Sometimes, a scheme’s Rules will define pensionable salary in such a way that it would have used an average of certain types of earnings where there was likely to be significant fluctuations.
Example of averaging certain earnings which go towards pensionable salary:
pensionable salary = basic salary + average of the last 3 years bonuses
Final salary schemes
A final salary scheme is a type of defined benefit scheme and will have used a formula to calculate your pension using 4 key elements. The formula (and the definitions for each part of it) will be set out in the Scheme Rules.
Because your pensionable salary would have been used as one part of the formula in order to calculate your pension, a final salary scheme is commonly referred to as ‘salary related’ scheme.
In a final salary scheme your pension would have been based upon your final pensionable salary in the years immediately before you ceased to be an active member of the scheme. Different schemes use different definitions, so it is the definition of your ‘final pensionable salary’ (or ‘final pensionable earnings’) that is important in this type of scheme.
There are many different types of final salary schemes, each having its own formula to calculate members’ benefits.
Example of a final salary formula:
length of pensionable service x final pensionable salary
Three common examples of final pensionable salary would be:
- your last year’s pensionable salary whilst you were an active member
- an average of your last 3 years pensionable salary whilst you were an active member
- an average of the best 3 consecutive years pensionable salary over the last 10 years that you were an active member.
If you experienced any decrease in your earnings immediately before you ceased to be an active member, this could have had a significant impact upon your pension.
In a final salary schemes, your contributions would have usually been expressed as a percentage of your pensionable salary, e.g. 7% employee with your employer paying the balance of the costs to fund the promised pensions (with the exception of some Public Sector schemes).
Career average revalued earning schemes (CARE schemes)
A CARE scheme is a type of defined benefit scheme and it too would have used a formula to calculate your pension benefits using 4 key elements. The formula (and the definitions for each part of it) will be set out in the Scheme Rules.
In a CARE scheme, usually each year’s pensionable salary would have been revalued (increased) to allow for inflation between the date it was received and the date on which you ceased to be an active member (called inflation adjustment). The total of your pensionable salary would then have been averaged out by dividing it by the number of years you were a member of the pension scheme.
Example of a ‘CARE scheme’ formula:
length of pensionable service x averaged pensionable salary
The definition of your pensionable salary is important in this type of scheme.
The ‘inflation adjustment’ could have been structured in many ways, but would have been based upon one of the Prices Inflation Indexes (such as RPI or CPI) or in a generous scheme on Average Earnings increases.
In a CARE scheme, your contributions would have usually been expressed as a percentage of your pensionable salary, e.g. 7% employee with your employer paying the balance to fund the promised pensions (with the exception of some Public Sector schemes).
Money purchase schemes
A ‘money purchase scheme’ provides benefits based upon the amount of money that was in YOUR own pension ‘pot’ when benefits were paid.
The amount that was in your ‘pot’ when benefits were paid will have depended upon the payments made into your ‘pot’; the investment return achieved on each individual payment to the pot; and any costs which were charged against your growing ‘pot’. The benefits you or your dependents received from a money purchase scheme will have come entirely from your ‘pot’.
The contributions that your employer and YOU made to the money purchase scheme will have been based upon your earnings whilst you were an active member of the scheme, and in this respect your pensionable salary was important. As with other types of employer sponsored schemes, calculating your pensionable salary can have been quite complex, involving factors such as maximum amounts of your earnings which could have been taken into account, or exclusions of certain types of earnings.
In an employer sponsored money purchase scheme, your contributions would usually have been expressed as a percentage of your pensionable salary, e.g. 5% employee, 7% employer contributions.
Summary & Key Points
When making enquiries about your pension benefit it is very important that you make it clear that you are a pensioner member rather than an active member or preserved member. Active, preserved and pensioner are different classes of membership of a pension scheme and any definitions and paragraphs contained within your Scheme Rules or scheme literature relating to any benefit may differ considerably between these categories.
You retirement income is important:
- Keep informed. Your scheme may modify benefits and Rules. Legislation may change. Your circumstances may alter.
- Rules differ from scheme to scheme and are wide and varied in content. Don’t assume that what applies to one of your pension schemes will necessarily apply to others that you may have.
- HMRC impose rules which registered pension schemes must conform to.
People seldom have identical pensions and you should avoid drawing comparisons with colleagues whose circumstances may at first appear the same but could emerge as having significant differences.
This is not an authoritative document. Seek professional advice from an appropriately experienced and qualified adviser.
What earnings were used in calculating my pension v3.0 Pensioner
Last updated 17/01/2007