Taking benefits

Published  04 June 2024
   15 min read

A pension plan is a tax-efficient way to  save for retirement. An individual can take their benefits, when they reach a certain age, even if they are still working. The options on how the benefits can be provided depends on the type of pension plan being used to provide the benefits.

The following article explains the range of options possible under current legislation, though this may be different to what is offered by a specific pension plan.

 

Key facts

  • The normal minimum pension age is 55.
  • On 6 April 2028 the normal minimum pension age will increase to 57.
  • It is possible in certain circumstances to take benefits before age 55.
  • It may be possible, depending on the type of plan, to phase benefits.
  • Income from a pension is taxed as earned income.
  • Income can be paid in one or a combination of ways:
    • secured pension
    • income drawdown
    • partial uncrystallised funds pension lump sum

When can benefits be taken?

The current normal minimum pension age is 55 and has been since 6 April 2010. But on 6 April 2028, the normal minimum pension age will increase to 57.

This applies to all pension schemes, including those set up for people who traditionally had been allowed low normal retirement ages for example, professional sports people. There are however transitional arrangements for those with pre-6 April 2006 (A-Day) benefits with low retirement ages.

There will also be transitional arrangements from April 2028 when the normal minimum pension age increases to 57. More information can be found in our Increase in normal minimum pension age in 2028 article.

Depending on the type of pension plan, it may be possible to take pension benefits in stages.

Individuals taking their benefits due to ill health, severe ill-health and serious ill-health can do this before they reach age 55 (57 from 6 April 2028), but there are conditions for doing so, which we discuss later in this article.

Lump sum benefits

Tax-free cash lump sum

Normally an individual can take up to 25% of their pension savings as a tax-free lump sum, known as a pension commencement lump sum (PCLS). It may also be called a tax-free lump sum or tax-free cash. Some individuals may be entitled to more than 25% if their pension savings as a tax-free lump sum.

From 6 April 2024, the amount of PCLS an individual can receive is limited to their available lump sum allowance.

Let’s look at some other available lump sums.

 

 

Small lump sums

Uncrystallised funds pension lump sum (UFPLS)

Summary

Occupational pension schemes

A lump sum that extinguishes an individual's rights under an occupational scheme or public service scheme.

Non-occupational pension scheme

A lump sum that extinguishes an individual's rights under a non-occupational scheme, for example PP, GPP or stakeholder.

Triviality (defined benefit scheme)

A lump sum that extinguishes an individual's rights under a defined benefits scheme.

Uncrystallised funds pension lump sum

A lump sum which can be taken from a pension fund which is uncrystallised.

Partial uncrystallised funds pension lump sum

Although this is not drawdown it can achieve a similar result as phased drawdown. The individual crystallises the amount required each year, each UFPLS will be paid with 25% tax free with the rest taxed as income. Not all plans allow partial UFPLS.

Conditions

Occupational pension schemes

  • The individual isn't a controlling director of the sponsoring employer of this scheme or any related scheme or connected to a controlling director.
  • The payment doesn't exceed £10,000.
  • The value of the individual's rights under this and any related scheme doesn't exceed £10,0001.
  • The payment extinguishes the individual's entitlement to benefits under the scheme however an annuity already in payment by the scheme may continue in payment provided the individual has not already received a small lump sum.
  • No recognised transfer had been made from this or any related scheme in the previous three years.

1 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 (opens in a new window).

Non-occupational pension scheme

  • The payment doesn't exceed £10,000.
  • The payment extinguishes the individual's entitlement to benefits under the arrangement (not scheme) however an annuity already in payment by the scheme may continue in payment provided the individual has not already received a small lump sum.
  • The individual has not previously received more than two payments under these regulations, which means only three payments can be made.

Trivial commutation lump sum (defined benefit scheme)

If the combined value of all their registered pension scheme benefits is not more than £30,000 on the ‘nominated date’, they can take all their defined benefits as a lump sum. The value must include the value of any pensions in payment. Individuals do not have to commute benefits under every scheme. They can choose to commute benefits held under one scheme, but not those under another scheme.

Before the benefits can be taken on the grounds of triviality, all the following must apply:

  • All benefits taken as a trivial commutation lump sum must be paid within a 12-month period.
  • No previous trivial commutation lump sum can have been paid (unless made within the 12-month commutation period) - trivial commutation payments made before 6 April 2006 can be ignored.
  • All the benefits under a scheme relating to defined benefits, collective money purchase and any in-payment money purchase in-house scheme pension have to be taken.
  • The individual must have some lump sum allowance available.

The nominated date must be the first day of the 12-month commutation period or a date three months before.

The individual can't have primary or enhanced protection with registered tax-free cash, nor can it be paid from an arrangement that contains a disqualifying pension credit (a pension credit in relation to a divorce which originates from previously crystallised funds). 
Lump sum and lump sum and death benefit allowance
Small lump sum payments and trivial commutation lump sums are not relevant benefit crystallisation events and are not tested against the lump sum and lump sum death benefit allowances.

UFPLS and partial UFPLS lump sums are relevant benefit crystallisation events and the tax-free element is tested against the lump sum and lump sum death benefit allowances. They do not need to have available lump sum allowance and lump sum and death benefit allowance. 

Maximum tax-free amount
25% of uncrystallised funds (cannot take more than this even if they have protected tax-free cash).

Up to 25% of uncrystallised funds (cannot take more than this even if they have protected tax-free cash) unless the first 25% exceeds the "permitted maximum".

The permitted maximum is the lower of:

  • the individual's available lump sum allowance
  • the individual's available lump sum and death benefit allowance
Income limits
N/A N/A
What happens at age 75?
No action required.  No action required. 
Minimum age
Age 55 or earlier if they have a protected pension age or take benefits early due to ill health. This is increasing to 57 on 6 April 2028. Age 55 or earlier if they have a protected pension age or take benefits early due to ill health. This is increasing to 57 on 6 April 2028.
Maximum age
None None
Tax

Where uncrystallised, the individual can receive up to 25% of the lump sum tax free. The rest is eventually payable at the individual's marginal rate of income tax. But depending on the individual circumstances the tax that will be deducted from the payment is as follows:

  • Where the lump sum payment is in respect of a pension already in payment the PAYE code already in operation will be used.
  • Where the pension being commuted was not already in payment the basic rate (BR) tax code will be used.
  • Where the recipient is not UK tax resident the emergency tax code will be used.

If the individual thinks they have paid too much or not enough tax, then they will need to discuss this with HMRC.

If a pension in payment is commuted and taken as a trivial lump sum none of the trivial lump sum will be tax free.

25% of the value of the UFPLS within the available allowances will be tax free.

75% of the value of the UFPLS will be added to the individual's taxable income in that year and taxed accordingly.

If the lump sum exceeds the available lump sum allowance and lump sum and death benefit allowance, the excess is taxed as income.

MPAA triggered?
No Yes

Lump sums - useful links

Income benefits

The remaining fund after any tax-free cash has been paid must be taken as an income. Pension income is taxed as earned income.

The income can be taken in one or a combination of two ways:  

 

Secure pension

Drawdown

Summary

Lifetime annuity

This can be bought from an insurance company and is not restricted to the company providing the pension plan (open market option (OMO)).

Scheme pension

This can be paid directly from the scheme assets or secured through an insurance company.

A scheme pension is the only way a defined benefit scheme or collective money purchase scheme can pay out scheme pension benefits. A defined contribution scheme can pay out a scheme pension or, more commonly, a lifetime annuity, as an alternative to drawdown or UFPLS. 

 

Short-term annuity

Where an individual becomes entitled to a fixed-term annuity.

Flexi-access drawdown

Since 6 April 2015, when an individual first designates funds under an arrangement to provide drawdown, it will be set up as flexi-access drawdown. On 6 April 2015, all existing flexible drawdown plans automatically converted to flexi-access drawdown plans.

Flexi-access drawdown involves taking income directly from a fund instead of buying an annuity.

If an individual in capped drawdown takes more than the maximum income their plan is converted to a flexi-access drawdown plan.

Capped drawdown

Capped income drawdown also involves taking an income directly from a fund instead of buying an annuity. They could only be set up before 6 April 2015 (although a new one can still be set up to receive a capped drawdown transfer). Unlike flexi-access drawdown, there is a limit on the maximum amount of income that can be withdrawn during a year and this limit is reviewed on a frequent basis.

Phased drawdown

This is when a combination of tax-free cash and income is used each year to provide the required income. Only the amount needed to provide the income is moved into income drawdown, the balance remains uncrystallised.

Assuming the individual doesn't require the maximum permitted tax-free cash at the start, this combination provides maximum flexibility. This is sometimes referred to as drip feed drawdown where done on an automated basis. 

Conditions

Lifetime annuity

Individuals can select either an annuity guarantee (term certain) period or annuity protection. There is no maximum guarantee period for a lifetime annuity, but conditions may apply.

Annuity protection allows a lump sum to be paid out on death. The maximum amount that can be paid is based on the difference between the annuity purchase price less income payments already paid.

It is also possible to provide a beneficiary's annuity that will be paid on the death of the individual.

Short-term annuity

To be a short-term annuity, the annuity must be:

  • Bought by the application of sums or assets representing all or part of the individual’s drawdown pension fund.
  • Payable by an insurance company, and        
  • Payable for a term not exceeding 5 years.

 

Lump sum and lump sum and death benefit allowance

Only tax-free lump sum benefits are relevant benefit crystallisation events and tested against the lump sum allowance and lump sum and death benefit allowance. 

Only tax-free lump sum benefits are relevant benefit crystallisation events and tested against the lump sum allowance and lump sum and death benefit allowance. 
Maximum tax-free amount
Usually, 25% but more can be paid if they have protected tax-free cash.

Short-term annuity

None, as tax-free cash is paid when benefits are originally crystallised and designated as drawdown.

Flexi-access drawdown/capped drawdown

Usually 25% but more can be paid if they have protected tax-free cash and all of the fund is crystallised at the same time. If someone has registered tax-free cash in connection with enhanced or primary protection, their maximum tax-free cash amount may be higher (or even lower) than 25%.

Phased drawdown

25% of the value being designated. Any protected tax-free cash protection will be lost as not all benefits under the scheme being taken at the same time.

Income limits
None

Short-term annuity

If bought by a flexi-access drawdown fund, there is no upper limit on the amount a short-term annuity can pay.

However, where a short-term annuity is bought using funds from a capped drawdown pension fund there is an upper limit on the amount of short-term annuity that can be paid. The amount payable from a short-term annuity contract plus the amount of any income withdrawal from the capped drawdown pension fund in a pension year cannot be more than the maximum drawdown pension.

If the individual is taking capped drawdown their maximum drawdown pension will be reviewed:

  • at least every three years if they are under 75, and 
  • every year when they are 75 or older

So, in considering the length and amount of a short-term annuity contract the individual may buy, the individual needs to remember their maximum drawdown pension could change part way through the term of the annuity. If their maximum drawdown pension goes below the amount payable by their short-term annuity contract the excess amount will be an unauthorised payment.

Flexi-access drawdown

The remaining fund after tax-free cash has been paid will be designated to provide drawdown, which may be taken as a regular income, as a single lump sum or on an ad hoc basis as required. The amount that can be withdrawn is not subject to income limits; however, any amounts withdrawn will be added to the individual’s taxable income in that year. There is no minimum income requirement. Individuals in flexi-access drawdown may continue to make contributions; however, if they take any income, they will be subject to the money purchase annual allowance of £10,000.

Capped drawdown

The maximum amount of income that can be taken during a 'pension year' is 150% of the Government Actuary's Department (GAD) relevant annuity with no guarantee.

Phased drawdown

The remaining fund after tax-free cash has been paid will be designated to provide either capped drawdown or flexi-access drawdown, which may be taken as a regular income, as a single lump sum or on an ad hoc basis as required.

If capped drawdown, the maximum amount of income that can be taken during a 'pension year' is 150% of the Government Actuary's Department (GAD) relevant annuity with no guarantee.

If flexi-access drawdown the amount that can be withdrawn is not subject to income limits; however, any amounts withdrawn will be added to the individual’s taxable income in that year.

Individuals in flexi-access drawdown may continue to make contributions; however, if they take any income, they will be subject to the money purchase annual allowance of £10,000. The money purchase annual allowance isn’t triggered by withdrawals from a capped drawdown plan within the cap.

What happens at age 75?
No action required. 

Short-term annuity

No action required. 

Flexi-access drawdown/phased flexi-access drawdown

No action required. 

Capped drawdown/phased capped drawdown

For capped drawdown the review dates also change - the maximum drawdown pension will now need to be recalculated at the start of every pension year. The switch over to yearly reviews will happen at the end of the pension year following the individual's 75 birthday.

Minimum age
Age 55 or earlier if they have a protected pension age or take benefits early due to ill health. This is increasing to 57 on 6 April 2028. Age 55 or earlier if they have a protected pension age or are taking benefits early due to ill health. This is increasing to age 57 on 6 April 2028.
Maximum age
None None
Tax

Annuity

After the tax-free cash has been paid the balance is payable at the individual's marginal rate of income tax.

Annuity guarantee (term certain) 

Where the individual dies after becoming entitled to a lifetime annuity, and payments continue under the contract because of a guarantee, the recipient of the continued payments will generally receive the payments tax free, if the deceased was under age 75 when they died or they will pay tax at their marginal rate of income tax, if the deceased was age 75 or over when they died. 

Annuity protection 

This lump sum is called an annuity protection lump sum death benefit. If the individual dies before age 75, and the lump sum is less than deceased’s remaining lump sum and death benefit allowance, it sum is paid tax free.  Benefits in excess of this allowance are taxed at the recipient’s marginal rate of income tax.

If they die after age 75 the entire lump sum is taxable at the recipient’s marginal rate of income tax.

If the individual has valid enhanced protection, the maximum amount of annuity protection lump sum is limited to the maximum amount of that could be paid on 5 April 2024.

After the tax-free cash has been paid the balance is payable at the individual's marginal rate of income tax.
MPAA triggered?
No

Short-term annuity

Yes, if bought by a flexi-access drawdown plan but not if bought by a capped drawdown plan.

Flexi-access drawdown

Yes, but only when income starts.

Capped drawdown

No

Phased drawdown

Yes, but only when income starts from a flexi-access drawdown plan.

Income benefits - useful links

 

Taking benefits early due to ill health

 

Ill-health

Severe ill-health

Serious ill-health

Summary
An individual’s uncrystallised rights may be paid if the individual is in ill-health at any age.

An individual's uncrystallised rights may be paid at any age if they are unlikely to be able to do any type of gainful work, other than in an insignificant way, before state pension age or the individual is a member of the UK armed forces who becomes entitled to benefits from the arrangement and those benefits are not taxable.

The annual allowance does NOT apply to contributions in the year benefits are taken from arrangements meeting the conditions. This is the case for the pension input period ending in the tax year the individual becomes entitled to benefits.


An individual’s uncrystallised rights may be paid as a lump sum on the grounds of serious ill-health at any age.

The annual allowance does NOT apply to contributions in the year benefits are taken from arrangements meeting the conditions. This is the case for the pension input period ending in the tax year the individual becomes entitled to benefits.

Conditions

The scheme administrator receives medical evidence from a registered medical practitioner that the individual is, and will continue to be, medically incapable (either physically or mentally) of continuing their current occupation as a result of injury, sickness, disease or disability, and as a result of the ill-health the individual ceases to carry on that occupation.

Scheme rules may have stricter ill-health criteria. For example, they may say that the individual must be incapable of carrying out any occupation, rather than the current occupation they are in.

The scheme administrator accepts evidence from a registered medical practitioner that the individual is unlikely to be able to do any type of gainful work, other than in an insignificant way, before state pension age.

The individual becomes entitled to all their benefits under that arrangement because they are unlikely to be able to work at any time up to state pension age.

This means the individual is not able to continue in their current job and is not likely to be able to take any other paid work to the extent that this is significant.

For example, the individual could undertake voluntary work or unpaid work where out of pocket expenses are reimbursed or small amounts of travelling or subsistence payments are made.

Any paid work should be insignificant, for example it should be infrequent or only for a few days during the year and the payment must be small in amount, not just as a proportion of previous pay or salary.

The scheme administrator has received written evidence from a registered medical practitioner confirming the individual is expected to live for less than one year.

The amount of serious ill-health lump sum that can be paid is capped by the individual’s remaining lump sum and death benefit allowance.

The payment must extinguish all uncrystallised rights under the arrangement. If no benefits have yet been taken under the arrangement (none have crystallised so far), this means all of the rights in the arrangement must be commuted and paid as a serious ill-health lump sum. If only some benefits have previously crystallised, then the full remainder of uncrystallised rights under the arrangement must be commuted for the serious ill-health lump sum.

Lump sum and lump sum and death benefit allowance
Benefits are tested against the individual’s lump sum and death benefit allowance. Benefits are tested against the individual’s lump sum and death benefit allowance.

Since 6 April 2024, when the lifetime allowance was abolished, the amount of serious ill-health lump sums that can be paid are limited to the individual’s remaining lump sum and death benefit allowance.

If the individual has valid enhanced protection, the lump sum is limited to the maximum amount of serious ill-health lump sum that could be paid on 5 April 2024.

  • Before age 75 - The level of lump sum paid is not limited by the level of available lump sum and death benefit allowance. If the lump sum exceeds the available allowance the excess will be taxed at the individual’s marginal rate of income tax.
  • After age 75 - The entire lump sum paid is taxed at the individual’s marginal rate of income tax.
Maximum tax-free amount

Usually, 25% but more can be paid if they have protected tax-free cash.

The full fund must be crystallised for scheme specific protected tax-free cash to be paid out, benefits cannot be phased.

Usually, 25% but more can be paid if they have protected tax-free cash.

The full fund must be crystallised for scheme specific protected tax-free cash to be paid out, benefits cannot be phased.

Before age 75 – all tax-free, subject to the lump sum and death benefit allowance restrictions.

After age 75 - all taxed as pension income at marginal rate.

Income limits
None None None
What happens at age 75?
No action required.  No action required.  Benefits taxed at marginal rate of income tax.
Minimum age
None None None
Maximum age
None None None
Tax
Balance after tax-free cash taxed at marginal rate of income tax. Balance after tax-free cash taxed at marginal rate of income tax.

Under 75 – tax-free

Over age 75 - taxed as pension income at marginal rate of income tax.

MPAA triggered?
If benefits are taken early under ill-health by flexibly accessing their pension benefits for example, by taking income from drawdown or by taking an uncrystallised fund pension lump sum, then the money purchase annual allowance will be triggered. Taking a severe ill-health lump sum will not trigger the money purchase annual allowance. However, if any funds are designated to drawdown, and income is subsequently taken, the money purchase annual allowance will be triggered. Taking a serious ill-health lump sum will not trigger the money purchase annual allowance. However, if any funds are designated to drawdown, and income is subsequently taken, the money purchase annual allowance will be triggered.

Taking benefits early due to ill health - useful links

Disclaimer

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.