Pension transfers are taking longer - is it worth moving your retirement savings?

Pension transfer times have increased over the past three years but it may be worth the wait for lower fees and less paperwork.

money being handed over
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Combining old pension pots can be an effective way to manage your retirement savings in one place, but many savers are facing long waits to merge their money.

Automatic enrolment may have got more people into workplace pension schemes but it also means workers can easily collect several different retirement savings pots as they move jobs.

Combining them can be a useful way to save on fees and monitor performance in one place. 

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But analysis by PensionBee has found it is taking longer to combine pots.

The pension provider analysed data firm Origo’s latest pension transfer index and uncovered a 17% increase in transfer times over the past three years.

The time to transfer a pension has increased from an average of 10.7 days in 2020 to 12.5 days in 2023.

The figure has at least dropped from 14 days in 2022 but some providers are taking up to 25 days.

This could mean paying high fees for longer to a more pricey provider or missing out on investment gains if you planned to move into other investments.

Becky O’Connor, director of public affairs at PensionBee, suggests there should be a 10-day pension switch guarantee.

“It’s concerning to see a notable rise in transfer times over the past three years,” she says.

“This timeframe aligns with the independent enforcement already undertaken by the Financial Ombudsman Service. Such a shift is crucial to rebuilding confidence and trust in the pension system, empowering consumers to take charge of their financial future. 

“Consumers deserve an efficient pension transfer process and the ability to voice grievances to the Ombudsman, ensuring they have the same switching rights as observed in other markets.”

How long do pension transfers take?

The Financial Conduct Authority has been warning about long pension transfer times since 2015.

Transfers can take a while as it involves moving money invested in the stock market and there could be issues if your new provider doesn’t offer the same funds or shares.

It also depends on the technology that providers use to complete the transfers as some may do it electronically and others may still rely on paper forms that need to be signed.

Providers may also worry about customers being scammed so will want to be sure that the transfer is legitimate.

Origo’s latest data on transfer times said the fastest provider to complete requests last year was Forester Life, which completed requests within 5.3 days on average, just ahead of the 6.2 days from MetLife.

PensionBee’s average transfer time was 10.5 days.

The slowest provider was LV=, with an average transfer time of 25.7 days, while Vanguard took 23 days on average.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Top five fastest transfer times in 2023 (Source: Origo)
ProviderAverage transfer time
Forester Life5.3 days
MetLife6.2 days
NFU Mutual7.3 days
Clerical Medical7.7 days
Fidelity8.9 days
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Top five slowest transfer times in 2023 (Source: Origo)
ProviderAverage transfer time
LV=25.7 days
Vanguard23 days
People's Partnership20.3 days
Smart Pension17.8 days
Advance by Embark Platform17.7 days

Should you transfer your pension?

The average worker amasses 10 pension pots during their career, according to the Treasury.

That can be a lot of pension schemes to keep an eye on as well as plenty of logins and passwords to remember.

The Treasury has issued a call for evidence on creating a ‘pension for life’ that follows an employee each time they change jobs.

For now though, the main option is either to have multiple pots or combine your pensions so you can manage them in one place.

Many savers do this by combining their old pension savings into a self-invested personal pension that they then manage alongside their current work scheme.

Combining or consolidating your pension may save you money if you can get lower fees and could give you access to wider investment choice.

It also reduces the amount of paperwork when it comes to managing your pension,

It may not always be worth transferring your pension though as you could lose valuable benefits such as guaranteed annuity rates so it may be worth getting a financial adviser to help and check your documentation.

Savers with a defined benefit pension, such as a final salary scheme, are required to get financial advice if the transfer value is above £30,000.

You don't have to do so if you have a more common defined contribution scheme although it could be useful so you understand the costs, any tax implications and the pros and cons.

Marc Shoffman
Contributing editor

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist specialising in business, personal finance and property. His work has appeared in print and online publications ranging from FT Business to The Times, Mail on Sunday and The i newspaper. He also co-presents the In For A Penny financial planning podcast.