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The part-timers

Many part-time women have lost out because the TPS is now the only public service pension scheme which does not automatically include part-time employees. Part-timers who wish to contribute have to "make an election" to join the scheme. They need to fill in Form 261 , which can be obtained from Teachers' Pensions Scheme or from their employer.

After years of badgering by the unions, the Government has now put forward a proposal to include part-timers automatically in the TPS as part of the suggested changes to the scheme, but it is not certain whether this will be agreed.

Another problem is that local education authorities often mislay service records for people who work part-time. It's vital to keep all your pay slips so that you have evidence if mistakes are made. You should also ask for a benefits statement every year from Teachers Pensions so that you can check if your service record is complete.

The good news is that when you retire, your final average salary will be calculated as though you had been working full-time, which will improve your pension.

Carole Williams is one of many part-timers who were not told that they had the right to contribute to the Teachers' Pensions Scheme.

Mrs Williams, a special needs co-ordinator at a school for children with severe and complex educational needs, took five years out to bring up her daughter. She returned to work part-time in 1984, but was not advised that she could make pension contributions, so she lost five years' worth of pension. As she had already withdrawn three years' pension contributions when she quit to have her daughter, she was left with a severe dent in her retirement finances, as she did not resume full-time work until 1989.

Mrs Williams, 49, did not realise how bad things were until an independent financial adviser visited her school in 1996. "When I found out how little pension I would get, I was frightened," she said. "I hadn't known anything about enhancing my pension before, but I decided to invest pound;50 a month in the in-house AVC scheme. I'm not that pleased with the returns so far, but it's better than nothing."

Like many other teachers, Mrs Williams decided against boosting her pension through buying extra years of service or "past added years". Although this method offers guaranteed benefits, including index-linking and dependants'

pensions at no extra cost, it can be pricey. The costs are based on a teacher's current salary, so the longer you leave it, the more expensive it becomes.

"Most of my money goes on my mortgage and paying past added years would be a hefty whack out of my salary," she said. "I certainly won't be able to afford the lifestyle I have now when I retire, but there's no more spare money to invest in a pension so there's nothing else I can do."

Ann Howarth, a special needs co-ordinator in Nelson, Lancashire, is paying pound;270 a month to boost her pension after more than 20 years working part-time. She is one of the "sandwich generation"; after taking four years off to look after her small children, she has worked part-time ever since as she is now caring for her elderly widowed mother who has Parkinson's disease.

Mrs Howarth, 48, lost 10 years of pension before she finally decided to rejoin the TPS. "When you're bringing up a young family, money is tight and you need every penny, so I decided not to pay into the scheme," she said.

"I think it would be better to be forced to contribute; if you're given the choice, you will hang on to the money."

To make up for lost time, Mrs Howarth is now paying pound;200 a month into a stakeholder pension and pound;70 into a free-standing AVC. She reckons she will end up with a pension of pound;4,000 a year from the TPS and pound;3,000 from her pension top-ups. "I'm not happy that it will make a good pension," Mrs Howarth said. "I will have to rely on my husband's pension, so if anything happens to him, I will definitely not have enough."

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