The AE opt-out dilemma – 3pc today for 24pc in retirement

Cash-strapped parents who opt out of auto-enrolment until their children leave home will trade a quarter of their retirement income for a 3 per cent financial boost today, according to new research.

A report from Milliman for Royal London models a cash-strapped couple aged 30 with children and a big mortgage, with a combined income of £35,000. If they opt out of auto-enrolment when employee contributions reach 5 per cent and remain opted out until age 55 when their mortgage is paid off and their children are grown up, their retirement income will be 24 per cent lower than if they had remained enrolled in the scheme.

The modelling shows a combined state pension of £16,000, topped up by income of £9,700 if they remain enrolled, or £3,000 if they opt out between the ages of 30 and 55. If they opt out when employee auto-enrolment contributions increase to 5 per cent from April 2019. However, they only see an extra 3 per cent of their salary as some of the gain from no longer making contributions to the workplace pension scheme would be offset by an increase in tax and National Insurance contributions.

Even if the couple stick with the minimum AE pension contribution they would have to work full-time for five years longer to achieve the £32,000 they will need to maintain their pre-retirement spending habits. Alternatively, if they increase their pension contributions by 6.5 per cent, from 5 per cent to 11.5 per cent, they can eliminate the need to work longer than expected. This works out at an increase in extra pension contributions of 1.3 per cent of salary for each year less having to work.

Royal London strategic insight manager Ronnie Morgan says: “The world of DC pensions is a world of ‘Decision Citizens’ – people whose choices during their working life can profoundly affect their quality of life in retirement.    Regularly reviewing workplace pension contributions and increasing them ‘little and often’ is a far better strategy than hoping to make up for a lifetime of under-saving close to retirement.

“This research shows very clearly how many people could be heading for disappointment in retirement unless they get the advice and guidance that they need to make good financial decisions throughout their working lives.”