-boost-for-pension-planning 19th October 2020

Group Life Assurance benefits will pay a lump sum benefit upon death of an insured employee. However, what many people overlook is that traditionally Group Life schemes are written under registered pension scheme legislation and as such, there are instances where an individual can invalidate their pension protection by joining such a scheme.

The Lifetime Allowance (LTA) was created when pension simplification legislation was implemented in April 2006. Benefits which count towards the LTA include registered pension and lump sum death benefits from registered Group Life Assurance schemes. Historically, the LTA was £1.8m but since April 2012, this has been reduced a number of times. For 2020/21, the LTA is £1,073,100. Benefits which exceed the LTA are subject to a tax charge of up to 55%.

Individuals with benefits above or approaching the LTA can apply for pension protection from the HMRC. Since the introduction of the LTA, there are several different types of pension protection which have become available to enable individuals to protect the value of benefits that they have built up (and future benefits that may accrue) from tax charges. If pension protection is granted, these protections are subject to different conditions and strict rules and if broken, the protection will be withdrawn.

A potential issue with registered group life arrangements is when an employee with Pension Protection joins a ‘new’ registered group life scheme due to the fact that they have joined a new employer, the protection may be voided, depending on the type of protection they have and when this was granted. An employer may not be aware of employees who have pension protection in place, as this is arranged on an individual basis. A Group Life scheme is classed as a ‘new’ arrangement if the Pension Scheme Tax Reference (PSTR) number which applies to the scheme changes or a new trust is arranged for a scheme.

The alternative, an ‘Excepted’ Group Life scheme, provide lump sum death benefits outside of the registered pension scheme environment. Therefore any benefits paid are not currently included in the calculation of the LTA. You may wish to consider setting up an Excepted scheme for a defined section of your membership. There will usually be no difference in cost for this type of arrangement and you would need to execute a trust deed prior to implementing the insurance policy.

There are advantages and disadvantages of the way a scheme can be established and managed over another. There are some differences between Registered and Excepted schemes, which include potential tax charges in certain scenarios on an Excepted scheme. If you would like to discuss the different options available and which may be suitable for your business, please do get in touch.

We are delighted to announce that Wingate Benefit Solutions have been recognised as shortlisted finalists in two categories at the 2020 Health Insurance and Protection awards.

Wingate received this accolade in the highly contested categories of ‘Best Adviser for Group Protection’ and ‘Best Adviser for Group Healthcare’.   These awards are our industry’s ultimate accolade and an unparalleled recognition of excellence.

Commenting on this latest achievement, Ben Clarke; Managing Director of Wingate said; “We are so proud that the hard work and commitment of our team to deliver exceptional standards of advice and service have been recognised”

What seems like a lifetime ago, in 2014 the government announced that it was planning to increase the age at which someone can access their private pension (including their workplace pension) to age 57 from age 55. This is due to be implemented in 2028.

Although things have been quiet on this topic since 2014, in response to a written parliamentary question posed on 3rd September, the Treasury confirmed that it is still intending to push ahead with these changes.

The Treasury have provided some reasoning behind these proposed changes which are three-fold in that they are designed to:

  1. Reflect trends in longevity. i.e. people are living longer
  2. Encourage people to remain in work
  3. Ensure pension savings provide for later life

The cynics amongst us may feel that people remaining in work should mean more taxes being paid and therefore more revenue to HMRC which in the current climate must be a surely be priority to HMRC. Moreover, if people access pension at a later date then this should reduce the chances of people spending their funds more quickly than they should and as a result should be less likely to rely on the government to support them financially in their later years.

The biggest issue that the government needs to deal with is the finer detail around this change and how this message is communicated as the government surely cannot afford a repeat of the mess that was created when the state pension age moved from 60 to 65. The government could look at making the change at say the beginning of a tax year in 2028 or even in the October of 2028 as this is when the state pension age changes to 67. This does come with its own problems due to a hard cliff edge with people winning or losing depending on what side of the line they fall on.

If the government decide to phase in the changes in that same way as they did when they changed to the current state pension age then this also could have problems due to the opaque timing of the changes and their already poor track record of communicating such radical changes to the wider population.

As we sit here today, I am not personally against these changes as I do understand, and to an extent, agree with the reasons for them. This change has not as yet been rubber stamped by government however in my opinion the government need to come forward with more details about their plan as soon as possible so that the adviser community can help in getting the message out to the nation to ensure people can plan properly for their retirement.

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has caused real disruption to the Private Healthcare industry. Back in March/April there was concern that the NHS could be overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 related hospital admissions. In order to prepare for the huge strain on health services, the government needed to maximise the number of beds that can offer ventilation and intensive support, and the available healthcare professionals who can help. The NHS therefore enlisted the help of the private sector to help the national effort to fight the virus.

We feel at this time of national crisis this approach was right, and the responsible response to an unprecedented situation to help the nation fight the virus.  This however has had an impact on those with private medical insurance.

What impact has this had on private medical insurance?

The pandemic has led to a drop in privately funded care as non-urgent elective procedures have been subject to postponement. This means there have been a proportion of customer claims which have been temporarily deferred. Insurance providers have continued to authorise treatment to ensure treatment can be accessed as quickly as possible when services return to some sort of normality.

What benefits have remained in place throughout the pandemic?

Urgent and time-critical care, such as cancer treatment, has still been treated as a matter of priority. Virtual and 24 hour telephone services have also been available through many insurers, enabling members access to care through GP’s, musculoskeletal (bone, joint, and muscle) clinicians and mental health practitioners, all from the comfort and safety of their homes.

What have insurers done to help support customers?

The market has responded to the challenges the pandemic has brought about. This has varied between insurers but below are some examples of how they have supported their customers and members:

  • Premium payment deferrals and discounts for those who in financial hardship
  • Excess waivers for those who have had treatment delayed, which has resulted in the start of a new policy year whereby a new excess would usually apply
  • Enhancement of virtual/digital services to support health and wellbeing
  • Specific COVID-19 cashback benefit for members who require a hospital stay due to coronavirus

The market has stated that they are not looking to profit from the pandemic. Some providers have spoken about premium rebates/cash back, though this is not likely to materialise until next year when the impact of COVID-19 becomes clearer.

What is the current position?

Thankfully, the NHS have not been overwhelmed to date and this has resulted in some facilities being returned to the private sector. Whilst things are certainly not back to ‘normal’, some non-urgent elective procedures are now taking place. Therefore, private medical insurance policies are starting to see more claims being put through though it is interesting to note that the UK is seeing people defer treatment due to a lack of confidence, as a result of COVID-19.

As it is so important for some people to get treatment, especially for serious conditions such as cancer, If anyone holding private medical insurance needs to make a claim, they should call the insurer’s claims team and they will be able to confirm treatment availability and discuss options.

The situation has developed constantly over the last few months and no doubt will continue to do so over the coming months. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on developments and if you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please do get in touch.

The CBILS has been designed by the government to support the continued provision of finance to smaller businesses (SME’s) who have and are experiencing lost or deferred revenues, leading to disruptions to their cashflow as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The scheme supports a wide range of business finance products, including terms loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance facilities.

Without this scheme many SME’s would struggle to operate and possibly cease to trade meaning that this intervention made by the government has been much needed. What would happen to the business however if one or more or the business owners passed away or is diagnosed with a critical illness? In a normal circumstance the loan will still need to be repaid and the funds used for this purpose will eat into any potential value in the business that tends to be passed across to family members in the form of a shareholding or cash sum.

As a result, should some form of Business Loan protection be considered?

What is Business Loan Protection?

Business Loan Protection helps the business pay any outstanding borrowings such as a loan or commercial mortgage, should the person(s) covered die or become diagnosed with a specified critical illness. In some situations insurers are also able to consider including cover for overdrafts or director loan accounts.

How does Business Loan Protection Work?

Business Loan Protection is either life assurance or life assurance and critical illness cover written on the life of the key individual or individuals so that any money due can be used to pay towards any outstanding debt or loan. The money will be paid to the business where it is a company, Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) or Scottish Partnership. Where the business is a partnership, the policy will be written on an own life basis and may be placed in trust for the other partners.

How much cover do I need?

The level of cover reflects the amount needed to pay the outstanding borrowings. The policy should be set up to reflect the terms of the borrowings and could be on a level or decreasing basis.

There are various issues to consider around Business Loan Protection and these are highlighted below:

  • What would you do in the event of the loss of the individual or individuals who have guaranteed a loan?
  • What would you do if an overdraft, loan or commercial mortgage is unable to be paid due to the loss of a shareholder or director?
  • Director loan accounts should be repaid on death – where will this money come from?

If Business Loan Protection Insurance that you are looking to discuss, please contact Wingate Benefit Solutions on 01883 332260 or at info@wingate.com and we will be able to help.