12 minute read

Employee Benefit

November 2018

Spotlight

Employee Benefits

Surviving or thriving?

Taking steps to improve your mental wellbeing

Over the last couple of years there has been increased attention on mental health issues and how they impact on individuals, their families and friends.

A lot of credit for this focus falls to the younger members of the royal family, who have been willing to talk publicly about their personal experiences. This in turn has encouraged others in the public eye to discuss openly how mental health issues have affected them, with the result being that both mental health and wellbeing should very much be part of a nationwide “conversation”.

Looking at things differently

A significant change in the general attitude towards mental health has been the examination of exactly what it is. Before recent developments most people – if asked what they thought a mental health issue is – would probably refer to something like psychosis, schizophrenia, bi-polar and anorexia. However, in the current environment, the public’s definition has considerably widened to include stress, anxiety, OCD, phobias, PTSD, substance abuse/addiction, sleep issues and more.

The Mental Health Foundation estimates that 16 million people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, while the UK Government report Thriving at Work 1 found one in four people will be diagnosed with a mental health problem during their lifetime. The same report also pointed out that individuals’ mental health isn’t as simple as ‘well’ vs ‘sick’, rather that it can be anywhere on a continuous loop – from ‘thriving’ through to ‘struggling’/’surviving’ before finally landing on ‘sick’.

What about me?

So, with this greater awareness of the scope of poor mental health, what is it you do to maintain or improve your mental wellbeing? (continued)

Welcome

Welcome to Employee Benefits Spotlight, created by your benefits provider Mattioli Woods to bring you need-to-know information on pensions, finance, health and wellbeing.

In today’s fast-paced world, we are all busy, but it is important to grab yourself some relaxation time. Therefore, why not take five minutes and have a read, starting with our piece on how to improve your mental wellbeing. Are you thriving as well as you think?

If you have any queries on anything you read, get in touch with your HR department.

Saira Chambers Employee benefits director Mattioli Woods

1. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

www.mattioliwoods.com

Be aware

Sounds simple – and it can be – but it takes a bit of focus. Examples of how to do this include:

• understanding how you are feeling and how this is affecting your mood

• keeping a mood diary, which might help you identify situations and triggers that cause problems

• thinking about what might be causing any issues you are having – is it down to stress, money worries, relationships, something at work, etc?

Why take this time to think this way? Often, people fall into problems without fully understanding why, and sometimes a matter they believe they are dealing with or have even “filed away” can still be impacting on their wellbeing.

For example, financial issues could be causing restlessness, which in turn is impacting on mood in work, which in turn is resulting in workplace stress – in this case, workplace stress is a symptom of the financial issue rather than a problem in its own right.

Take action

Plus, once you understand the reason for the wellbeing problem you are having, action can be taken – even if some causes of problems may be unfixable, there are ways to cope with them that will lead to better overall wellbeing. Remember – you can only control your controllables.

Actions include:

• working on your self-esteem by encourging positivity in yourself and your attitudes – many people are their own worse critics. Identify people or situations impacting on your self-esteem, and either avoid/lessen them (if you can), or approach them with a different mindset

• avoiding personal negativity – avoid social media, for example, if it is likely to have a negative effect on you

• connecting with your friends and family – talk to people who care for you, as they will provide additional positivity and support

• being more assertive – learn to say no, and take control of your own decisions and how much you do for others. You need to make sure you have energy for yourself before giving it to others – especially if those people are not appreciative, thankful or deserving of it, or reciprocating the same

• setting yourself a challenge – try something new, but be realistic in your goals. Remember you don’t have to be perfect to enjoy yourself, and, no one ever got good at something without struggling/failing a bit to begin with. A new hobby or sport might not only help to lift your mood but may also widen your social circle

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that involves being much more aware of the present moment – both external (in the world around you) and internal (your feelings and thoughts) – rather than thinking about what’s happening tonight/tomorrow/next week/on Facebook or WhatsApp, etc. It has been reported that practising mindfulness may help you become more aware of your own moods and reactions, but it is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.

The key is finding the approach that works for you. There are lots of resources on the internet that can assist you in working on relaxation techniques, and further details on mindfulness can be found on the NHS website (www.nhs.uk/conditions/ stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/) and from various mental health charities.

Don’t neglect you

There is also your physical health to think about – neglecting your sleep, exercise and nutritional needs is a sure-fire way of leading to poor mental health. So:

• try to get the sleep you require – if you aren’t, see what you are able to control/fix to make this possible

• avoid self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol – this may feel good/make sense at the time, but the after-effects often outweigh any short-term release, and will not make any underlying issue disappear

• keep active, even if it’s walking – there are established links between exercise and improved mental health

• eat as healthily as you can, prioritising vegetables, fruit and wholegrains over sugar, fat and over-processed foods – feeling low can encourage consumption of junk food, but wholesome food has been found to have clear links with better mental wellbeing. The process of creating such meals can be a good way of utilising mindfulness or relaxing techniques, too, and create a sense of achievement

Conclusion

We all are somewhere on the scale between thriving, surviving and ill – and this changes regularly. Therefore, it is important we all have an awareness of mental health and wellbeing, and how it can be helped or hindered.

By taking this personal control of our mental wellbeing, we can take steps to ensure we stay at the thriving end of the scale. However, we should also be aware that mental health is complex, and we aren’t going to be smashing it every single day. Therefore, should we need it, we should not be afraid of seeking professional help from our GP or other medical practitioner if required. There is help available, so make sure you use it.

In many situations, mental health issues generate feelings of worthlessness and negativity. Therefore, it is important to focus on positivity and the people who love and support you. There are a number of “self-help” techniques that can aid this, examples of which follow.

Relax

Find something that helps you unwind – take a bath, walk the dog, watch a favourite movie, listen to your music. Disengage from work, people and noise.

Connect with nature

Walk in the countryside or a park, spend time in the garden or tend your houseplants, play with your pets. Take the chance to clear your mind, and focus on what you are seeing.

10 things to know about…. mortgages

How many of us are living in the house that we want to live in for the rest of our lives?

Not many, it’s probably fair to say – for most people reading this, there’s either a) the first home or b) moving up the housing ladder somewhere on the horizon. And, with that could come applying for a mortgage.

When it comes to mortgages, things have changed quite a lot over the last 10 years. Prior to the banking crisis of 2008, mortgages were easy to come by and lenders were quick and easy with their lending. Post-2008, things are quite different, and the rules have changed. All mortgage applications now undergo a new ‘stress test’, for one, making sure the borrower can not only afford the mortgage in the first place, but stay in the home should interest rates rise.

Incidentally, now is a good time to review your mortgage and your borrowing – interest rates (the interest charged on your outstanding mortgage), even with a rise to the base rate (to 0.75% in August 2018), continue to be low, with lenders offering some great rates to attract new business. However, you do need to make sure you have your ‘financial house’ in order before deciding to switch or move. With that in mind, here’s some tips that should help…

One: budget

Quite simply, any mortgage adviser worth their money will be worried about you passing the ‘stress test’. Therefore, it’s very important to stick to a budget and write it down. It needs to show – clearly – the money coming in and the money going out. For some people, the numbers found can be quite a surprise – how much do you spend on food, for example? Or clothes? How many Starbucks orders are you getting through? For a lender, this will show your affordability (or not!) for a mortgage.

Two: credit checking

Your credit check details everything about your financial life – money borrowed, money paid back, any direct debits or standing orders missed – so making sure it’s correct and showing you in a good light is essential before even thinking about a mortgage, mainly as it illustrates your ability to borrow and pay back money; a huge tick box for a lender. Checking your credit rating and report is usually free and can be done online.

Three: debt

Taking on additional debt before making a mortgage application doesn’t look good. Reducing rather than increasing your total debt puts you in a better position, so if you have savings or assets running alongside credit card balances, think about reducing your debt to income ratio.

Four: bills

These can get on top of all of us from time to time, but falling behind on your commitments is another area that will show up in your credit check, and will not present the best picture of your finances. In a mortgage lender’s eyes, if your history shows you always pay late, odds are you’ll probably fall behind on your mortgage. Therefore, this will damage your chances of agreeing borrowing.

Five: switching jobs

One of the most important areas lenders look at is stability and if you’re planning to – or have just – changed jobs, it might hurt your chances of qualifying. Additionally, you will need to show recent pay slips, which you may not have with a new job. Plus – what if your new job doesn’t turn out to be as good as you thought? It’ll be depressing to do a job you hate just to pay the mortgage!

Six: employee benefits

We forget that some significant benefits are written into our employment contracts through things like life assurance and income protection. One thing a lender will look for is protection against the worst happening – i.e. if you die who is going to repay the debt? Of course, it may be sensible to take out further insurance to complement your new financial situation, but don’t forget what you already have.

Seven: marrying someone with debt

It’s common for couples to buy homes when entering into new relationships. While this isn’t a relationship guidance article, beware of your partner’s credit history and current financial situation – any joint applications will tie you to them. There’s always renting...?

Eight: read the small print

With interest rates low, banks are not making as much money out of mortgages as they used to, so most have increased their up-front fees. A mortgage advisor (or ‘broker’) should be able to highlight the best and worst parts of your mortgage agreement, but this would be a good time to start reading the small print. While cashback on your application from one provider might seem useful for sofas, TVs and beds, you might end up paying a balloon payment – a balance due at the end of your mortgage – that you may not have done with another provider. There’s no such thing as free money!

Nine: delays with the paperwork

Get your paperwork in order! Make sure you have your tax return, pay slips, identification documents and proof of your savings/deposit, and that you’re registered to vote. All these things will help cut down the time of your application. Fill in the paperwork correctly first time, don’t rush it and declare everything. If you miss something out, it could lead to a rejection.

Ten: decline?

Received a “decline” decision? Ask the lender why so you can fix the situation, and don’t immediately re-apply to the next lender on the list as it might damage your chances.

Instead – stop, breathe, and maybe reflect on the above nine points. Then, start again. You’ll get there.

Don’t let a scammer enjoy your retirement

When you woke up today, did you think you might get scammed?

We have all been ‘conned’ at some point in our lives, and hopefully most of us have only had those minor situations – the old style £1 coin in our change, the bargain offer that was cheaper elsewhere, the baby-sitting that started at “only 20 minutes” and turned into hours…

Mostly, these are inconveniences, which could result in a mild annoyance at your trusting nature – so would you know a genuine pension scam if it was presented directly to you?

Tactics around pension scams include:

• contact out of the blue

• attractive offers and promises of high/guaranteed returns

• free pension reviews

• offering access to your pension before age 55

• pressure to act quickly to avoid missing out

While we all believe we could spot a scam, scammers can be articulate and financially knowledgeable, with credible websites, testimonials and materials that are hard to distinguish from the real thing. And, once they have your pension funds, they are often invested in unusual and high-risk investments like overseas property, renewable energy bonds, forestry and storage units, or simply stolen outright.

So, what can you do to try and prevent your pension from being scammed?

Reject unexpected offers

Be wary of free pension review offers. If you’re contacted out of the blue about your pension from a company you have not dealt with before, chances are it is a scam.

Don’t be rushed or pressured

Be wary and take your time – even if this means turning down an “amazing” deal.

Get impartial information and advice (see also ‘useful contacts’, right):

• The Pensions Advisory Service provides free independent and impartial information and guidance.

• If you’re over 50 and have a defined contribution pension, Pension Wise offers pre-booked appointments to talk through your retirement options.

• Financial advisers can help you make the best decision for your circumstances – just make sure they belong to a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)-authorised firm.

Check who you’re dealing with

You can check the FCA’s Financial Services Register (https://register.fca.org.uk) to make sure anyone offering you advice or other financial services is authorised by the FCA. This also gives you links to the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. If the firm is on the FCA Register, you can also call the FCA consumer helpline to check the firm is permitted to give pension advice.

Beware of fraudsters pretending to be from a firm authorised by the FCA, this could be a so-called ‘clone firm’. Use the contact details provided on the FCA Register, not the details they give you.

We urge anyone who is contacted about their pension to visit the FCA’s ScamSmart website – www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart – and if you are concerned and suspect a scam:

• report it to the FCA by contacting their consumer helpline on 0800 111 6768 or using the reporting form at www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart

• report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk

If you’re in the middle of a transfer and have concerns, contact your provider immediately and then get in touch with The Pensions Advisory Service (see ‘useful contacts’, below).

Don’t end up becoming the prey of a scammer – together we will work together to ensure your pension pot is there for your future – not the scammer’s.

Useful contacts

The Pensions Advisory Service Provides free independent and impartial information and guidance. www.thepensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk

Pension Wise If you’re over 50 and have a defined contribution pension, Pension Wise offers pre-booked appointments to talk through your retirement options. www.pensionwise.gov.uk

The Pensions Regulator Contains the latest content and news on pensions. www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/individuals

Financial Conduct Authority The regulator of the financial services industry. You can check the FCA register for authorised firms, read the latest guidance notes and learn about the measures taken to protect consumers such as yourself. www.fca.org.uk

Department of Work and Pensions Where you can check your state pension and state pension age. www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ department-for-work-pensions

Money Advice Service A service set up by the Government to offer free and independent help on everything from pensions to pet insurance. www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

Samaritans In times of distress or hardship, Samaritans are there to listen. The phone number 116 123 is free to call 24/7. www.samaritans.org

Lost Pension Tracking Service Use this service to find contact details for your own workplace or personal pension scheme, or someone else’s scheme if you have their permission. www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details

Issue 1 was produced in November 2018 Mattioli Woods plc, 1 New Walk Place, Leicester, LE1 6RU www.mattioliwoods.com

Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

© Mattioli Woods plc, all rights reserved

The articles herein represent the views of the author and are not intended as a personal recommendation to make an investment. Investments can go down as well as up in value and you could get back less than you invested. The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. Any investment decisions should be taken with advice, given appropriate knowledge of the investor’s circumstances.