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Everyone wants a good pension. Susannah Kirkman finds out how female teachers can boost theirs

Women teachers are more likely to face poverty in old age than their male colleagues, according to the latest government statistics.

Women face the double whammy of lower average salaries and fewer years in work than men, which results in a comparatively poor pension. In the last financial year, only 94 women compared with 163 men reached the 40 years'

service needed to get a pension worth half their final salary. And women teachers retired on a far lower average annual salary: pound;26,514 compared with pound;32,507.

As a result, women retiring during the year 2001 to 2002 received an average pension of pound;7,336 compared with pound;11,442 for male teachers. For many older women, this is compounded by a poorer state pension thanks to erroneous advice handed out by the old Department of Health and Social Security in the 1970s and 1980s. Many who opted to pay the lower national insurance contributions for married women were not warned this would result in a smaller state pension.

The teaching unions were disappointed that the Government's pensions green paper, published in December, will do nothing to improve their position.

The unions had been urging the Department for Work and Pensions to allow women who opted to pay the inferior married women's contributions to make up the potential shortfall.

Union advisers would also like to see home responsibilities protection, which credits anyone who is receiving child benefit with full national insurance contributions, retrospectively extended. They would like it to apply to those who were bringing up children before 1978, when the system was introduced. But the green paper has ignored these suggestions.

So what can women do to improve their pensions? Find out exactly how much you can expect to get. To get an estimate, ask your local department for Work and Pensions form BR19. You can also request a pensions forecast from Teachers' Pensions.

Once you know the worst, there are several ways to boost your pension. Buy additional years of past service (past added years). To get the maximum pension, you would have to have worked full time for 40 years. By buying "added years" you can get benefits for the missing years . The cost is based on your age and salary when you start payments, so the sooner you start, the less it costs.

Another way of improving your pension is to pay additional voluntary contributions (AVCs). The teachers' scheme is managed by the Prudential, which allows you to put up to 9 per cent of your salary into AVCs with full tax relief. You can also use them to boost benefits for your family after your death. You may soon be able to take 25 per cent of your AVC fund as a tax-free lump sum, according to proposals in the green paper.

If you earn less than pound;30,000 a year, you can invest in a stakeholder pension. You can contribute up to pound;3,600 a year and also take 25 per cent of your pension fund as a tax-free lump sum.

If you are working part-time or as a supply teacher for a local education authority, make sure you have joined the teachers' pension scheme. You need form 261 from your employer or from Teachers' Pensions.

If you are still paying a married woman's contribution, you can also switch to making full national insurance payments.

For more information, contact Teachers' Pensions, Mowden Hall, Darlington DL3 9EE. Tel: 01325 745745. Website:

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