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What is a SERPS Pension?

Carina Chambers | 01/11/2023

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SERPS stands for the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme, otherwise known as the additional state pension. For many people, the mention of SERPS creates a sense of uncertainty and confusion. Why? Because many people have either lost track of their opted out SERPS pension or are unaware of them completely. In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of SERPS pensions, why they matter, and how you can trace and recover these often-forgotten retirement savings.

Understanding SERPS

SERPS was introduced in 1978 as a top-up to the basic state pension. The amount you’d receive from SERPS was related to your contributions during your working life, and you’d only be eligible for the scheme if you were an employee making Class 1 National Insurance Contributions. Self-employed people were not eligible for SERPS. In April 2002, SERPS was replaced by the State Second Pension.

When SERPS was originally introduced, the maximum benefit under the scheme was 25% of your earnings. In 1988 the benefit calculations changed, and the maximum benefit was reduced to 20% of average earnings. Employees could choose whether to opt in or opt out of SERPS. 

Opting Out of SERPS

Many people chose or were advised to opt out of SERPS and instead had their National Insurance rebates paid into a private pension in the hope that this would provide them with better benefits at retirement. If you were contracted out of SERPS your National Insurance contributions were:

  • Lower than people paying into SERPS

  • Paid into another pension, for example, a private pension

Pensions built up from National Insurance rebates are known as ‘protected rights’ pensions. Initially, only those who belonged to defined benefit or final salary pensions could contract out of SERPS, but in 1988, the government allowed those in defined contribution or money purchase schemes to opt out as well. People were offered incentives to leave SERPS, so for the first five years, the government contributed an extra 2% of your earnings into a personal pension.

In April 2012, only people belonging to defined benefit or final salary schemes were contracted out and paid a lower rate of National Insurance Contributions. Anyone belonging to a defined contribution scheme will have been contracted back in, paying National Insurance at the full rate. Contracting out for those with defined benefit pensions ended in April 2016.

Those who worked in the public sector, for example, people working for the NHS, the police or the armed forces, are more likely to have been contracted out than people working in other professions. 

Tracing Lost SERPS Pensions

If you suspect you may have lost track of your SERPS pension, you're not alone. Many people find themselves in this situation due to changing jobs, moving house, or simply losing paperwork over the years. The good news is that there are steps you can take to trace and potentially recover your lost SERPS pensions.

Pension tracing services, like the one offered by Profile Pensions, are valuable tools when trying to find your lost pensions. Our Find, Check & Transfer service helps you locate and access information about your pensions, including any forgotten SERPS pensions, checks for guarantees, penalties or protected benefits and completes the transfer for you. We do all the hard work for you, including contacting HMRC on your behalf. (One-off 1% arrangement fee applies)

What happens at retirement?

If you’re entitled to SERPS, you’ll start receiving it once you reach state pension age. If you retired before April 2016, then you’ll receive both the basic and the additional state pension. Anyone retiring after this date will get a single payment made up of the basic and additional state pension.

There’s no set amount of additional state pension you’ll receive – the amount you’ll get depends on how much you earned, the number of years you made National Insurance contributions and whether you contracted out. Seek advice if you’re not sure how much you might get, or check your State Pension Forecast on the government's official website. If you were contracted out and have a lower State Pension as a result, you may be able to boost your State Pension income either by continuing to work, or by claiming National Insurance credits. You might be eligible to claim credits if, for example, you left work for a while to bring up your children, or because you weren’t able to work due to illness.

If you did opt out of SERPS and have a protected rights pension, you can access this pension from the age of 55 (rising to 57 from 2028 ). You can take the first 25% of this pension as a tax-free lump sum if you want to. After that, any withdrawals will be taxed at your income tax rate.

Find out more about our SERPS pension tracing service here and track down your lost cash today.

Simply sign up online and we'll do all the hard work for you.