Pension schemes are one the most efficient forms of investment as contributions into the scheme benefit from tax relief – and that offers a huge advantage over any other form of savings plan. The ‘good news’ doesn’t stop there as, not only do you benefit when you make contributions, the money is not subject to tax while it’s invested in your pension pot and, when the time comes to receive your pension, you can usually take a portion of your pension pot in the form of a tax-free lump sum.

Tax relief on contributions

You receive tax relief at the highest marginal rate of income tax you pay on any contributions you make to your pension scheme, providing that your total gross contribution doesn’t exceed your annual earnings or your annual or lifetime allowances. How you receive tax relief, and how much you receive, depends on your income, the pension scheme you are contributing to and how your pension contributions are made.

If you are a basic-rate taxpayer you automatically get 20% tax relief from the government and this is paid into your pension pot by your pension scheme provider. If you are a higher-rate tax payer you can claim an additional 20% tax relief from HMRC through your self-assessment tax return and if you pay tax at the top rate you can claim a further 25% tax relief from HMRC. (Note: the rate of tax relief in Scotland is different from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.)

Tax relief is calculated on a gross, ‘pre-tax’ basis, ie: the amount you earned, not the amount you contributed. For example, you want to make a contribution of £100 a month from your wages into your pension scheme. This figure is considered to be the net, after-tax amount so, if you are a basic-rate taxpayer you’ll receive 20% tax relief (£25) which the scheme provider claims from HMRC and adds to you pension pot, making your gross contribution £125. So, although you’ve paid £100 to your pension scheme, your pension pot has actually received £125.

If you have your own private pension scheme your contributions are usually treated as being paid net of basic rate income tax relief and, as with workplace pension schemes, your pension provider will claim back basic rate tax at 20% and add this to you pension pot increasing its size.

Annual allowance and lifetime allowance

Although you are free to pay a maximum of 100% of your wages or salary into your pension scheme, or schemes, an ‘annual allowance’ limits the amount of tax relief you can claim each year. In addition, a ‘lifetime allowance’ sets a limit on the total value of your pension pots before which you start to pay additional tax.

  • Annual allowance

    A ‘standard’ annual allowance remains unchanged at £40,000 per year. This is the maximum you can pay into your pension scheme(s) each year and receive tax relief, although you can carry forward any unused allowance from the previous three tax years.

    For those earning over £240,000 the annual allowance reduces on a tapering basis: for every £2 of income above £240,000, the annual allowance reduces by £1 until it reaches a minimum of £4,000, subject to your threshold income being over £200,000 per year.

    The figure is defined differently depending on the type of pension scheme you have. If it’s a defined contribution scheme, it’s the total amount you, your employer or anyone else can contribute each year. If it’s a defined benefit scheme, it’s the total pension that has accrued during the year. If you have both defined contribution and defined benefit schemes then it’s a combination of the two.

    You won’t receive tax relief on any contributions that exceed your annual allowance and, if you do exceed it, you’ll also have to pay an annual allowance charge.

  • Lifetime allowance

    The Lifetime Allowance sets a limit to the total value of your pension pots before you have to pay an additional tax. Introduced in 2006, the Lifetime Allowance was originally set at £1.5 million but, from April 2018, the government indexed the standard Lifetime Allowance to the Consumer Price Index. For tax year 2018-19, the Lifetime Allowance fell to £1.03 million, rose to £1.055 million in tax year 2019-20, and to £1.073 million in tax year 2020-21, a level at which it has since remained. In March 2021, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, announced that it would be frozen at this level until April 2026. If the value of all your pension pots exceeds the Lifetime Allowance, any excess is taxed at 25% if it is withdrawn as income, or at 55% if it is withdrawn as a cash lump sum.

    Although a pension pot of £1.0 million may seem high and possibly unattainable to many, saving into a pension scheme is usually a long-term commitment. If you’ve been contributing for many years, and especially if you’re a high earner, reaching the lifetime allowance could be relatively easy to do. In fact, successive protection schemes have been introduced to provide an element of tax protection for those whose accrued pension benefit has risen to exceed the lifetime allowance.

Tax on pension income

Any income you receive from a pension scheme, including your State Pension, is treated as earned income and may be liable to tax; your pension provider(s) using your tax code to deduct tax before paying the balance to you.

You should be able to take a proportion of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum. This may be the first 25% in the form of a pension commencement lump sum (usually referred to as a ‘PCLS’) or, if you go for an uncrystallised fund pension lump sum (‘UFPLS’) income drawdown arrangement, take smaller cash sums as and when you need them, the first 25% of each being tax free.

You need to think about any potential tax implications before you receive your pension as your income strategy during your retirement will dictate what you do with your pension pot and how you receive your pension.

You don’t pay National Insurance contributions on your pension income.


How can One Financial Solutions help you?

One Financial Solutions is here to help you. We’ll work with you, assess your current circumstances, review your retirement goals and help you put in place a pension strategy to meet them, ensuring that having a ‘financially secure and comfortable retirement’ isn’t something that’s left to chance.

We’ll assess the value of your State Pension and make sure you receive everything you’re entitled to. We’ll review any workplace and private pensions you may have and recommend any changes we feel are beneficial. If you need a pension scheme we’ll find one for you and, as a truly independent firm of financial advisers, we’ll select one from the entire market and make sure it’s the best one for you.

So, if you’re looking for specific help about any aspect of your pension or just want advice on the subject, please call us on 020 3714 9565 or ask us to call you by sending an email to