Quality free advice on your pension

This small, under-appreciated voluntary organisation can offer great advice on your pension planning and complaints.

During an interview with pensions minister Steve Webb, Ros Altmann, currently director of Saga, recommended the free, independent Pensions Advisory Service, saying “They do a fantastic job”.

Altmann has been an excellent and outspoken campaigner on pensions for a long time and she has a shrewd understanding about how they work, and in particular how government tinkering affects them. She is very definitely on the people's side, so, when she recommends something, it's worth looking into.

Which is what I did.

Ask your questions

The Pensions Advisory Service can't give personalised, tailored advice. By a technical definition, then, it doesn't give “advice” as far as a financial advisor would describe it. However, it can answer an awful lot of questions that can allow you to piece it together for yourself.

You can ask it to help explain the different types of pension, from the State Pension to company and personal pensions, including stakeholder pensions.

It can explain the latest on contracting out, on making voluntary National Insurance contributions to increase your State Pension, on the new scheme that will auto-enrol employees into a pension, and about pension credits. It can talk about women and pensions or the self-employed. It can answer questions about your options after retirement, from annuities to income drawdown.

You can ask questions by phone, email or live online.

Whose side is it on?

It seems clear the service is on our side, not the industry's. It seems to understand important issues that the pensions industry itself isn't keen on talking about, and doesn't shy away from them.

I'll give you one example. Just recently it gave a prominent position on its home page to a story about £3bn in hidden pension charges due to “frenetic trading”. Rapid trading is one of the largest costs to pension holders and it has extraordinarily massive negative effects on the size of your retirement income.

If this organisation was on the pension providers' side, it would have written nothing about this, or it would have tried to vigorously defend the trading costs.

Help with complaints

If you have tried to complain to a pension provider and failed, you can ask the Pensions Advisory Service for assistance. Professional, volunteer pension advisers will then try and resolve the dispute through mediation if they think your complaint is justified. They will recommend to you what further action you should take. All for free.

You can also go to the free Pensions Ombudsman with your complaints, but you can't then use the Pensions Advisory Service afterwards, so consider the order you do this in.

Unfortunately, the service can't help with complaints about investment decisions or the State Pension.

Useful online tools

The service has some great online calculators, including an excellent retirement planner to check if you're on track to retire with an appropriate pension pot. Having never seen such a tool before, this pretty much replaces all the hard work and effort I put into my four-stage guide to retirement a few years ago, which I wrote because I was astounded no professionals had done the same, or even tried to think of it from the point of view of how much income you might actually need in retirement.

Where else can you turn for free tips?

You can always get even more opinions from users of lovemoney.com through Q&A. Be sure to check out our Get ready to retire and Start a pension guides.

Have you ever used the Pensions Advisory Service? How was your experience? Would you ever use a service like this? Let us know in the comment box below.

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