Frequently Asked Questions
Joining the College’s pension scheme
What is a pension?
A pension is a special type of savings plan to help you put aside money for later life. For most people it has tax benefits too.
What is pension Auto Enrolment?
The law requires that all eligible employees and casual workers are enrolled into a pension scheme. Imperial College will do this automatically either when your employment commences or at the point you reach certain qualifying criteria - you do not need to take any action.
I have been automatically enrolled into the pension scheme, can I opt out?
Yes. You can opt out at any time after enrolment – you just need to fill in a form and send it to the Pensions Office.
If you opt-out within 3 months of first being enrolled: You will be opted-out from the date we receive your form and will effectively have never joined the scheme (any contributions you have paid will be refunded). If this applies to you and you want to opt-out you should complete one of the following forms (depending on which scheme you are in):
If you opt-out after at least 3 months after being enrolled: You must give 28 days’ notice in order to opt-out. Your service in the scheme (and your contributions) will stop on the first day of the month following the end of the 28 days’ notice period (which begins when the Pensions Office receives your opt-out form). For example, if you send your opt-out form on 15 May, your notice period ends on 12 June and you will then be opted-out of the scheme on 1 July. If this applies to you and you want to opt-out you should complete one of the following forms (depending on which scheme you are in):
I am a casual worker - am I entitled to join the pension scheme?
Yes. After two months of employment you will be automatically enrolled into the appropriate pension scheme, provided that you are aged between 22 and 65 years and earn more than £833 per month.
It may take more than two months for you to meet the qualifying criteria. If you do not wish to contribute you may opt out of the pension scheme at any time.
Which pension scheme am I entitled to join?
Imperial College offers three pension schemes:
- Superannuation Arrangements for the University of London – SAUL
- University Superannuation Scheme – USS
- National Health Service – NHSPS
Your job role and / or grade will determine which pension scheme you are eligible to join.
Eligible for Academic & Research family, Professional, Technical, Operational, Learning & Teaching family - Level 4 and above.
Eligible for Professional, Technical, Operational, Learning and Teaching family - Level 3b and below.
Eligible for staff who have participated in the scheme in the preceding 12 months.
Please note that if you wish to remain in the NHS pension scheme, you must complete part 1 of application form SD65 and return it to the Pensions Office as soon as you commence your employment with the College. If you do not complete form SD65 you will be enrolled into the other appropriate College scheme (USS or SAUL depending on your grade) and pension deductions will be made accordingly.
What is the difference between the USS Retirement Income Builder and USS Investment Builder schemes?
When you become a member of USS you automatically join the USS Retirement Income Builder. In this type of defined benefit pension scheme your benefits are based on each year’s salary throughout the period of membership.
USS also offers a Defined Contribution scheme called Investment Builder. In this scheme benefits are determined by the amount contributed and the performance of the investment.
If you earn over the Salary Threshold (currently £58,589.70 per year) any contributions deducted from your salary above the threshold will automatically be added to the Investment Builder Scheme.
In addition, all scheme members are entitled to make additional voluntary contributions to the Investment Builder Scheme.
I was contributing previously to SAUL/USS at a previous employer – are you keeping my pension together?
If you start your new job at the College within a month of leaving your previous employer (and are entitled to join the same scheme you had at that employer, either USS, SAUL or the NHSPS) you will keep the same record with relevant scheme. All of your benefits will be kept together.
If there is longer than a month’s gap you will get a new record with the pension scheme, and the benefits in relation to your previous employer will be retained in the scheme. The amount of benefits that you receive will not be affected by whether or not you have one or more records with the scheme.
Note for USS Members: If you were getting the match or paying AVCs (please see our USS page for more details) at your previous employer it will not automatically continue. When you have joined the College you will need to log into MyUSS and re-elect for the extra contributions you want to pay.
I was in USS at a previous employer, the College is offering to put me in SAUL – can I instead re-join USS?
Unfortunately not – you are only eligible to join the scheme appropriate for your role and grade (see our main Pensions webpage for details on which jobs and grades are eligible for each scheme).
I was in SAUL at a previous employer, the College is offering to put me in USS – can I instead re-join SAUL?
Unfortunately not – you are only eligible to join the scheme appropriate for your role and grade (see our main Pensions webpage for details on which jobs and grades are eligible for each scheme).
Your pension contributions
How much will I contribute to my pension?
8.8% of your pensionable salary
6% of your pensionable salary
Variable percentage depending upon your salary:
Percentage of contribution
Up to £15,431.99
£15,432.00 to £21,387.99
£21,388.00 to £26,823.99
£26,824.00 to £49,472.99
£49,473.00 to £70,630.99
£70,631.00 to £111,376.99
How much does the College contribute to my pension?
19.5% of pensionable salary
16% of pensionable salary
14.38% of pensionable salary
Can I make additional contributions to my College pension?
Yes. You can choose to make additional contributions, subject to certain restrictions and depending upon the particular scheme that you are a member of.
All USS members have the option to make Additional Voluntary Contributions to the Investment Builder section of the scheme at 1% of pensionable salary, or more.
In SAUL you may pay more than 6% of your salary and if you do you will get additional pension and tax-free lump sum when you retire. If you want to pay additional contributions you will need to decide how much additional pension you wish to pay for and for how long you want to pay contributions (this may be a single lump-sum), this will then determine how much extra you need to pay each month. There is a calculator on the SAUL website to help you do this. You may change the amount of contributions, or stop paying, at any time before you retire. More information is available on the SAUL website.
In the NHS scheme you may increase your retirement benefits in one of two ways:
Additional Pension: with this option you will get additional pension. If you want to pay additional contributions you will need to decide how much additional pension you wish to pay for and for how long you want to pay contributions (this may be a single lump sum), this will then determine how much extra you need to pay each month. There is a calculator on the NHS website to help you do this. You may change the amount of contributions, or stop paying, at any time before you retire. More information is available on the NHSPS website.
Money Purchase Additional Voluntary Contributions (MPAVCs): either to purchase additional pension through the NHSPS, or building up a capital fund in a money purchase facility provided by Prudential or Standard Life. More information on these options is available on the NHSPS website.
Is there a limit to how much I can contribute to my pension?
There is no limit to how much you contribute to your pension, but HMRC does set limits on the amount which can be contributed to a pension without paying tax.
These restrictions cover both an individual tax year and your lifetime allowance.
For most employees these limits will have no effect, however for a small number of individuals they may influence their decision to contribute to a pension scheme.
If you think you may be affected please contact the Pensions office for more information.
How can I find out how much my College pension is?
I would like to stop paying AVCs, how do I do so?
If you are a member of USS and are paying AVCs into the Investment Builder (or using the match) please access MyUSS where you will be able to change your AVC options.
If you are a member of USS and either pay AVCs into the money purchase arrangement with Prudential or to USS in order to secure Additional Service you will need to email the Pensions Office if you wish to end this arrangement.
If you are a member of SAUL or the NHS Pension Scheme please email the Pensions Office who will arrange for the cancellation.
Leaving the pension scheme
If I opt out of the pension scheme will I get my contributions back?
If you opt-out within the first 3 months of joining: Yes – you will receive a full refund of the contributions you have paid (but not the College’s contributions), minus any appropriate tax.
If you opt-out after 3 months, but within the first 22 months of joining, and have not contributed via PensionSMART: Yes – you will receive a full refund of the contributions you have paid (but not the College’s contributions) minus any appropriate tax.
If you opt-out after 3 months, but within the first 22 months of joining, and contributed via PensionSMART: No – this is because you will not have paid any contributions yourself (the College pays higher contributions and you have a reduced salary – for more information please see the PensionSMART section). Your benefits will be held in the scheme until you retire or you may choose to transfer them to another pension scheme.
If you opt-out after 22 months of joining: No – whether you used PensionSMART or not, you cannot receive a refund from the pension scheme. Your benefits will be held in the scheme until you retire or you may choose to transfer them to another pension scheme.
If I opt out or leave Imperial College, what happens to contributions I have already made to a College pension scheme?
The pension scheme will write to you setting out your options. You may choose to leave the contributions in the scheme, transfer them to another scheme or in certain circumstances, receive a refund of your contributions.
If I opt out can I re-join the pension scheme later?
Yes. You can re-join the scheme appropriate for your job family and grade at any time.
I am leaving the College and my new employer has offered me the same pension scheme, can I transfer my College pension there?
You do not need to ‘transfer’ your pension.
If you start your new job within a month of leaving the College (and are entitled to join the same scheme you had at the College, either USS, SAUL or the NHSPS) you will keep the same record with relevant scheme. All of your pension records will be kept together.
If there is longer than a month’s gap you will get a new record with the pension scheme, and the pension in relation to service at the College will be retained in the scheme. The amount of pension that you receive will not be affected by whether or not you have one or more records with the scheme.
Note for USS Members: If you were getting the match or paying AVCs (please see our USS page for more details) at the College it will not automatically continue. When you have joined your new employer you will need to log into MyUSS and re-elect for the extra contributions you want to pay.
Your pension; past, present and future
I intend to re-join the pension scheme and I previously contributed to one of the College's pension schemes, will my benefits be the same?
No. You will re-join the scheme on the current terms, regardless of the terms you previously had.
I previously contributed to the NHS pension scheme, can I re-join the scheme?
Yes. If you have contributed to the NHS scheme within the previous 12 months you may continue membership of that scheme.
You must inform us within three months of commencing employment with Imperial College that you wish to continue your membership, using form SD65.
If we do not receive the form within three months, or you are unable to prove your previous membership, you will be unable to re-join and will be enrolled on the default pension scheme for your job role and/or grade.
Can I transfer a previous pension into my Imperial College pension?
Yes, but transfers will only be accepted into the Investment Builder scheme. You should contact USS directly if you wish to transfer a previous arrangement to them by completing the USS Transfer Request Form (pdf)
How do I nominate a beneficiary for my pension in the event of my death?
I have changed job role and/or grade at the College, I was previously eligible for SAUL and am now eligible for USS – can I stay in SAUL?
Yes. You may choose to either join USS now that you are eligible for it, or if you prefer remain in SAUL. Please note that if you choose to join USS you cannot choose to switch back to SAUL in the future. Similarly, if you choose to remain in SAUL you cannot later choose to join USS, even if you are promoted in the future.
I have changed job role and/or grade at the College, I was previously eligible for USS and am now eligible for SAUL – can I stay in USS?
Yes. You may choose to either join SAUL now that you are eligible for it, or if you prefer remain in USS. Please note that if you choose to join SAUL you cannot choose to switch back to USS in the future. Similarly, if you choose to remain in USS you cannot later choose to join SAUL, even if you change roles/grade again in the future.
I need Financial Advice – can the Pensions Office give me any?
Unfortunately, no. Financial Advice can only be given by a qualified individual and the Pensions Office staff do not have the necessary qualifications. However, the College has a short-list of financial advisers who you can approach who are familiar with the College’s pension schemes. This can be found here.
After Brexit, I may need to leave the UK, what will happen to my pension?
Brexit is unlikely to directly affect your College pension.
If you remain in the UK into retirement your pension will be paid as it would have done without Brexit.
Similarly, if you leave the UK (wherever you go to), your College pension will not change. All of our pension schemes currently pay pensions to people around the world and will continue to do so after Brexit.
Also, anyone that leaves the UK may be able to transfer their pension earned in the UK to an overseas pension scheme as long as the new scheme is willing to accept a transfer in and the relevant tax authorities in that country are happy for the transfer to go ahead. The scheme would also need to be registered as a Qualifying Registered Overseas Pensions Scheme (QROPS) to avoid a costly tax penalty.
I want to retire, how do I do so?
The process will depend upon how old you are and which pension scheme (or not in one of our schemes at all). You can find out all about your retirement options and the process on our retirement page.
Do I have to contribute towards the scheme for a minimum amount of time in order to get the pension when the time comes (at my Normal Pension Age)?
Yes. You need to have been in one of our pension schemes for at least three months in order to receive a pension (time in the same scheme with a previous employer counts towards this too).
If you are only in the scheme for three months you will receive a refund of your contributions to the scheme.
If you are in the scheme for less than two years and did not use PensionSMART (see here for details) you will be able to choose to either take a refund of contributions, keep your pension in the scheme until you are ready to retire, or take a transfer to another pension scheme.
If you are in the scheme for less than two years and did use PensionSMART (see here for details) you will be able to choose to either to keep your pension in the scheme until you are ready to retire, or take a transfer to another pension scheme. You cannot have a refund of contributions.
If you are in the scheme for more than two years you will be able to choose to either to keep your pension in the scheme until you are ready to retire, or take a transfer to another pension scheme. You cannot have a refund of contributions.
Of course, the longer you are in one of our pension schemes the more pension you will have when you retire.
How your pension will work with planned absence
What happens to my pension when I am on family leave?
Your pension record will be maintained throughout your period of paid family leave (e.g. maternity, adoption, shared parental). When on half-pay the College will maintain your contribution at the full rate.
If you are planning on taking a period of unpaid family leave, you should make an appointment to discuss your individual position with the Pensions’ team.
What happens to my pension if I take unpaid sabbatical leave?
Your department may agree to maintain some or all of your contributions during your period of unpaid sabbatical leave.
Please check with your Departmental Operating Manager in the first instance.
What is pensionSMART?
It is a way of saving for your pension: Instead of having pension contributions taken from your salary you agree to have a reduced salary and the College will pay higher contributions to your pension scheme. If you choose to do this, your pension will be the same but you will save on your National Insurance Contributions (because the salary on which they are calculated are lower – the College also saves on its National Insurance Contributions too).
As a member of USS or SAUL you are automatically enrolled into PensionSMART but you can opt-out and have pension contributions deducted directly from your salary instead.
Please see the PensionSMART section of our website for more information.
If I contribute via pensionSMART will I be able to request a refund of my contributions?
If you are in your pension scheme for more than three months and participate in PensionSMART, you will not receive a refund of pension contributions when you leave the scheme.
If your contract is for less than two years it may be beneficial for you to opt-out of PensionSMART and have contributions deducted from your salary, so that at the end of your contract you will have the option of a refund of your own pension contributions (these are taxable).
Once you achieve two years (729 days) of pensionable service in the College pension scheme you may not receive a refund of contributions whether you use PensionSMART or not.
If I choose to contribute through pensionSMART will I be able to change my mind?
You can opt-out of PensionSMART initially on joining the College, if you have a lifestyle change, or thereafter on the PensionSMART scheme anniversary of 1 December.
If you wish to opt-out please contact the Pensions office who will make the necessary arrangements.
By opting-out of PensionSMART you will remain in the pension scheme but your net take home pay will reduce. This is because you will have to pay higher National Insurance Contributions as your basic salary will be higher (National Insurance Contributions are calculated on salary before deduction of pension contributions).
Leaving your employment at Imperial
Do I have to tell the pension scheme provider that I have left Imperial College?
No. Your pension scheme provider (SAUL, USS or NHS) will be automatically informed after your final salary payment has been made. The pension scheme will then write to you, usually within three months of your official leaving date, setting out your options.
Can I transfer my Imperial College pension to a new employer?
Yes. Most UK pension schemes will accept transfers from a UK scheme that you previously contributed to, but you should contact your new employer to clarify your options.
If your new employer offers you membership of the pension scheme that you have contributed to whilst employed at Imperial College, it should be possible for you to continue making contributions to that scheme.