Lifetime allowance

There is no limit on the value of pension savings that can be built up by an individual. However, if they exceed the lifetime allowance when they are taken, the amount in excess of the lifetime allowance will be subject to a tax charge known as the lifetime allowance charge.
Key facts
  • The lifetime allowance is the maximum value of benefits that can be taken from a registered pension scheme without being subject to the lifetime allowance charge.
  • Benefits are only tested against the lifetime allowance when a benefit crystallisation events happens.
  • It may be possible to protect benefits in excess of the lifetime allowance.
  • The lifetime allowance is currently £1,073,100.
  • The lifetime allowance charge applies if benefits exceed the lifetime allowance.

The lifetime allowance was introduced on 6 April 2006 (A-Day) but has not remained at the same level.  It is currently £1,073,100.

Historic lifetime allowance levels can be found in our rates and factors area.

Benefit crystallisation events

Simply having benefits worth more than the lifetime allowance doesn’t trigger a lifetime allowance charge. Benefits are only tested against the lifetime allowance when a benefit crystallisation event happens. There are various benefit crystallisation events, most obviously when an individual takes benefits or dies. However, there are also some automatic benefit crystallisation events at age 75 which test any uncrystallised benefits or any growth in drawdown funds.

A full list of the different types of benefit crystallisation events can be found in HMRC's Pensions Tax Manual.

Valuation of pension benefits

How are defined benefits valued?

Defined benefit schemes can only offer a scheme pension. A scheme pension involves paying a pension for life out of the scheme assets or buying an annuity out of the scheme assets. 

When someone crystallises benefits in a defined benefit scheme, the value of the annual amount of pension promised by the scheme is multiplied by a standard valuation factor of 20:1. Where some of the pension is commuted for a pension commencement lump sum, it is the pension after commutation that is multiplied by the standard valuation factor of 20:1. This factor includes an allowance for dependant's benefits up to the level of the member's pension at date of death and for annual increases of 5%. Any defined benefit scheme that provides increases more than 5% can apply to HM Revenue and Customs for a scheme specific valuation factor which can be higher than 20:1. 

Pension commencement lump sums are valued using a factor of 1:1 and are added to the above value.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual - PTM088620: BCE 2 entitlement to a scheme pension

Money purchase (including cash balance) benefits

How are drawdown benefits valued? 

The valuation basis is based on the actual fund value (market value of the assets) used to secure either:

  • income drawdown (whether capped* or flexi-access drawdown), or
  • short-term annuities

* It's not been possible to set up a new capped drawdown plan since 6 April 2015, unless it’s to receive a transfer of an existing capped drawdown plan.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual - PTM088610: BCE 1 designation of funds for drawdown during the member's lifetime

How is a secured pension valued? 

The valuation basis used depends on the option chosen when benefits are crystallised. These are:

  • Lifetime annuity - This is simply valued on the basis of the fund value used to secure the lifetime annuity.
  • Scheme pension - Same as defined benefit schemes above.

Pension commencement lump sums are valued based on a valuation factor of 1:1 and added to the value above.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual - PTM088640: BCE 4 purchase of a lifetime annuity

How are benefits in payment before 6 April 2006 valued?

Benefits that were in payment before 6 April 2006 also have to be included when valuing benefits taken after 6 April 2006. The benefits are valued when the first benefit crystallisation event takes place after 6 April 2006. Annuities in payment are valued at 25:1.

If the benefits are provided by capped income drawdown it is 80% of the GAD maximum income in force at the time of that first BCE valued at 25:1.

If the capped drawdown plan is converted to flexi-access drawdown the valuation is 80% of the GAD maximum income for the year of conversion valued at 25:1.

The reason why they are valued at 25:1 rather than 20:1 is because the individual will most likely have taken a tax-free lump sum when the benefits were originally taken.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual - PTM088300: Benefit crystallisation events: pensions in payment on 6 April 2006

Lifetime allowance charge

The lifetime allowance charge applies to individuals who have benefits in excess of the lifetime allowance when benefits are taken. The lifetime allowance charge can apply in either of two ways or a combination of both depending on how the excess benefits are taken. The charge is:

  • 25% on any income taken, and
  • 55% if taken as a lump sum.

More information can be found in our article lifetime allowance charge.

Protection from the lifetime allowance charge

It is possible to apply for protection against the lifetime allowance.

Two forms of protection, fixed protection 2016 and individual protection 2016 were introduced on 6 April 2016, when the lifetime allowance reduced to £1 million. Those intending to apply for fixed protection 2016 had to ensure that active membership of pension schemes ceased from 6 April 2016. There is no deadline for applying for fixed or individual protection 2016.

More information can be found in our articles fixed protection and individual protection.


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. Also it may not reflect the options available under a specific product which may not be as wide as legislations and regulations allow.

All references to taxation are based on our understanding of current taxation law and practice and may be affected by future changes in legislation and the individual circumstances of the investor.

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The Royal London Mutual Insurance Society Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. The firm is on the Financial Services Register, registration number 117672. It provides life assurance and pensions. Registered in England and Wales number 99064. Registered office: 55 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0RL.