Ask the panel

September 1, 2006

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

I am 59 and likely to retire between the ages of 61 and 65. I have a deferred pension of 19 years and 61 days in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. I also have 12 years and 350 days with the Teachers' Pension Scheme because I now work in a new university. My salary is more than double what it was when I left the USS. I did not transfer initially as I thought I could transfer from the USS to the TPS at any time. Two years ago I asked to do this and was told I should have transferred within a year. It seems to me that the best pension for me would come from combining my years of service and adding additional voluntary contributions. Is there a way that I can get the TPS to take on my USS benefits?

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "It is true that you can transfer service in a previous pension to the TPS only within the first 12 months of joining the new employer.

"The 12-month time limit can be extended only in exceptional circumstances and if you apply outside this time limit you will need to provide the TPS with a detailed explanation for the delay.

"Your first step is to try to make a case to the TPS, explaining the reason for the delay and ask them to investigate the possibility of a transfer.

More information on this is available on their website ( www.teacherspensions.co.uk ).

"The TPS 'Teachers' FAQs' link on the website provides specific information on transferring to the TPS and to other pensions schemes."

He adds: "With regard to maximising your income after retirement, I would recommend that you consult an independent financial adviser.

"Your USS service will be increased by the retail price index for each year, and you could compare that with your current salary to see whether it would make a substantial difference to your final salary, on the basis of which your pension will be calculated. It is also important to remember that additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) will, of course, boost your pension."

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says: "I regret to say that there is a time limit on transferring deferred benefits into the TPS.

"In recognition of the fact that employees in the public sector often change jobs, the Government established the public sector transfer club for the relevant pension schemes; under these arrangements, the pension scheme receiving the transferred benefits is obliged to provide benefits broadly similar to those of the transferring scheme, in this case from the USS to the TPS.

"As the pension in final salary schemes is based on a later and usually far higher salary, the transferred service will attract a larger pension on retirement than if left in the previous scheme as a deferred pension albeit attracting annual RPI increases.

"For this reason, schemes limit the time permitted for a transfer made under the 'club' rules and most now require the transfer to be initiated within the first year of membership."

She adds: "If there are exceptional circumstances, a late transfer may be permitted, but as they have on file your query of some two years ago I do not think they will agree to this very late transfer: details on transferring pensions can be found on the TPS and USS websites.

"We cannot give advice on whether you should pay AVCs by buying past added years in the TPS or use the Prudential in-house teachers' AVC or another investment vehicle to maximise your income after retirement, so we recommend that you contact an independent financial adviser."

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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