For NRIs living in UK the pension fund accumulation is a major hindrance. The stringent laws on taxation, especially on retirement assets, leaves very less in the hands of the people. The larger problem arises when one wants to leave UK to return to their own country or shift to any other country. There is no choice but to pay this high tax to withdraw their pension fund.As per the rulebook of UK for pension fund:
- The retirement age of receiving the pension starts at age 55
- On retirement one can withdraw upto 25% of the fund value
- The pension income one receives is taxed at rate of as high as 50%
- If you withdraw the entire amount at retirement, the rate goes upto 55%
- In UK you have to even pay a death tax of 55% on total pension fund, before it is passed to your beneficiaries
With such rules, it’s difficult for NRIs who wish to leave UK or have left UK to withdraw their pension fund. Even during accumulation period, there are very limited investment choices which are only denominated in pound sterling. All these scenarios was posing a huge problem for NRIs till few years ago when UK came out with the concept of QROPS i.e Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme.
What is a QROPS?
It is a pension scheme outside UK specifically for international workers. Here you can transfer the value of the rights from a UK registered pension scheme without incurring UK tax charges. As per UK regulations, any QROPs has to be approved by HM Revenue &Customes(HMRC) and then only it is a legal entity.It works in the similar way you will have a regular pension in UK i.e. Once you transfer the pension amount from UK Fund to QROPS, post retirement, you can still receive the lumpsum and the pension similar to what UK rules allows. However, you will be subject to tax laws of the country where QROPS is established or you become the resident.
Eligibility & Transferable Pension Schemes
The scheme is eligible for mainly for two categories- One for UK nationals, who intend to or have already moved from UK and second to international workers returning to their home or other country. If you are an NRI from any of these categories, you can transfer your UK pension fund to QROPS. However, you will not be eligible if you have already bought an annuity plan in UK and receiving the payout as listed.
There are also various types of pension schemes in UK most of which can be transferred to QROPS. The only exception is any state pension schemes which is non-transferrable.
There are many benefits which NRI in UK derive when they transfer their pension funds to a Registered QROPS. The biggest of them is the relaxation in taxation laws which give more money in their hands. In some countries like Giblatar the taxation is almost Nil. Here are some of the benefits of a QROPS:
- The tax on pension income depends on the country of residence which makes the tax payout very lower
- The benefit of tax free lumpsum at age 55 can go upto 30%
- There is no requirement to purchase an annuity much like in UK where if you don’t you are taxed very high
- No inheritance tax to your beneficiaries which makes your entire pension fund available to them at your death
- There are various investment option in some QROPS which helps in growing your fund
There will be other benefits too which makes QROPS an attractive proposition for NRIs in UK.
A general comparison of QROPS and UK pension scheme benefits:
|QROPS||UK Pension Scheme|
|Maximum Lumpsum Withdarwal||Upto 30% of fund value if more than 5 tax years out of UK||25% of fund value|
|Earliest Retirement age||55||55|
|Tax on Pension Income||0%||Upto 50%|
|Tax on Death Benefit||No||Yes, upto 55% of Lumpsum payment|
|Pension Income||Max 120% of UK GAD rates subject to Jurisdiction||Based on 100% of UK GAD Rates|
|Investment of pension fund||Flexible with wide range of option||Limited|
|Consolidation of Different Pension||Yes into a single pension||No|
The table is taken from IFAST, Singapre. The above comparison is a general and may vary based on specific schemes or individualscircumstance.
Who can create QROPS?
Although there are many schemes which will be listed as QROPS even in India but the rule says that unless they are approved by HRMC they do not qualify as QROPS.The two main jurisdictions which has evolved as attractive options for QROPs are Gibraltar and Malta apart from Isle of Man. Both these countries run QROPS approved by HMRC. There are specifically two services within their QROPS- Trust services where the pension fund is managed and administered in a trust structure and investment services where the fund is invested on the basis of a portfolio created by the pension holder with the help of the adviser to ensure the money grows till you are enjoying it. (Clients should not ignore expense ratios & taxation issues before moving their funds to some QROPS. I have personally checked, in some cases expenses are very high & you lose benefit if any.)Although they both are tax friendly, still there are differences especially in taxation within these two schemes. One has to read the details of the scheme to identify the real benefits from their schemes. But the larger benefit of QROPS with these jurisdictions is that they communicate with HMRC for any approval or clarification on behalf of investor.
Coming to India there are various schemes which are listed as QROPS but cannot be taken as approved as clearly stated by HMRC. Here is what they say-
“This list is based on information provided to HMRC by non-UK schemes when they notify HMRC they meet the conditions to be a QROPS. Publication on the list should not be seen as confirmation by HMRC that it has verified all of the information supplied by the scheme in its notification. The purpose of this list is merely to help UK registered pension schemes carry out their due diligence when transferring pension savings to another pension scheme that is not a registered pension scheme. The list is not to be taken as a recommendation for a particular scheme or product. Nor should it be taken that any scheme featured on the list is approved or backed by HMRC.”
What should you Do – in India?
There are specific criteria laid down by HMRC UK on what type of QROPS can be approved by them. The best is to draw a check list and confirm if the scheme really comes in the parameters. Here is a small check list which will identify any scheme from India are really QROPS compliant:
|Is the pension scheme regulated by a pension regulator?|
|Is the scheme pen to both local and non-resident?|
|Is the scheme recognized by the tax authority?|
|Is income distribution earliest at age 55 years old?|
|Does it provide lifetime income like an annuity? [ LIC Annuity Plan ]|
|Is the maximum lump sum payment at retirement at 30%?|
|Is the pension scheme taxed similarly for both local and non-Resident?|
|Is it invested in low cost international funds?|
Source: IFAST, Singapore
This is a general checklist which can identify the probability of any QROPS getting approved by HMRC. One can draw some conclusion by using such checklist. Remember the penalty of noncompliance is heavy as the entire pension fund will become taxable and there can be penalty imposed to. So it will be wise to clarify whether the scheme approved by HMRC and not only listed before you make a decision.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my discussion with couple of NRIs & some reading. I will suggest you to speak your ‘Investment Adviser’ before taking any decision.
Hope you got some idea of QROPS – please share if you have some additional information or ask any questions related to the same.