Pension Income: Overtaxed and on the rise ...

Recent figures from HMRC on flexible pension payments make for interesting reading. They generally indicate that the pension freedoms, introduced in April 2015, have been a hit for those taking payments, but there are challenges of which clients and advisers need to be mindful.

Over-taxation of pension income

As tax is deducted at source for pension withdrawals, scheme administrators must adhere to HMRC’s PAYE system. This causes over-taxation due to the fact that, until the scheme administrator has a current tax code for the member, flexible pension income payments must be paid after the deduction of emergency tax.

This means if an income withdrawal is made in month 1 of the tax year, the scheme member will only receive 1/12 of their personal allowance. So individuals who are wanting to take a large one-off income payment and utilise their full tax allowances on their income early in the tax year – which just happens to be the most popular time of year to take annual payments – will be hit with a much higher tax bill than expected.

HMRC has created systems to allow the recovery of this excess tax, which is good. However, since the pension freedoms were introduced, the total amount of excess tax HMRC has had to return is now over £433m, which is a huge amount of tax for individuals to have to wait to recover.

Clients can claim the tax back during the tax year; this can be achieved by completing and submitting one of the following forms to HMRC: P55, P50Z or P53Z. The form required depends on the individual’s specific circumstances. Failing that, HMRC will return the tax the following tax year, so the tax will be returned in due course. In the short term, however, it means clients aiming to withdraw a specific net amount are having to withdraw larger gross amounts from a tax wrapper than they need to.

On the rise

Both of these issues are exacerbated by the fact that there is a clear upward trend in both the number of individuals who have flexibly accessed their pension benefits and the total value of withdrawals.

The number of individuals making withdrawals was fairly consistent in 2016/17 and 2017/18 but increased by more than 30% in 2018/19. There are now over 1 million people withdrawing flexible pension payments. The total value on 2016/17 was over £6.4bn; this increased to almost £8.2bn in 2018/19, which is a 27% increase.

If this trend continues on this exponential basis, more and more clients run the risk of falling into these traps, which will inevitably result in significantly more unnecessary tax being deducted.

The value of advice

The over-taxation issue arises as a result of the scheme administrator not having a current year tax code. This is more of an administrative issue and can be remedied by providing the scheme with a P45 (part 2 and 3). If there is no P45 available, another option is to withdraw a small initial income payment, which will prompt HMRC to provide a tax code for the scheme to use going forward.

As many advisers will know, the real value is being able to navigate through the noise and being able to manage client expectations and behaviours.

An imperfect tax system is yet another example of this ‘noise’, so it is well worth advisers being aware of the workarounds and reclaims process as part of the retirement services they offer to clients, particularly if the upward trend in the number of, and value of, withdrawals continues.

Technical Consultant

Before starting at AJ Bell Grant studied Forensic Science, Analytical Science and Law in Sheffield, graduating in 2013. Prior to University he studied Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Design Technology at A-level. Grant started working at AJ Bell in the Benefits Department, progressing to be a Senior Administrator before moving to the Technical Resources Team in 2017. He is currently working towards a Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning and is part of the GETsmart Training Team, which involves conducting and scheduling internal technical training.