Sinead Ryan answers your property finance questions
Question: My husband and I are separated over two years and planning to get divorced, although there is a backlog in the courts at present.
My solicitor has suggested I get a pension adjustment order (PAO) against him, which I don’t really understand as I am only 39, but my ex has said if I am willing to waive this, he is prepared to offer a higher percentage of the house, which would make me more secure as we have two children.
We have had acrimony in the past, but genuinely want to do this as fairly as possible. What do you think I should do?
Answer: This question is a little outside the realm of this column, but there are very many women in a similar situation and I do know that the first time many of them hear about a PAO is in divorce court.
This is an instrument which makes a provision, by court order, for a portion of your husband’s pension to be made available to you.
This can be a lump sum given to you to invest in a pension yourself, or a delayed order, payable when it comes to him as a percentage of his fund then.
How much really depends on the deal your solicitor can do for you, but often a decent pension fund can be worth more than the family home, so I would consider it carefully before you decide.
In any event, keeping the house is often a temporary arrangement, until children are finished full-time education, so you may end up having to sell it anyway, albeit with a higher percentage of the sale price going to you.
Glenn Gaughran, pensions expert at ITC adds: “Pensions often get overlooked when couples go through a divorce. We often think of the house as being the primary asset, but many people still have substantial mortgages, so the net value of the property can be less than we think.
"In contrast, pensions, particularly those to which an employer makes significant contributions, can be worth quite a bit.
“For example, if your spouse’s pension averaged €500-€1,000 p.m. in contributions over 25 years, the fund could potentially be worth close to €500,000.
"In order to split the pension, it will be necessary to seek a pension adjustment order from the court. This is a specialised order and as the trustees need to be involved, it can take time to put in place.
“In our experience this is a matter which must be addressed early on in the proceedings in order to secure the best outcome for the parties.
"Your solicitor should be able to advise you as to how to go about this. It would be sensible to also seek financial advice from a financial advisor to assess all the assets, including the pensions, that could be included in the settlement.”
Question: I’ve just received our fifth increase in gas and electricity prices and I’m sick of it. I want to switch, but even the comparison websites you often recommend are confusing. I don’t know what to search for or even what my usage is, but I know I cannot afford another increase. Is there any point in switching and can you just tell me which company is the best?
Answer: I can’t, because it depends on where and how you live. I do, however, share your frustration. The energy market is fully deregulated and with up to 14 suppliers, you would imagine this offers excellent consumer choice and cheaper prices.
The problem is that we still import all of our oil and much of our gas despite the increasing and effective renewables from wind, wave and sun.
While external pressures like oil prices, Brexit (a number of pipelines cross Britain to get to us) and a low wind output this summer cannot be controlled by us, there are additional issues with regard to a couple of power plants being out of order in Dublin and Cork.
They are coming back on stream soon and then there’s the massive data centres from our much-loved multi-national internet companies using a chunk of the available resource too.
If that all sounds dismal, you also cannot control the VAT, PSO (public service obligation) levy or kilowatt charge different companies impose. So that leaves you with the unpalatable option of trying to find the least worst company for your needs.
I would recommend two things: first find out your actual (not estimated) gas and electricity use for the last 12 months — your current supplier will give you this, or the actual bills you paid.
Use it as the basis for comparison on an independently accredited website like bonkers.ie or switcher.ie and it will then punch out alternatives based on your area and house size.
Opt for direct debit and e-billing, as all companies offer a discount for this. Secondly, and I rarely recommend this, but go for the gimmicks and freebies.
You can’t anticipate the oil price, so look for cash back, introductory vouchers, gizmos such as Hive, Nest, Climote gadgets, which some offer to switch.
You could also benefit from level pay, which smooths out the cost over 12 months.
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