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I have been told that it is possible to leave the teaching profession with an immediate pension before the age of 60. Is this true, and how do I go about it?

There are three ways in which it is possible to leave with an immediate pension:

on grounds of ill-health;

where the employer certifies that departure is in the interests of the service;

with an Actuarially Reduced Pension.

There is currently a fourth route for heads only, where a head, while not being incompetent or unfit, is judged not equal to facing the challenges of leadership that lie ahead.

The first route entails an application sent by the teacher's employer to the Teachers' Pension Agency, accompanied by relevant medical evidence. The TPA will assess the evidence and, if it finds the case established, it will allow early retirement, which will carry with it an enhancement of pension, based on the length of service.

The second route is much less commonly used than it used to be, following a change in the regulations in 1997. If an employer recommends to the TPA that a teacher should retire when over 50 but before 60, in the interests of the efficient discharge of the service, a proportion of the additional cost to the pension scheme that this entails must be paid by the employer. This is on a sliding scale, diminishing the nearer you get to 60. Most employers have decided that the cost of this cannot be met from their budgets. Some have schemes that allw a few in their late fifties to go, but most are anxious not to set precedents.

The third route only became possible from April 1 this year. The Teachers' Pension Scheme has been amended to allow teachers over 55 who wish to retire early to do so on the basis of an Actuarially Reduced Pension. Under this scheme, the pension and the lump sum which you receive, based on years of service and the best annual salary of the last three years, are reduced in accordance with sliding scales, which again get better the closer you get to 60. For example, someone who retired at exactly 55, would receive 74.2 per cent of their pension entitlement and 84.3 per cent of the lump sum. By 58, the figures improve to 88.4 per cent of pension and 93.4 per cent of lump sum.

These are considerable reductions on pensions, which are, in any case, based on fewer years. Teachers would therefore be well advised to take a clear look at their financial situation before opting for the scheme.

The additional route for heads is not a permanent arrangement, although it has been extended for a second year. If granted, it allows retirement with immediate access to pension on the basis of length of service, but without enhancement.

Send your problems and queries to Archimedes, The Times Educational Supplement, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX or e-mail them to Archimedes cannot enter into any personal correspondence.

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