Ask the panel

July 28, 2006

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

I am 33 and have paid into the Teachers' Pension Scheme for four years (but have never received any communications from TPS). I'm moving from a new university to an old university - what happens with regard to my pension? Do I lose the TPS account? Do I have a choice to stay with the TPS? If I have a choice, is TPS better than the Universities Superannuation Scheme - the retirement age is 60, not 65, and USS may have financial problems, I hear.

The Times Higher advice panel frequently receives questions about pensions, often because of confusion about how the two main schemes for academics - the Teachers' Pension Scheme, which covers academics in new universities, and the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which covers academics in old universities - relate to each other.

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says: "For the past two years, the TPS has provided annual benefit statements to all members in employment via their institutions, so I would contact the TPS and ask for a copy. You can ring 0845 6066166 or go via www.teacherspensions.co.uk . You will need your National Insurance number."

She adds: "When you move to an old university, you do not have the choice to remain with the TPS. You automatically become a member of the USS.

"What you have to decide is whether or not to leave your TPS pension as a preserved pension until you reach pensionable age or transfer it to the USS. The USS is a member of the Public Sector Club, and therefore you are able to transfer your fund, but you need to take independent financial advice on whether this is the best option for you.

"If you are a member of the UCU you can contact Frizzell at www.frizzell.co.uk and talk to them. Or you can contact an independent financial adviser who is familiar with the USS.

"Go to www.ucu.org.uk and select 'AUT'. There will be an adjustment on the transferring service depending on your new salary in the USS."

Further, she says: "The USS had a pension age of 65, but you may be able to draw your pension at 60 with the permission of your new employer. You will have had to have been a member for seven years following the transfer or you will be subject to a reduction on the transfer.

"In its 2005 valuation, the USS had a reported deficit of £6.6 billion. This reflected the poor performance in the equity market for the preceding years. This has now improved, and the deficit has been substantially reduced to £2.9 billion.

"The USS is strengthening its investment strategy and is optimistic that it will recoup this. It is also a 'last man standing' scheme, which enhances its security and is funded in excess of all funding requirements."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "Unfortunately, there is no option for you to remain in the TPS when you move to an old university. You will therefore need to decide what you would like to do with the contributions you have made over your four years of service. Your main options are as follows:

* To leave your contributions in the TPS. You will then receive a pension based on your contributions when you retire (your benefits will be index-linked).

Alternatively, if you return to the scheme in the future, you will be able to continue to build up your service.

* Transfer your service to the USS. Your new employer will be able to assist you with this process.

"You may wish to note that the TPS issues annual benefit statements for members. If you have not been receiving these, you should speak to your human resources department, which will also be able to give you further advice about what happens to your pension when you leave."

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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