Annual allowance

An annual allowance for pension savings applies each year, which is based on a pension input period. This limits the amount of tax privileges available on pension savings each year.
Key facts
  • Annual allowance is based on pension input periods.
  • Pension input periods are now aligned with tax years.
  • Annual allowance is currently £40,000.
  • Any contributions over the annual allowance available attract a tax charge.
  • A reduced annual allowance could apply if the money purchase annual allowance or tapered annual allowance has been triggered.
  • Case study

PTM051000:Annual allowance

Under a money purchase scheme this is simply the value of the contributions paid during the pension input period. However, under a defined benefit (DB) or cash balance (CB) scheme it is the increase in the value of a member's rights during the pension input period.

Within this allowance, tax relief on members' gross contributions is restricted to the higher of £3,600 or 100% of relevant UK earnings, that is the earnings that attract tax relief . Employer contributions are not restricted in this way but they may not receive tax relief on the entire contribution. Members are subject to a tax charge on the amount of any contribution paid (by the member, employer or 3rd party) in excess of the annual allowance each year. The tax charge will be at the member's marginal rate of tax. This also applies to the value of any benefit increase under a DB or CB scheme over the annual allowance. If an annual allowance charge is due this will usually be dealt with through the member's tax return.

The annual allowance has changed several times since it was introduced in 2006 and is £40,000 currently. Historic levels of the annual allowance can be found on our rates and factors page.

The following details how these benefits are valued when testing against the annual allowance: 

Type of benefitValue of rightsNotes
Money purchase benefits The total contributions paid in any pension input period.

This includes all member, employer and third party contributions


PTM053200: pension input amounts: money purchase arrangements

Cash balance plans The increase in the value of the member's rights over the pension input period.

When working out how much the benefits have increased by, increase the value of the plan at the beginning of the pension input period by the increase in CPI over the 12 month period to the September before the start of the tax year in which the annual allowance is being calculated. This is then compared with the value at the end of the period.

The rights to be valued will include partial benefits taken during the period, any rights transferred out to another registered pension scheme, and any pension debits. The value of any rights given on transfers in to the scheme and any pension credits can be excluded.


PTM053400: pension input amounts: cash balance arrangements

PTMO058070: Transitional rules for tax year 2015/16

Defined benefits schemes The increase in value of the member's rights during the pension input period.

When working out how much the benefits have increased by, calculate the annual pension amount at the beginning of the pension input period (this is the pension that the member would get if they retired now at normal pension age). The total should then be increased by the increase in CPI over the 12 month period to the September before the start of the tax year in which the annual allowance is being calculated.  If the scheme also gives the member a lump sum in addition to the pension (i.e. not by commutation of pension), add this on. Then multiply this amount by 16.

Then calculate the value at the end of the pension input period; the end value shouldn't be increased by CPI. Multiply this amount by 16. Again if the scheme also gives the member a lump sum in addition to the pension (i.e. not by commutation of pension), add this on.

Deduct the start value you from the end you have calculated above, this is the pension input amount.

The rights to be valued will include any benefits taken during the period, any rights transferred out to another registered pension scheme, and any pension debits. The value of any rights given on transfers in to the scheme and any pension credits can be excluded.

PTM053320 pension input amounts: defined benefits arrangements: worked examples

PTMO058070: Transitional rules for tax year 2015/16

More information on pension input periods and pension input amounts can be found in our article of the same name.

2015/16 transitional year

Everyone has a total annual allowance of £80,000 for PIPs ending in 2015/16. Savings for PIPs ending in 2015/16 will be split into two mini tax years. Members have an annual allowance of £80,000 for all PIPs ending between 6 April 2015 and 8 July 2015.

Savings from 9 July 2015 to 5 April 2016 have a nil annual allowance but up to £40,000 of any unused annual allowance from the period 6 April 2015 up to 8 July 2015 (pre-alignment tax year) is added to this. The total of all pension contributions made by, or on behalf of, the member to all their pension plans for pension input periods ending in the same tax year is tested against the annual allowance for that tax year.

This is easy to do for money purchase arrangements as it is based on the amount paid in the two periods.  It’s slightly more complicated for cash balance and defined benefit schemes. 

The start value is calculated as normal at the start of the PIP but the close value is calculated as at 5 April 2016.  The difference is the pension input amount (PIA).

You then calculate the total length of the PIP (A). Which is then split between the pre and post alignment tax years (B and C).  The post alignment period runs from 9 July 2015 to 5 April 2016 and is 272 days.

You then multiply the PIA by 272/A, which give you the PIA in the post alignment period.  Deduct this from the total PIA to get the pre alignment PIA.

2015/16 tax year defined benefit/cash balance case study

Marco is in a defined benefit scheme with a PIP that ran from 1 February to 29 January.  His PIA for the PIP running from 1 February 2015 to 5 April 2016 (430 days) was £75,467.  He is not caught by the MPAA or tapered annual allowance.

The post-alignment PIA is £75,467 x 272/430 = £47,737.27

The pre-alignment PIA is £75,467 - £47,737.27 = £27,729.73

Marco will have an annual allowance charge on £7,737.27 in the post-alignment period unless he has any unused annual allowance to carry forward.

Annual allowance charge

The objective of the annual allowance charge is to remove the tax relief given to any pension contributions over the annual allowance.

In simple terms the tax relief given is based on the tax that would have been paid if the pension contribution had been taken as income. This means that the charge could be at 45%, 40% or 20% or a combination of all if the pension contributions fell over these tax thresholds.

The steps for calculating the annual allowance charge and how to pay the annual allowance charge can be found in HMRC's Pensions Tax Manual.

Carry forward

It may be possible to reduce or completely avoid the annual allowance charge using carry forward. Carry forward allows unused annual allowance from pension input periods ending in the previous three tax years to be carried forward and added to the annual allowance for the current pension input period.

More details can be found in our carry forward article.

Money purchase annual allowance

From 6 April 2015 there is a new annual allowance called the money purchase annual allowance (MPAA).  This is normally triggered by taking income from a flexi-access drawdown plan or using an uncrystallised funds pension lump sum.  However, other actions can trigger it.

If the MPAA has been triggered, only £4,000 can be paid to all defined contribution plans in any pension input period before the annual allowance tax charge is applied. 

If it is triggered part-way through a pension input period only the contributions made after the trigger are tested against the MPAA. However the total contributions/accrual in that tax year are also tested against the £40,000 annual allowance.

HMRC have issued a guidance note: Money purchase annual allowance: split pension input periods which provides more detail.

PTM056500: money purchase annual allowance

Tapered annual allowance

Since 6 April 2016, members  who have taxable income for a tax year of greater than £150,000 will have their annual allowance for that tax year restricted. It will be reduced, so that for every £2 of income they have over £150,000, their annual allowance is reduced by £1. Any resulting reduced annual allowance is rounded down to the nearest whole pound.

The maximum reduction will be £30,000, so anyone with income of £210,000 or more will have an annual allowance of £10,000. Members with high income caught by the restriction may therefore have to reduce the contributions paid by them and/or their employers or suffer an annual allowance charge.

Our article, tapering of annual allowance for high incomes, provides more detail.

PTM057100: Annual allowance: tapered annual allowance

The information provided is based on our current understanding of the relevant legislation and regulations and may be subject to alteration as a result of changes in legislation or practice.

Published 18 January 2013

Last updated: 05 Apr 2017

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