The top tax year end questions answered

24 February 2022

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Clare Moffat from our Intermediary Development and Technical team looks at the most common questions we receive in the run up to tax year end.

Tax relief and annual allowance

One of the top questions we’re asked about is annual allowance and carry forward. But that often highlights that we’re being asked the wrong question first. Why? Well often the question should be about tax relief, not carry forward.

The first question asked by technical teams in response to a question about carry forward isn’t how much carry forward someone has but how are they paying the contribution? If it’s an individual contribution, then the client will still need relevant earnings in the year of payment to support the contribution.

For example, if there’s £100,000 worth of unused carry forward, the client will need earnings of at least £100,000 in order to make an individual contribution of this level and receive tax relief. Often, we’ve been asked to help work out or check someone’s available annual allowance and only later do we find out they don’t have the earnings to support the contribution.

A good starting point is to establish the type of contribution first. Think big first. If it’s an individual contribution, what’s the maximum tax relievable contribution which can be paid by the client? Then work out how much annual allowance they need and whether they need to look at carry forward.

Carry forward and annual allowance 

The specific year of payment is also important at tax year end, as what if next year the client doesn’t have the relevant earnings to support the contributions? Often, we see clients with inherited money who want to make large pension contributions. That’s a great idea, as we know pensions are a fabulous wrapper and will help to satisfy a retirement income need. However, if they’ve inherited £200,000, but only earn £40,000, then having carry forward is irrelevant as they can only contribute a maximum of £40,000 and will use this year’s annual allowance first.

It’s important to remember, if they’re already contributing to a pension, it’ll be less. What they can do, is split this over different tax years. Getting that contribution paid in this tax year becomes very important Pensions are tax reducers, so making large contributions in different tax years will mean a large reduction in the amount of income tax being paid as well. Plus, if your clients are a couple – can it be paid by both of them?  

If you’d like more detail on where people most commonly go wrong with carry forward calculations, take a look at our article Carry forward - where do people go wrong?

Of course, carry forward and annual allowance are the top tax year end queries. But we’re often asked about other areas which cause confusion. What opportunities are there at tax year end? How can clients make the most of it? At tax year end many of these questions come from spikes in earnings which might not happen again. So thinking about adjusted net income and tax traps are crucial. 

Spikes in earnings

Let’s start with a reminder about adjusted net income and when you need to think about it. We know that paying a pension contribution is hugely tax efficient due to the tax relief on offer.  Most higher-rate taxpayers are basic rate taxpayers in retirement.  So for every £100 they withdraw from their pension, they’ll receive £85. This isn’t bad if the contribution cost £60 for every £100. Our tax system’s progressive and the amount of tax you pay should increase as you earn more, but there are tax traps where more tax is paid than should be. The personal allowance tax trap is one of those.

If adjusted net income is over £100,000, then a client starts to lose their personal allowance on a 2:1 basis until they lose it completely. 60% tax is paid instead of 40%. Basically, adjusted net income is total taxable income, less pension contributions, gift aid and trading losses. However, if a pension contribution is made, that 60% tax becomes 60% tax relief (or 61.5% in Scotland due to higher taxation). 

It can be even better if the employer pays that final contribution for redundancy or bonus via salary exchange, as there’s a National Insurance saving as well.  

The wholly and exclusively rule

A common question is in relation to how much can be paid as an employer pension contribution by a company, and often that question is linked to maximising pension contributions and using up carry forward. Technically the answer is that it’s unlimited. But it’s subject to the wholly and exclusively rule.

Most employer contributions will satisfy this rule as it’s for the purpose of their trade.  When doesn’t the wholly and exclusively rule apply? Well, if it looks a bit odd, then it probably is. For example, if one employee, who isn’t a director but might be a family member, is getting a very large pension contribution and other employees aren’t, that wouldn’t satisfy the wholly and exclusively rule because it isn’t for the purposes of trade. In some cases, making the family member a director and giving them director’s duties would satisfy this rule. Structuring the business in the correct way is important. 

Salary versus dividend versus pension

At tax year end, business owners are considering how best to remunerate themselves and what to do with available money in the business. So what’s the best combination, especially for the person who wears the hat and pays the tax of employer and employee? Salary, dividend or pension? Well, for most people it isn’t a choice of one of those but instead, a combination of all three. Pensions will always win as the best wrapper, but unless you’re over 55, they aren’t going to help with the mortgage and the shopping bills. So let’s have a closer look at  those options and the tax walls that impact them. 

Salary

Employer - National Insurance (NI) is payable, dependent on the level taken, but no corporation tax.

Employee – income tax and employee NI dependent on the level taken.

Dividends

Employer – corporation tax is due.

Employee– income tax at the dividend rates which until 6 April are 7.5%, 32.5% and 38.1%. There’s the dividend allowance of £2,000, but bear in mind that this does sit within the tax stack.  So if I have £5,000 of dividends and earnings of £48,000, £2,000 will be tax free, but it will use the last £2,000 of the basic rate band and then £3,000 will be taxed at 32.5%.

Employer pension contributions 

Employer - no corporation tax and no employer NI.

Employee – no income tax until pension benefits are taken and no employee NI. 

Other things to think about: 

  • Is there available carry forward?
  • Has the director been a member of a pension scheme in the past?
  • Is there too much cash in the business?*

*This is important when thinking about IHT planning as if there’s too much cash in the business, it might not all qualify for business relief.  In addition, if the business folded, that cash would be an asset of the business and not protected as it would normally be in the pension wrapper. 

  • How old is the director?
  •  Is there a plan for retirement?
  • Is there a value in the business and can there be a guarantee there will be a value in years to come? The last few years have shown us that the businesses we thought were rock solid, aren’t always.
  • Is enough salary being taken to make sure that state benefits will be payable including state pension and other state benefits? Not forgetting maternity allowance for your female clients.  

If you need further help in this area, there are case studies about extracting company profits on the Technical Central area of our website.  

Summary

We hope these prompts help you with your tax year end planning and making the most of the opportunities for your clients.

About the author

Clare Moffat

Head of the Intermediary Development & Technical Team

Clare qualified as a lawyer and Notary Public in September 2002 and is a member of the Law Society of Scotland and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. Post qualification Clare spent five years at Aegon Scottish Equitable in the legal department before moving to Pinsent Masons LLP in November 2007. While at Pinsent Masons, Clare acted for many different pension providers before moving to Prudential for over six years and ended up leading the pensions side of the external facing technical team. Clare joined Royal London in April 2018 and leads a team of eight specialists as well as presenting, writing articles and commenting for the press and developing adviser facing content. Clare is a mum of 3 and enjoys holidays, running and socialising.

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