Lock In Tax Relief By Topping Up Your Pension Fund Before The 5th April

Contributors

  • Alison Hirst
Lynn Gracie, Private Client Partner

Any financial advisor will tell you it’s never too early to start paying into your pension fund, but what many don’t necessarily appreciate is the significant tax savings that can be made whilst also building a secure plan for retirement.

The UK’s income tax approach to contributions is pretty generous, i.e. not only do you get full tax relief at your highest tax rate (up to 45% UK/ 48% Scotland) on qualifying pension contributions, but the fund itself then grows in a completely tax free environment, with full exemption from inheritance tax.  The UK currently has the highest tax rates for over 70 years and so paying into a pension that ultimately benefits your future and family, whilst also saving tax,  must surely be seen as a genuine win.

However, and yes, you guessed it, there is always a ‘but’ …given the very generous tax relief available on contributions going into a pension, in order to secure such tax relief, there are unsurprisingly, various limits/ allowances that must be adhered to. For those attempting to maximise their pension contributions, it is essential they are fully aware of the rules.

Annual Allowance

The Annual allowance, set by HMRC, is the most you can save into your pension pot relative to the current tax year. This is is £60,000 for 2023/24 and it applies to all contributions made across all pensions held, whether contributions are paid by you personally or by your employer.

Tapering for High Earners

The £60,000 allowance is also tapered (reduced), for high earners. Essentially the allowance is reduced by £1 for every £2 of your ‘adjusted income’ that exceeds £260,000. Adjusted income also includes employer pension contributions that have received tax relief at source, eg salary sacrifice arrangement.

Note that the annual allowance will not be tapered, if your ‘threshold income’ is £200,000 or less. It is therefore important to determine what your ‘adjusted income’ and ‘threshold income’ is in each case. The broad difference between each calculation, is that the threshold calculation requires a deduction for personal pension contributions, i.e. those contributions paid net of basic rate tax. The different income  calculations can provide surprising results and so it’s important that professional advice is taken, to ensure contributions are based on the correct allowance calculations.

The £60,000 will be tapered down, according to excess income, but will stop at £10,000. It follows that £10,000 is the absolute minimum allowance for those with adjusted income that exceeds £360,000.

If you choose to make a withdrawal from a defined contribution scheme, then you may trigger a permanent reduction in your available allowance in all future tax years which is currently also set at £10,000. (£4,000 in previous years)

Unused Annual Allowance

Any unused allowance can be carried forward for 3 tax years, so if we look at the current tax year 2023/24, you can utilise unused allowances brought forward from 2020/21, 2021/22 and 2022/23. In order to secure this carry forward, you must also have been a member of a registered UK pension scheme during each of those tax years, even if the pension input for that year was nil.

The annual allowance for the current tax year is always utilised against pension contributions first, then the method of set off is essentially first in first out, ie the earliest years unused allowance is used first, before the later years.

Net Relevant Earnings

Where you are personally paying pension contributions, you must also be able to demonstrate that you have earnings of the same amount to ‘frank’ the gross pension contributions being made in any tax year. If your employer pays the pension contribution relevant earnings are not necessary. If paid personally however, any excess contributions made will not receive tax relief and in most cases, pension funds will insist on issuing refund of contributions that do not receive tax relief

It follows, that if you are in the fortunate position to have unused allowances brought forward and wish to pay a lump sum into your pension to utilise these allowances, you must also  ensure that you have enough earnings to be able to claim associated tax relief.

Tax Charge where contributions exceed Annual Allowances

If you find that you may have exceeded the annual allowance amount (including any allowances brought forward), HMRC will charge tax at your highest rate on the excess and will also expect you to ‘self assess’ this tax charge on your tax return.

This can often happen if you are a member of a Defined Benefit or Final Salary arrangement, where notional pension contributions can be far in excess of what the individual believes is actually being contributed in cash terms.

There is however, an option available to ask that the scheme pick up this tax charge on your behalf, but only if the charge is in excess of £2,000 and a formal election is made to that effect within the timescale required, which is 31 July in the year following the tax year.

Lifetime Allowance

The good news is that following the Spring Budget in March last year, the Lifetime Allowance (LTA) is to be abolished. The (LTA) is a limit on the total amount of pension benefits that an individual can receive from all registered pension schemes, without triggering an additional tax charge. However, the maximum tax-free cash going forward will be capped at £268,275, which is 25% of the existing £1,073,100 LTA, except where existing protections apply.

TAX YEAR END PLANNING – OTHER TAX POINTS TO NOTE AHEAD OF 5th APRIL

Other than pension planning there also other taxation changes which are important to be aware of and ensure you are taking advantage of the relief and allowances available:

  • For Scottish rate taxpayers as from 6 April 2024 a new advanced rate will be added at a rate of 45p for earned and property income between £75,000 and £125,140 and the rate on the top rate band on any earned and property income over £125,140 will be increased to 48p. The other types of income such as dividends or savings income for Scottish rate taxpayers will remain at the same rates as UK therefore important to check if you and your partner have considered whether income generating asset could be better shared to save tax.
  • Dividend allowance is currently £1,000 and this will be reduced to £500 as from 6 April 2024, therefore if you can influence the timing of dividends from shareholdings and consider whether these can be accelerated to before 5 April 2024.
  • Charitable donations – accelerate donations to claim higher rate tax relief.
  • Capital Gains Tax Allowance is currently £6,000 and this will reduce to £3,000 as from 6 April 2024 therefore if you can influence the timing of selling any shares, property etc and consider whether these can be accelerated to before 5 April 2024.
  • Adult ISA you can pay a maximum of £20,000 a year and a Junior ISA a maximum of £9,000 a year.
  • Regular Gifts out of Income and Gifts Exemption – make use of the £3,000 annual gift exemption and make gifts from surplus income to reduce the value of your estate exposed to Inheritance Tax.

If you require any assistance with pension planning or tax year end planning and understanding the various options which are available to you prior to the end of the current tax year, please do not hesitate to get in contact with Lynn Gracie, Alison Hirst or your usual AAB Contact.

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Our team support a diverse array of individuals such as employed professionals, business owners, families and international sports stars. As AAB clients, they all benefit from absolute confidentiality and share a unified goal of optimising and safeguarding their personal wealth. Our services extend far beyond mere tax return completion. In addition to standard personal tax compliance, our dedicated team of personal tax specialists delivers dependable and practical tax advice, ensuring full compliance and optimal positioning.

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  • Alison Hirst

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