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Pension innovations should further incentivise savings, says expert, as official UK figures compare pensions and property wealth

The value of private pensions held by people in the UK has begun to outstrip the value of property, particularly for the wealthiest individuals, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Publishing its third comprehensive survey of wealth and assets held by UK householders, the ONS found that those in the wealthiest 20% had private pensions more valuable than the homes that they lived in over the survey period, from 2010-12. Aggregate private pension wealth had risen by £130 billion to £3.59 trillion since the previous survey in 2008-10, according to the ONS.

However, the statistics also highlighted substantial inequalities between different types of pension saver. The wealthiest 10% of householders held 48% of the UK's aggregate pension wealth, while those in the bottom 50% of households held just 8% of the total. The median level of wealth held by men whose pensions were already in payment was more than double that of women, while around a quarter of all UK households had no private pension wealth at all, according to the figures.

Pensions expert Simon Tyler of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although the statistics showed that pensions were being "taken seriously by those who can afford advice on where best to put their money", recent government initiatives should help to incentivise pension savings amongst the less well off too.

"The wealthiest have already been saving heavily in pensions", he said.  "Auto-enrolment and the increased flexibility available from April 2015 should further boost pension savings.  The trend for pension savings to outstrip home values is set to continue."

From April 2015, the government intends for members of defined contribution (DC) schemes to be able to access their savings in any way that they wish from the age of 55 without having to purchase an annuity or face heavy tax penalties. Up to nine million people are expected to begin saving more towards their retirement or saving for the first time under the government's automatic enrolment programme, which began for the largest employers in October 2012.

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