Seven things for higher earners to do to help mitigate big tax rise due to pension changes

29th March 2016


High earners with taxable income over £150,000 face paying additional tax of £13,500 now that pension tax relief rules have changed.

Hargreaves Lansdown senior pension analyst Nathan Long says: “High earners will now need either a crystal ball or the benefit of hindsight to navigate the new annual allowances rules. Few people know their total year’s income from work, savings and investments in advance. However, those with total annual income above or around £150,000 need to be alive to these changes, or else risk a nasty tax surprise.

He says that higher earners should prioritise tallying up their expected income for the year, work out if they could be caught by the new rules and plan accordingly. He warns that even simply remaining a member of a company pension scheme could increase tax bills – so employees in particular should act now by discussing the options with their employer.

The firm has suggested seven steps higher earners should take to help them minimise any unexpected bill. 

  1. Estimate your income for the 2016/17 tax year. This involves tallying up not just salary, but also dividends, bank interest, rental income, bonuses and unapproved share schemes to name but a few. For many people it will only be possible to come up with an estimate at this stage.
  2. Work out if you are in scope. From the estimated income, any personal pension contributions can be deducted, as can any salary sacrifice arrangements entered into prior to 9th July 2015. If this threshold income exceeds £110,000 – you are in scope.
  3. Calculate the impact of any taper. If your original estimated income plus employer pension contributions exceeds £150,000 then your annual allowance will be reduced. A £1 reduction in allowance for every £2 income above £150,000 will apply up to a maximum reduction of £30,000 (achieved with income above £210,000).
  4. Speak to your employer – what flexibility do they allow? Contributions to your workplace pension could push you over your new lower allowance, but your employer may offer different solutions to help you out. This could include offering cash in lieu of pension contributions or potentially having them re-directed into an ISA or investment account so you can continue saving for retirement. Even where employers offer no flexibility, depending on the structure, receiving a contribution in excess of your allowance and paying the tax could still make sense.
  5. Don’t forget carry forward. It is still possible to carry forward any unused allowance from the previous 3 tax years. With up to £130,000 available to be carried forward, flexibility may not be needed from employers. You’ll need to check what you paid into pensions in previous years to get a handle on this.
  6. Ensure savings are still made for retirement. Even if your capacity to save into a pension is trimmed back it will still be important to save for retirement. ISAs are tax efficient and with a limit of £15,240 for the 2016/17 tax year a couple can squirrel away over £30,000 per year. If your own pension allowance is trimmed back it may be possible to fund for your spouse. Even non-earners can save up to £3,600 every year into a pension.
  7. If unsure – take financial advice. This is a complex area and a time when paying fees for personal financial advice may be worthwhile.

How does the Tapered Annual Allowance work?

The taper is a reduction to the standard £40,000 annual pension contribution allowance, based on an individual’s total income for the tax year. The taper affects incomes between £150,000 and £210,000. The definitions of income includes variable payments such as dividends, bank interest, rental income, bonuses and unapproved share schemes. As a consequence, it will be absolutely impossible for the employer to know an employee’s total income in advance of the end of the tax year; it will also be very challenging for many individuals to know their total income.

This in turn means they won’t know for sure what their annual allowance for the year is until after the end of the year (see details of the taper below).

Threshold Income, Adjusted Income and the Taper

Threshold Income

Anyone earning over £110,000 has to check to determine whether the Taper could apply to them. For the purpose of the Threshold test, income includes non-earned income such as dividends and property income; it also includes any salary sacrifice arrangement entered into on or after 9 July 2015 but any personal contributions to a pension can be deducted, as well as a variety of trading reliefs, property loss reliefs and payments to trade unions.

Adjusted Income

Adjusted Income is broadly the same income calculation as for the Threshold test however you cannot deduct personal contributions to pensions and you have to add in any employer pension contributions, including any salary sacrifice arrangement.

The Taper

£1 of annual allowance is withdrawn for every £2 of income above £150,000. Once adjusted income exceeds £210,000, the Annual Allowance bottoms out at £10,000.

In the worst case, someone could lose £30,000 of Annual Allowance, resulting in them having to pay a tax bill of £13,500 (45% tax on an excess contribution of £30,000).

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