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Sean Coughlan sheds some light on pensions

If the rumours are to be believed, pensions are keeping ministers awake at night. And the reason they are occupying Downing Street so much is that so many pension-related problems have arrived at the same time.

Increasing life expectancy means we'll need more money for retired people than ever before. Even though the state pension is withering away in value, not enough people are taking out personal pensions. This raises the prospect of large sections of the population finishing work with little or nothing to support them for a retirement that could last 20 or 30 years.

Meanwhile, people who have decent workplace pensions are scared that many private sector employers are ditching the "final salary" schemes, which link pensions to earnings and protect them from stock market turbulence. Teachers who belong to the government-backed Teachers' Pension Scheme shouldn't have to worry about this.

But teachers are not exempt from another pension worry. Pensions are difficult to understand - when you're paying in, it's difficult to calculate what's going to come out at the other end. A little light could be cast on this for tens of thousands of teachers aged 50 to 54, who can now use the Teachers' Pensions website (www.teachers pensions.co.uk) to get an estimate of how much their retirement benefits will be worth.

There was an online pensions calculator for the 54 to 59-year-olds who were coming up to retirement. But this has been extended to provide information for all 168,000 teachers in their fifties who are in the pension scheme.

On the 15th of every month, this information is updated to include staff who have just had their 50th birthday. Pension scheme members get a password from the site which allows them to return for an update when they want to re-check their expected benefits.

This is the kind of practical information people need to plan for their retirement. And the sooner pensions become more transparent and less obscured by jargon and small print, the better for everyone.

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