Retirement Income  

How to help the self-employed boost their pension savings

  • Explain the challenges for self-employed individuals and saving into a pension
  • Explain how auto-enrolment fits into the lifestyle of a self-employed individual
  • Identify the solutions suggested to help self-employed individuals save into a pension

However, it is presumptive to assume this inertia extends to the entire self-employed population.

It is also possible that overlaying the auto-enrolment framework could lead to resentment and further disaffection among those self-employed who value personal autonomy highly.

For business owners, for example, managing volatility in income is one of the biggest challenges, so taking the same deduction month on month will not necessarily fit their income stream.

Life in self-employment moves with the market people operate in, meaning they often favour products that do not lock away their money as pensions do.

The Department for Work and Pensions previously aimed to use the principles learned from auto-enrolment to improve participation among the self-employed. 

Setting out in the 2017 auto-enrolment review to “work to implement the government’s manifesto commitment to improve pension participation and retirement outcomes among self-employed people by testing a number of different approaches aimed at increasing the savings of self-employed people from 2018, with a focus on those with low to moderate incomes.

"This recognises that there are 4.8mn self-employed people in the UK for whom a single saving initiative is unlikely to work.”

The challenge faced is not insignificant and will still take some time yet to solve – if indeed it ever truly is.

In December 2018 the government set out a plan to build an evidence base to inform their policy response.

Unlike the approach for employees, the government set out to test a range of behavioural messages and tech tools that aimed to prompt self-employed individuals to save into a pension.

Following the success of auto-enrolment there is, however, a general acceptance that participation in pensions on a purely voluntary basis is unlikely to work and messaging on its own will only have marginal benefits.

This is especially true for the self-employed whose unifying concern across all groups was that the potential volatility of their income was a material barrier to saving into a long-term savings vehicle such as a pension.

Sidecar model

The Nest Insight programme with the DWP found a high proportion of the self-employed expressed a willingness to save for retirement and 55 per cent said they would welcome help or guidance on how best to do so.

However, findings from their quantitative research showed that flexibility and control are key factors in the types of products they use, with 50 per cent saving into an instant access account and 37 per cent into a cash Isa – though not necessarily for retirement purposes.