Small lump sums

There are a number of scenarios, for all scheme types, where it is possible to take a lump sum if a plan value is no more than £10,000.
Key facts
  • There are a number of scenarios, for all scheme types, where it is possible to take a lump sum if a plan value is no more than £10,000, previously £2,000. 
  • A maximum of three non-occupational pensions can be communited under the small pot rules.
  • No limit on the number of occupational pension pensions that can be communited under the small pot rules.

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It is possible to pay small lump sums from an arrangement provided certain criteria are met. This includes such things as payments made as a result of a genuine error but also include some commutation payments, the most important of which are described below.

PTM063700 - lump sums: small pension payments

Relevant accretion

You will probably be asking yourself 'what does relevant accretion mean?' This typical piece of HMRC-speak refers to unexpected additional benefits that have arisen because of a belated payment received by a scheme or where a member's rights are found to be greater than was first thought.

Relevant accretions could be:

  • Instances where the value of the member's benefits was more than the value the scheme administrator thought they had.
  • A benefit the scheme administrator become aware of that they couldn't reasonably have expected to be aware of before.

The conditions that have to apply before the additional benefits can be paid out as a lump sum are:

  • The payment can only happen if the additional benefits occur after a recognised transfer to a UK registered pension scheme or Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) or purchase by the scheme of a scheme pension or lifetime annuity from an insurance company.
  • The payment extinguishes the member's rights under the scheme (a scheme pension or lifetime annuity bought as above doesn't count as remaining rights).
  • The payment mustn't exceed the lesser of the value of the additional benefits and £10,000.
  • The payment has to be made within six months of additional benefits being paid to the scheme.

Stranded pots

Formally known as the de minimis rule for pension schemes, these provisions used to only apply to occupational schemes and public service schemes, but were extended to all registered pension schemes on 6 April 2012.

Occupational schemes & public service schemes

A lump sum that extinguishes a member's rights under an occupational scheme or public service scheme can be made if:

  • The member is aged at least 55 or is entitled to take their benefits before age 55 because they either have a protected pension age or meet the ill-health condition. There is no maximum age.
  • The member isn't a controlling director or connected to a controlling director.
  • The payment doesn't exceed £10,000.
  • No recognised transfer had been made out of this or any related scheme in the previous three years.
  • The payment extinguishes the member's entitlement to benefits under the scheme.
  • The value of the member's rights under this and any related scheme doesn't exceed £10,000* .

* If the scheme is a larger pension scheme, there is no need to include rights under a related scheme. A larger pension scheme is one that has at least 50 members and meets various other conditions.

Non-occupational schemes

From 6 April 2012 these rules were extended creating a new authorised payment which covers schemes that are not occupational or public service schemes, e.g. personal pension plans. 

The conditions are as follows:

  • The payment is made on or after 6 April 2012.
  • The payment is made to a member who is aged at least 55 or is entitled to take their benefits before age 55 because they either have a protected pension age or meet the ill-health condition. There is no maximum age.
  • The payment does not exceed £10,000.
  • The payment extinguishes the member's entitlement to benefits under the arrangement.
  • The member has not previously received more than two payments under these regulations, i.e. only three payments can be made (increased from two payments on 27 March 2014).

The conditions are pretty clear but the second last one needs a little more comment.

'The payment extinguishes the member's entitlement to benefits under the arrangement'. This is important as the rules apply to arrangements and not to schemes. So it would be possible to pay out three small pots held in a provider's personal pension scheme as they are separate arrangements.

A payment made under these rules is not actually a trivial commutation lump sum but it is treated as a trivial payment for taxation purposes. This means that if the payment is made from uncrystallised money, 25% will be tax-free and the rest chargeable to income tax as pension income.

The payment of a small lump sum is not a benefit crystallisation event and as such the funds are not tested against the lifetime allowance.

Lump sum after the payment of a scheme specific lump sum - Defined benefit only

PTM063130: Member benefits: lump sums: Payment of a scheme-specific protected pension commencement lump sum with a trivial lump sum

The Taxation of Pension Schemes (Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2009 extended the normal trivial commutation provisions. Since 6 April 2015 this only applies to defined benefit schemes.  If tax-free cash which had scheme specific protection is paid, the connected pension can be paid as a lump sum if its value is not more than £10,000.

The conditions which apply are:

  • The lump sum must be no more than £10,000.
  • The member is aged at least 55 or is entitled to take their benefits before age 55 because they either have a protected pension age or meet the ill-health condition, but there is no maximum age.
  • All or part of the member's lifetime allowance must be available.
  • Except for any pension the member was entitled to on or before 5 April 2006, the payment must extinguish the member's rights in the scheme.
  • The lump sum must be paid in connection with tax-free cash with scheme specific protection.
  • The lump sum must be paid within one month of the tax-free cash being paid to the member.
  • Since the tax-free cash was paid, no contributions have been paid, transfer payment received or made, or an annuity or scheme pension bought by the scheme in respect of the member.

Valuing the benefits

The following table sets out how the benefits should be valued:

Type of benefitCalculation of benefits value
Defined benefit scheme (scheme pensions) Multiply the member's annual pension before commutation by 20. Where lump sums are provided otherwise than by commutation they are valued using a factor of 1:1 and are added to the above value.
Money purchase scheme The total market value of the funds/assets held, unless a scheme pension is paid, in which case a factor of 20:1 is used.
Cash balance plan The value of the benefits as calculated in line with the scheme rules.

How is it taxed?

The member can receive up to 25% of the lump sum tax-free. The rest is payable at the member's marginal rate of income tax. This means that if they currently pay tax at the 20% basic rate tax then 75% of the lump sum will be subject to this tax. It is important to be aware that taking lump sums from the pension in this way could push the member into a higher income tax bracket, which could mean that they need to pay more tax than they originally thought.

The provider or scheme trustee is required to apply tax at the basic rate regardless of the amount of tax the member is actually liable for. This means that the amount of tax the provider or scheme trustee deducts may be greater or less than the amount which should apply to the member. If the member thinks that they have paid too much or not enough tax then they will need to discuss this with HMRC.

If the lump sum is being paid from uncrystalised money and the member would have been entitled to more than 25% of their benefits value as tax-free cash at retirement, the amount that they can take tax-free on payment of the lump sum will still only be 25%. The enhanced entitlement to tax-free cash will be lost. However, as detailed in Lump sum after the payment of a scheme specific lump sum section above it may be possible to take the enhanced tax-free cash sum first then pay the remainder as a small lump sum.

Money purchase annual allowance

The payment of a small lump sum is not a benefit crystallisation event nor does it trigger the money purchase annual allowance.

Note

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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Last updated: 28 Mar 2019

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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.