Private pensions are a tax-efficient way to invest and save for your retirement and can give you greater control over where your money is invested as you (or with the help of an adviser) decide what different asset classes to invest in from stocks, bonds ETFs investment trusts and funds. We have ranked, compared and reviewed some of the best SIPP providers and accounts in the UK that are regulated by the FCA. All investing carries risk. This article contains affiliate links which may earn us some form of income if you go on to open an account.
Our picks of the best private pension providers in the UK
You can use our comparison of private pension providers to compare account charges, the minimum deposits to get started, and if you have to make your own investment decisions or a fund manager does it for you.
We have chosen what we think are the best private pension accounts based on:
- over 7,000 votes in our annual awards
- our own experiences testing the private pension accounts with real money
- an in-depth comparison of the features that make them stand out compared to alternative private pensions.
- interviews with the private pension provider CEOs and senior management
Penfold: Best private pension provider 2022
Penfold won our award for best private pension in 2022 as they have combined the low-cost nature of digital pensions with expert human support and advice. The Penfold pension offers a flexible pension designed for private savers, self-employed savers, those who own limited companies, and businesses. They will help you create a bespoke private pension online with zero paperwork.
Penfold charges 0.75% for a pension and account fees include investment management fees. Pension fees reduce to 0.4% on any amount over £100,000. Transaction fees can be up to 0.06% a year.
- ✔️Expert personal advice
- ✔️Managed pension
- ✔️£1 minimin investment
- ✔️0.75%* low account fee
- ❌Cannot invest in individual shares
- ❌Relatively new provider
Moneyfarm: Best digital pension for starting small
Moneyfarm lets you invest your pension in one of seven ready-made simple and diverse portfolios with different degrees of risk and reward. Users can transfer a pension or setup a new one and Moneyfarm will manage your portfolio based on your retirement target date by reducing the risk as the time approaches.
*Moneyfarm pension account fees are scaled between 0.75% for accounts between £500 and £50,000, then above £100k are 0.45% to 0.35%. Average investment fund fees are 0.2% and the average market spread when buying and selling is 0.10%
- ✔️Simple investment options
- ✔️Low account fee of 0.75%*
- ✔️Easy to use
- ❌£500 minimum investment
- ❌Cannot invest in individual shares
Nutmeg: Best for beginners wanting a simple online pension
Nutmeg has created four pensionstyles (portfolios) which have been built by experts and use exchange-traded funds to diversify across stocks, bonds, industries, and countries. This also importantly keeps costs down.
Nutmeg pensions cost 0.75%, but account fees drop to 0.35% for balances over £100k. There is an addition charged by the investment fund managers of around 0.2% and the market spread on buying and selling portfolios is on average 0.07%
- ✔️Low account fee of 0.75%*
- ✔️Owned by JP Morgan
- ✔️Simple pre-made portfolios
- ❌£500 minimum investment
- ❌No individual funds
Profile Pensions: Best digital pension customer support
- Investments: Managed funds
- Minimum investment: £500
- Pension charges: 0.85%
Capital at risk
Profile Pensions is a digital pension but with a focus on human customer support. They can help you personalise a pension plan based on your objectives and make it easy to combine your old pensions so you can manage them in one place.
- ✔️Expert advice and support
- ✔️Simple to set up
- ✔️Combine old pensions
- ❌£500 minimum to start
- ❌0.85%* account fee is relatively high
- ❌Cannot buy individual shares
Interactive Investor: Best for fixed-fee DIY pension investing
As Interactive Investor’s pension is a SIPP (self-invested personal pension) you can pick the individual investments you want to hold from UK and international shares, bonds, ETFs and funds.
Interactive Investors’ pension (SIPP) costs £12.99 a month. *Dealing commissions are a free trade every month, then UK Shares and Funds, US Shares charged £7.99 or upgrade to a £19.99 “Super Investor” account 2 free monthly trades and deal for £3.99. Regular investing is free.
- ✔️SIPP so full control over investments
- ✔️£1 minimum deposit
- ✔️Fixed £12.99* per month account fee
- ❌No pre-made portfolios
- ❌Fixed fees not good for very small pensions
Hargreaves Lansdown: Best overall DIY pension account
With HL’s pension (SIPP) you can pick your own investments, select one of their ready-made portfolios, or pay a financial adviser to choose investments for you.
Hargreaves Lansdown charges 0.45% for a DIY pension, however, the charge for holding shares is capped at £200 per year. Funds help in your pension are charged at 0.45% for the first £250,000. There is no charge for buying funds, but shares are charged at £11.95 per deal or £5.95 if you do over 20 deals per month.
- ✔️Huge range of investments
- ✔️£1 minimum deposit
- ✔️Low account fees for shares
- ❌Limited pre-made portfolios
- ❌Expensive for bonds
AJ Bell Youinvest: Best for low-cost DIY pension investing
A pension with AJ Bell costs 0.25%, however fees for holding shares are capped at £10 per month. There is no charge for holding funds above £500,00, and between £250,000 and £500,000 fund fees reduce to 0.1%. Dealing costs are £1.50 for funds and £9.95 for shares but drop to £4.95 when there were 10 or more online share deals in the previous month
Wealthify: Pension investing from just £50
Wealthify, part of the Aviva Group, lets you invest in either an original portfolio of investments from the UK and overseas or choose an ethical investment plan made from a blend of environmentally and socially responsible investments.
Wealthify charge a flat fee of 0.6% for their pension. *There are also investment costs of on average 0.16% for original plans and 0.7% for ethical plans. Capital at risk.
- ✔️Managed pension
- ✔️Low minimum deposit of £50
- ✔️Low account fee of 0.6%*
- ❌Cannot invest individual shares
Bestinvest: Good for pension investment advice and low costs
- Investments: Managed funds, shares, ETFs, funds
- Minimum investment: £1
- Pension charges: 0.2%*
Capital at risk
Bestinvest has combined low-cost online investing and share dealing with personalised expert advice to help clients choose the right investments for their portfolio. A good choice for large long-term investors.
Bestinvest pensions can cost as little as 0.2% for holding ready-made portfolios. above £500,000 it reduces to 0.1%. For other investments the pension account fee is 0.4% up to £250k. Dealing commissions £4.95 per online share trade, fund dealing is free.
- ✔️Invest in shares as well as funds
- ✔️£1 minimum deposit
- ✔️Very low account fee of 0.2%*
- ❌No US shares
How to choose a private pension provider
The main things to look for when deciding what private pension provider to use are:
- FCA regulation: Always look for regulated providers that are part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which offers 100% protection should the pension company fail. In addition, if you’ve received bad advice in relation to your pension, you could be eligible to claim up to £85,000.
- Cold calls: Watch out for providers – or advisers – that contact via cold calls (which are now illegal) or unsolicited marketing material. Always take the advice of a fully regulated independent financial adviser. Always check the list of regulated and approved list of providers on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website: https://www.fca.org.uk/firms/financial-services-register
- Investment options: The amount of fund options available are important; look for providers offering options that meet your risk appetite. If you are interested in a self-invested personal pension, which allows more freedom to invest in individual stocks, make sure the provider has the appropriate expertise and range suited to your preferred portfolio.
- Contribution levels: Make sure you ask about minimum contribution levels and that you understand fees and charges.
- Exit fees: Many firms will charge exit fees if you want to transfer to a new provide, which can often be expensive.
Private pensions explained
The key benefit of saving into a private pension is tax relief. Contributions receive 25% tax relief for those on the basic rate, and they are free from inheritance tax if you start accessing your pot before you reach age 75. You can also take 35% of your pension tax-free once you reach age 55, but you cannot draw before this point, or you’ll pay hefty penalties.
For most people, relying solely on the basic State pension will not provide a suitable standard of living in retirement. Supplementing your retirement income with a private personal pension can mean the difference between just surviving and really living.
Typically, private personal pensions are defined contribution arrangements (sometimes called money purchase), which means the account holder bears all the investment risk. The size of the final pot depends on what you paid in and how well the investments performed.
Private personal pensions differ from workplace pensions set up by an employer into which they will also contribute.
Different types of private pension
Private pensions are usually one of three types:
- Personal Pensions: Personal pensions are offered by major pension providers offering access to a range of asset classes, which are invested on the member’s behalf once they have chosen their funds. Charges vary between providers, as do contribution levels.
- Stakeholder Pensions: Stakeholder pensions have low and flexible minimum contributions, and charges are capped at 1.5% a year of the value of your pension pot in the first ten years, then 1% a year. Stakeholder pensions offer a default investment strategy, which take away the need to make investment decisions.
- Self-invested personal pension (SIPP): Self-invested personal pensions or SIPPs operate like a standard personal pension but offer more flexibility with the investments. They are generally more expensive than their other private pension counterparts, and you need to understand how investments work, research where to put your money, and spend time managing your portfolio.
Investments you can hold in a private personal pension
You can invest in a wide range of financial markets with a private pension including:
- UK shares
- International shares
Investment accounts like Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell Youinvest and Interactive Investor will give you the most control over what you invest in where you can choose exactly what shares, funds and bonds to invest in.
Whereas robo-advisors (or digital wealth managers as they like to be called) like Wealthify, moneyfarm and Nutmeg let you invest in pre-made portfolios consisting of ETFs which cover a diverse range of markets including shares, bonds, and stock market indices. The downside is that you cannot pick individual shares, but the main benefit is that if you are not a confident investor or don’t have the time to research your own investments they do the hard work for you.
You can deposit funds into your private pension by debit card or direct from your bank, and you can opt to increase – or decrease – contributions when you need to, if minimum payment levels are not breached.
Anyone can open and pay into a private pension, and you can also pay into other people’s plans. Your employer can also pay into your personal pensions, but they do not have to. They are only obliged to offer and contribute to a workplace pension scheme.
Most private pension plans can be opened online. Providers will ask you to complete a form and the plan can be open within minutes. You will need to think about how much you can afford to pay in – some providers will ask for minimum payments – and decide on the amount of investment risk you want to take.
Private pensions tax benefits
Private pensions are arguably the most tax-efficient way to save and invest for retirement in the UK.
- Government top-up: When you pay into a personal pension from your net pay, the Government automatically adds 25% as a top-up for basic rate tax relief. If you’re a higher or additional rate taxpayer, you may benefit from even more tax relief.
- No capital gains tax: In addition, any returns made on the investments in your pension are free from capital gains tax.
Advantages of private pensions
- Tax relief – private pensions are the most tax-efficient way to save for your retirement
- Compound interest – the earlier you invest the greater your potential returns can be
- Employer contributions – your employer will top up your pension contributions
- Guaranteed retirement income – if you buy an annuity to provide you with regular income
Disadvantages of private pensions
- No access till 55 – when you invest in a private pension you cannot access your money until you are 55
- Underperformance – if you choose your own investments you run the risk of picking investments that do not perform as well as those chosen by a professional investment manager
- Complex – private pensions are not for everyone so if you do not understand pricing structures or suitable long-term investment products that can be hard to understand
Private pension annual allowances:
The Government sets limits on how much you can pay into your pension, there is an annual alliance, lifetime and money purchase allowance.
- Annual allowance: The annual allowance is the limit of how much you can contribute to your pension each year and still receive tax relief. This is currently set at £40,000 a year.
- Lifetime allowance: There is also a lifetime allowance, currently set at £1.0731 million. After this level, a lifetime allowance charge is applied at 25% if the pot is retained to pay benefits. If the member takes the pension as a lump sum, they will pay 55% on the amount that exceeds the lifetime allowance.
- Money purchase allowance: If you take more than your tax-free cash from your pension through flexible retirement income or as a lump sum, you may only receive tax relief on contributions to your pension pots of up to £4,000 a year, instead of the normal £40,000 annual allowance. This is known as the Money Purchase Annual Allowance.
Fees & charges for personal private pensions
Fees and charges vary considerably between providers. Moneyfarm charges 0.35% while Nutmeg’s fee is 0.75%, but the services and fund choices will also vary between providers.
It is important to remember that low fees do not necessarily mean the best value. Paying lower fees for poor performance may prove a false economy, but excessive fees can decimate a pension fund. For example, assuming a pension pot value of £50,000 growing at 5% a year, reducing your charges from a high level of 1.2% to a very reasonable 0.4% could save you £23,000 over 20 years. Make sure you explore precisely what is included in the costs and what impact these have on the likely final pension pot.
Some providers charge for setting your pension up, but this is not a universal charge, so it makes sense to shop around.
Other charges include platform fees, which cover the administration of your pension. They’re usually charged as a percentage of the money you’ve saved.
- Annual Management Charge: The annual management charge (AMC) pays for running and administering your plan, and for investing contributions. The AMC is charged as a set amount or as a percentage of the value of your pension investments. Each investment tends to have a different annual management charge to reflect the type of investment fund. Some are more specialist or are more actively managed, and they often have higher charges. An annual charge above 1% is generally considered expensive for a basic personal pension. For fully managed SIPPs with significant fund charges and financial advice included, fees can often exceed 1%.
- Exit Penalties & Fees: It is likely that you will pay an exit fee if you want to transfer your pension to a new provider. These vary from company to company – and even between products within the same provider – and can be as much as 10%, which might negate any benefit of leaving. You may also incur an early exit fee to cover the long-term management and handling charges over the life of the pension. Exit fees and penalties are not always clear, so it is important that you read the small print before making any decisions.
- Ongoing fund management charges: There is also an ongoing charges figure (OCF), which covers the day-to-day costs of running an investment fund that is included in your pensions. It’s usually charged as a percentage of the value of your investments.
Accessing your private pension
As soon as you reach age 55 (rising to 57 in 2028), you can access private personal pension savings. The rules allow you to take 25% tax-free and the remaining 75% is taxed at your marginal tax rate. There’s also generally no inheritance tax payable on a personal pension unless it’s first accessed over the age of 75.
The amount in your retirement pot will depend on your contributions and how well the market has performed.
There is a lot of flexibility about how you take the money out of your pension, but what you can do will vary depending on your provider.
Private pensions can be taken as a lump sum or remain invested, allowing you to draw what you want when you want (this is known as income drawdown). Income drawdown costs vary and can include Set-up/ administration fees, charges for the withdrawal of a tax-free lump sum and then fees for each additional withdrawal, as well as ongoing management charges.
PensionBee offers flexible drawdown and does not charge you fees unless you decide to make a full withdrawal of your pension within one year of your first transfer. If your pot has been with them for less than a year and you wish to withdraw it in full, they charge a fee of £480.
Hargreaves Lansdown also offers a drawdown with no set-up fee and does not charge if you aren’t withdrawing or you are holding cash. The yearly charge for holding investments is 0.45%
It is no longer compulsory to buy an annuity, but they are an option if you want a guaranteed income for life.
Private pensions versus SIPPs (Self-Invested Personal Pensions)
Private pensions often invest in funds managed by investment professionals whereas SIPPs are managed by you.
A SIPP is a type of personal defined contribution pension that allows the member to choose where to invest their contributions. Unlike in a traditional personal pension where investments are limited to those offered by a pension provider, a SIPP might offer access to a broad range of asst classes, including stocks, bonds, commodities, commercial property, private equity, and even fine wines or classic cars. The range of assets offered will vary between providers.
A SIPP provider administers the SIPP on the member’s behalf. They provide access to a range of funds, take the contributions, and ultimately pay out the pension. The provider charges for this service and fees vary between companies.
Further reading: Compare the best SIPP providers here
Private pension performance
You can compare how much money you would have made investing in these different managed private pensions.
We have not included SIPPs in this comparison of the best-performing private pensions because you are responsible for making your own investment decisions.
Before your compare the performance of these private pensions it’s important to remember that historical results are absolutely not indicative of future performance.
Managed private pension performance is heavily correlated to how well the global economy is performing. So if the overall stock markest are performing well, so will your pension. But, if the economy is in recession or a “bear market” the performance of your pension will go down.
This information was sourced from the providers literature.
Private Pension Offers
Private Pension FAQs:
As a rule, adviser of your current income when you retire. Furthermore, they suggest that you need 20 – 25 times your retirement expenses. So, if you spend £30,000 per year, you’ll need £600,000 – £750,000 in pensions, investments and savings.
It is worth deciding how your lifestyle will likely change when you retire and the expectations you have from life after work. For example, will you spend more on travel and holidays but less on commuting? Will you stay in your current house or downsize? What about the cost of healthcare as you age?
A financial adviser should help you devise a timeline that can help manage your expenses, which in turn helps you to decide when to take lump sums, how much to drawdown, and when or if you want to buy an annuity.
Private pension companies like Penfold, Profile Pensions and Pensionbee can help you track down old pensions.
Also, the Government has a pension tracing service, which can help you track down any lost pensions by post and online https://www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details
You can also use the Government’s Unclaimed Assets register, which can also locate misplaced savings and investments. It costs £25, and more information can be found here: https://www.uar.co.uk/
When you invest in a private pension, an administrator is responsible for any payments into your pension. They will also reclaim basic rate tax relief and process any income withdrawals that you make.
SIPP providers such as Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell and PensionBee administer pensions as part of the service. Other providers use third party administrators to manage this function on their behalf, for example Barclays SIPP uses AJ Bell.
Third-party administrators also usually take care of workplace pensions on behalf of employers.
All third-party administrators (and the administration of SIPP providers if done in-house) are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority which expects firms to clearly establish roles and responsibilities and have procedures to ensure all employees are properly trained and competent.
If you have concerns or complaints about the way your pension is administered, you need to contact the Pensions Ombudsman.
Should the administrator fail completely your pension will be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Further reading: Can I change SIPP administrators?
Yes. If you feel that you are paying too much in fees to your current private pension provider, or they do not offer the flexibility and fund choices you need, it might be worth transferring. However, not all schemes accept transfers.
While employers are obliged to offer all employees a workplace pension, the self-employed need to set a private pension up themselves. There are a growing number of providers offering products aimed at the self-employed market, which offer the flexibility individuals need when they work for themselves.
The rules allow you to contribute your entire annual income up to £40,000 per year, and this will be matched by tax relief of 25%.
Basic private pensions offer limited investment choice, so it may be worth considering a SIPP, which offer far more options if you are self-employed. However, SIPPs require a level of commitment and expertise, and this must be considered before taking out a plan.
You can usually transfer a defined benefit pension to a new pension scheme at any time up to one year before the date of when you’re expected to start taking your pension. Some schemes will let you transfer only a part of your benefits. You’ll need to check with your provider to see if they offer this option.
If you are considering leaving your DB scheme, before you can start the advice process, you need to get a transfer value from your scheme. The transfer value is set for three months, so line up an adviser ahead of time to avoid having to make rushed decisions. If you don’t complete the transfer process within the three-month period for which the transfer value is guaranteed, you might have to apply for another value, which will likely incur a cost.
When you’ve transferred to a new scheme, you’ll usually have given up all benefits under the old scheme, and when you start taking your pension, you can’t usually move your pension elsewhere.
If you take regulated financial advice, the IFA bears the risk of any poor decisions rather than you.
Defined benefit scheme members must seek regulated independent financial advice before taking a transfer out if their pot is worth more than £30,000. Thousands of DB members have received bad advice, resulting in them losing their valuable DB pensions. The FCA says good advisers will ask you about current financial circumstances and aims; priorities and spending plans in retirement; other pensions, assets and debts; and your health and your family’s health.
As with DB members, if your DC scheme has ‘safeguarded benefits’ such as a guaranteed annuity rate, and the value of these benefits is more than £30,000, you’ll have to get regulated financial advice before you can transfer.
If you have small pension pots worth less than £10,000, consider keeping them where they are. This is because if you’re considering taking a small pot lump sum at some point before you retire, by withdrawing the whole amount, this will not affect any future pension contributions.
It is almost always better to remain in your occupational or workplace pension because you enjoy contributions from your employer. However, if you are in a defined benefit pension and approaching retirement, you will not be able to take the same flexibilities as those offered to DC members. You must seek financial advice before switching out of DB, and remember that you will be giving up protection of an income for life. Even if your employer is vulnerable to insolvency, your DB pension is protected by the Pension Protection Fund; something not extended to DC funds.
If you are a member of several workplace DC pensions, it might make sense to consolidate these in one place, since your scheme is not transferred automatically when you change jobs.
It may also make sense to transfer your pension to a specialist provider if you are moving overseas. Not all schemes can take contributions from abroad, so you need to fund a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme.
Private pensions are flexible on death, which means you can nominate a recipient to receive your retirement income.
If you die before your 75th birthday and haven’t started drawing your pension, it can be passed to your beneficiaries tax-free. The beneficiaries will be able to choose how they draw the income (lump sum, drawdown or annuity).
If you die before your 75th birthday, and are already receiving your pension, it will impact how beneficiaries can access the pot. If you took a lump sum and you have remaining cash in your bank account outside of your pension, this will be counted as part of your estate. If you are using drawdown, your beneficiaries can access whatever’s left in your pension entirely tax-free.
If you die after your 75th birthday, your beneficiaries will pay income tax on any pensions you leave behind, at their marginal rate.
If you are not confinement that you fully understand private pensions then yes, you should talk to an independent financial advisor. The market for private pensions is huge, and with so much choice, finding the right plan can be confusing. It is worth considering taking independent advice to find the most appropriate pension for you.
However, there are plenty of well-known companies offering good value private pensions . These include Nutmeg, Wealthify and moneyfarm. Some will offer access to a wide range of ways to invest, while others will keep it more basic. Typically, these firms charge around 0.5% of your pot to run the plan. They offer access to tracker funds which deliver returns in line with how the main indexes are performing your contributions are spread across bonds, stocks, commodities and property. They will also diversify across geographies providing access to global markets.
You can also invest into a self-invested personal pension (SIPP), which allows you to choose exactly how your money is invested.
Yes, you can invest in a private pension and a Lifetime ISA (LISA) simultaneously.
Individuals aged over 18 and under 40 can consider opening a LISA, which is a savings account designed solely to buy a first home or to provide a retirement income.
LISAs are tax-advantaged, so you won’t pay tax, capital gains, or dividend tax on money you take out, but contributions are made after income tax, and they are subject to inheritance tax.
LISAs are also restricted to a maximum £4,000 a year contribution limit, which goes towards the £20,000 ISA contribution cap. You can only withdraw once you reach 60 or if the money is to purchase a first property. Unauthorised withdrawals are subject to a 20% charge.
Further reading: Compare the best lifetime ISAs here
The State pension is paid by the Government to all those with at least 10 years of National Insurance Contributions. A private pension is entirely separate from the State pension and consists of contributions you have made.
To receive the maximum State pension amount – currently £179.60 per week (2021/22) or £9,339.20 per year, you need to have 35 ‘qualifying’ years.
Couples entitled to the full state pension receive a maximum of £359.20 per week or £18,678.40 per year as of 2021/22.
Given the relatively low level of income from the State pension, those who also save into a private pension will most likely be far better off. In addition, you can draw from your private pension from age 55, but the State pension is only available from age 66 (rising to 67 from 2028). There is also a lot of flexibility available with private pensions, giving you the chance to grow your money (however, investments can fall as well as rise).