Check with your employer or on your contract as to which occupational scheme you can join. ATL's series of 17 pension factsheets cover all the aspects of these schemes.
Most teachers, whether in schools (including academies), sixth form colleges or FE colleges, are eligible to join the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS) in England and Wales, the Northern Ireland Teachers' Pension Scheme (NITPS) or the Scottish Teachers' Superannuation Scheme (STSS).
Changes to the teachers' schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland on 1 April 2015 mean that all three schemes are almost identical.
Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have their own pension schemes. You should contact your employer or your ATL branch secretary for details.
Membership and benefits
Membership of these schemes is automatic if you are a full or part-time teacher (unless your part-time contract began prior to 1 January 2007 or you previously opted out).
If you do not wish to contribute to the scheme, you will need to complete an opt-out election form from the administrators. You should think very carefully about what you are giving up before taking this course of action.
Teachers in England and Wales can log on to the Teachers' Pensions website to see their current benefits as well as a number of models for calculating your benefits. You can also call 0345 606 6166 for information.
The NITPS can be contacted on 028 7131 9000 and the STSS on 01896 893 000.
Many independent schools participate in the TPS, although some offer their own schemes.
If you are considering taking up employment in an independent school, it is worth considering their pension arrangements, as an occupational pension should be considered as deferred pay and employers currently contribute 14.1% of your salary to the TPS.
Lecturers in higher education may be eligible to join the University Superannuation Scheme (USS).
Further details can be obtained by calling 0151 227 4711. Many universities also have their own schemes and there are often set criteria to be eligible for either the USS or the university's own scheme.
Support staff members, including those working in academies, are usually eligible to join the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Each authority has its own Pension Fund, so some of the rules are determined locally. Contact your fund administrator in the first instance.
ATL's guide to the LGPS contains information that you may find useful.
Education advisers (Soulbury)
Those on Soulbury terms and conditions will usually be offered membership of the LGPS.
Eligibility for the TPS is dependent on the activities you undertake in your job. Most people who are working as advisers on Soulbury terms and conditions are not deemed to be 'teaching' and on teachers' terms and conditions, and therefore not eligible for the TPS.
The benefits of an occupational pension scheme
The "defined benefit" schemes outlined above provide salary-related, guaranteed, inflation-proofed income in retirement, for a relatively low cost to you.
The employer contributes a lot more than the member in order to provide very good benefits. Remember, you get tax relief on your contributions so the cost to you in real terms is actually less than the percentage quoted.
In addition, most of these schemes provide a death in service payment, dependants' benefits and a guarantee of at least five years' pension payments in retirement.