Ask the panel

June 23, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I am a senior academic in a new university. I plan to go part time from this September and to retire three years after that. How will this affect my pension rights?

* Our panellist for the University and College Union says: "There are two elements to the pension of members of the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS). The first is the final average salary that, at present, takes the best consecutive 365 days in the past three years; the second is your service build (your contribution into the scheme).

"At present, when you move to a fractional post (in TPS literature this is referred to as regular part-time working), you do not affect your final average salary, as your employer reports this as the full-time equivalent as if you were still working full time.

"What does happen is that you slow down your service build; if you moved to half-time working, it would take you two years' work to build one-year pension service. You would build only a further one and a half years of service rather than the three years of service if you remained full time."

She adds: "This assumes that you remain as a senior lecturer. If your university required you to give up your responsibility and move to a lower grade to work part time, then you can protect your pension by either 'transfer to a post of lesser responsibility', which separates the two periods of work, or 'contributions on a former higher salary', which enables you to continue to pay your pension as if you were still at that higher salary."

For more information, log on to the website www. teacherspensions. co.uk and select "further information/leaflets".

The panellist also says: "From January 2007, the scheme changes. and there will be in-built protection for members who wish to phase in their retirement. The final average salary will change to the final year or the average of the best three years plus price increases.

"For more information, see the consultation on changes to TPS - go to the teachers pensions website and select the 'Pension update' button."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "Going part time will not affect the final average salary calculation used for your pension when you retire as the teachers' pensions regulations ensure that teachers who are in regular part-time employment prior to their retirement are not disadvan-taged.

"The final average salary is currently the best consecutive 365 days during the past 1,095 days (three years) of employment.J "But going part time will affect how much service is counted in the calculation of your pension.

"For example, a senior lecturer working full time and earning £40,000 a year who decides to work on a 50 per cent contract for the two years leading up to retirement would still have pension benefits based on £40,000 (plus whatever increases are awarded in the intervening two years).

"But he or she will have earned only one year of pensionable service during that two-year period as a result of working half time.

"As you are probably aware, a number of changes are to be introduced to the TPS.

"These will provide greater flexi-bility for individuals in managing their transition to retirement. For example, arrangements to enable individuals to phase in their retirement will be introduced.

"In addition, the final average salary will be based on earnings in your final year before retirement, or on your best three consecutive years salary in the past ten years of service (re-valued in line with inflation), whichever is higher.J "You can find more information about how part-time working will affect your pension and on changes to the scheme on the TPS website (www.teacherspensions.co.uk) or by telephoning 0845 6066166.

"Your human resources department should also be able to advise you about the practical impact of moving to a part-time position," he adds.

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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