Tax relief on pension contributions is restricted by reference to the annual allowance.
- the annual allowance is currently £40,000*
- the lifetime allowance is currently £1,073,100.
*This may increase in respect of any unused allowances in the previous three tax years. Conversely, it may reduce to £4,000 if drawdown rights are exercised in a tax year.
For 2020/21 the annual allowance for those with ‘threshold' income above £200,000 (2019/20, £110,000) and with ‘adjusted' income above £240,000 (2019/20, £150,000) may be reduced. The annual allowance is reduced on a tapering basis so that it reduces to £4,000 (2019/20, £4,000) for those earning above £312,000.
For every £2 of adjusted income above £240,000, an individual will lose £1 of allowance. The definition of income for this test includes any pension contributions made by the employer.
Increasing pension flexibility
Under the current legislation when a member of a defined contribution pension scheme retires he or she can normally take up to 25% (in certain circumstances this can be significantly higher) of their pension pot as a tax-free lump sum. If the individual wishes to withdraw the balance of the fund as a lump sum, it will be taxed at income tax rates.
Those deciding to access their retirement funds are now free to take their entire pension pot, subject to tax at their marginal rate on the amount in excess of the 25% tax free lump sum.
Annual allowance charge
The annual allowance refers to both the employee's and employer's contribution.
Where someone does pay more than the relevant limit into a pension arrangement, they will still get tax relief at their highest rate of tax (40% or 45%), but they may have to pay an annual allowance charge (AAC) unless they have an option to request that the tax is met from the fund.
For example, a company runs a pension scheme where employees contribute 5% (gross) of their salary and the employer agrees to provide twice this figure. Adrian earns £325,000 a year.
His contributions are therefore:
Adrian: 5% x £325,000 = £16,250
Employer 2 x £16,250 = £32,500
Total contributions = £48,750
So Adrian is liable to the AAC - his annual allowance is tapered to £4,000, so he is taxed at 45% on a total of £44,750. He can elect for the pension fund to bear the tax if he prefers.
Carrying forward annual allowance
The £40,000 is an annual allowance. If the amount contributed in a year exceeds this or the annual tapered allowance, any unused allowance for the three previous years may also be used to prevent the annual allowance charge from crystallising.
However, the unused allowance is only available if the contributor has been a member of a pension arrangement for the year in question.
So, if an individual pays £1,200 (gross) a year into a pension arrangement, he will have £38,800 for each year available, assuming his annual allowance is not tapered, but a maximum of three years' unused relief is available at any time.
When a taxpayer starts making pension contributions for the first time, there is no available unused relief from earlier years.
The current year must be used first and, thereafter, the allowances for the three previous years, starting with the oldest unused year in priority.
For example, Brenda is self-employed. Each year she decides how much to pay into her pension fund. She had a particularly good year in 2020/21. She makes these payments:
All the contributions for years up to 2017/18 are covered by the allowances then in force. For 2020/21, we have to consider the £40,000 annual allowance. Her relief is calculated thus:
|less: 2020/21 annual allowance (AA)||£40,000||£60,000|
|less: 2019/20 AA (£40,000 - £38,000)||£2,000||£58,000|
|less: 2018/19 AA (£40,000 - £36,000)||£4,000||£54,000|
|less: 2017/18 AA (£40,000 - £24,000)||£16,000||£38,000|
This means that she must pay an AAC based on £38,000 excess pension contributions.
Defined benefit schemes
Some pensions are defined benefit schemes. These are also known as final salary schemes. Here the contribution is not defined; only the benefit is. The benefit is usually given as a tax-free lump sum and an annual pension.
Each of these is calculated as a fraction of pensionable earnings. Such schemes are now largely only found in the public sector, though some long-serving employees in large companies may still be in such a scheme.
The annual allowance is considered according to the increase in value of the pension value during the year. The annual pension is calculated by multiplying the current value of the annual pension by a factor of 16. The opening value is increased by the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Any amounts that relate to ill health cover are excluded.
For example, Colin is a teacher. His scheme provides for a lump sum of 3/80 of his pensionable earnings for each year of service, and an annual pension based on 1/80 for each year of service. At the start of the year he was earning £50,000 after 20 years' service. During the year, he was promoted to a salary of £60,000. The CPI for the year was 3%.
|Opening value of pension fund|
|Annual pension: 20/80 x £50,000||=||£12,500|
|Multiplied by a factor of 16||=||£200,000|
|Lump sum: 20 x 3/80 x £50,000||=||£37,500|
|Total value of pension fund||£237,500|
|uplifted by 3% CPI (i.e. multiplied by 1.03)||£244,625|
|Closing value of pension fund|
|Annual pension: 21/80 x £60,000||=||£15,750|
|Multiplied by a factor of 16||=||£252,000|
|Lump sum: 21 x 3/80 x £60,000||=||£47,250|
|Total value of pension fund||£299,250|
|Increase in value of pension fund|
|less opening value||£244,625|
|Increase in value - deemed contribution||£54,625|
So Colin could be liable to the AAC as his pension has increased by more than £40,000 during the year. He may be surprised that a £10,000 a year pay rise generates a £54,625 increase in pension valuation.
In practice, he is likely to have unused allowances from the previous years and so will pay no extra tax. Nevertheless, this example shows that defined benefit schemes can trigger the tax charge even on fairly low sums.
Calculating the annual allowance charge
The annual allowance charge is added to the taxpayer's other taxable income and taxed accordingly. It is reported on the additional information pages of the self-assessment return. For example, Katherine has taxable income of £130,000 for the year.
Her annual allowance charge is £40,000 for exceeding the annual allowance limit. This is the amount of her pension contributions that exceeded the limit for the tax year after deducting £40,000 for the current year annual allowance and less any unused amounts from the three previous years.
|Her tax is:|
|Balance of the 40% band: £150,000 threshold - £130,000 = £20,000|
|Tax at 40% =||£8,000|
|Balance taxed at 45%: (£130,000 + £40,000) - £150,000 = £20,000|
|Tax at 45% =||£9,000|
So Katherine will pay an extra £17,000 tax in respect of her pension contributions in addition to her other tax liabilities.
Points to note
The main points to note are:
- taxpayers continue to receive tax relief at their full marginal rate on contributions, but may have to pay tax on an annual allowance charge. This will arise at their marginal rate of tax.
- in general, this does not affect taxpayers whose pension fund contributions are less than £40,000 a year provided their income does not exceed £240,000
- if contributions do exceed £40,000, any unused allowance for the 3 previous years may be used
- defined benefit schemes can result in large increases in pension fund values on relatively small increases in pay
- defined benefit schemes have an obligation to report fund values to members
- contributions that arise on redundancy are included in the reckoning
- tax relief is given on the amount paid in the tax year
- the annual allowance is tested against the amount contributed in the pension input period, which is always the same as the tax year.
There are many other implications that may need to be considered. These include converting a final salary scheme to a money purchase scheme, adjustments for Gift Aid payments, and transitional provisions for certain high value existing schemes. There are also administrative provisions and anti-avoidance provisions that need to be considered.
There are provisions that allow pension funds to smooth out any "spikes" in pension fund accruals, subject to anti-avoidance provisions, and in some cases the tax charge arising on the annual allowance charge can be paid by the fund, reducing the value available at retirement.
The lifetime allowance is only tested against the total pension savings when the individual takes some or his entire pension - known as a benefit crystallisation event.
The value of the fund is tested against the limit, and if appropriate a tax charge is levied. However, individuals can seek various types of protection in relation to this tax charge, but generally speaking will not be permitted to make any further contributions to any form of pension arrangement after they have elected for protection.
We can advise on all these other implications, in addition to explaining any of the above matters as they relate to your circumstances.
It should also be noted that this is not the only change in pensions being introduced.
Under the current law, the state pension age is due to increase to 68 between 2044 and 2046.
Following a recent review, the Government has announced plans to bring this timetable forward, with the state pension age increasing to 68 between 2037 and 2039.
|Your date of birth||How the proposals affect you|
|On or before 5 April 1970||No change|
|Between 6 April 1970 and 5 April 1978||Your state pension age is currently 67, increasing to between 67 years and 1 month and 68 years depending on your date of birth|
|After 6 April 1978||No change (your state pension age is 68)|