The Budget surprise: changes to the pension tax rules

New measures affecting pension allowances announced in the March Budget could mean your retirement planning strategy needs to be reviewed

If Jeremy Hunt did produce a ‘rabbit-out-the-hat’ in his Spring Budget, it was the announcement of the effective abolition of the pensions lifetime allowance (LTA) from 2023/24. Since 2006, the LTA has been a cornerstone of the pension tax rules, effectively setting a ceiling on the tax efficient value of all your pension benefits. 

In its pre-Budget guise, for most people the LTA was £1,073,100, a figure that was due to be frozen until April 2026. That may sound more than enough, but a 65-year-old non-smoker using that sum for an inflation-proofed annuity would only generate an income of about £45,000 a year (before tax). 

In his speech, Mr Hunt made clear that one of the main aims of the abolition was to discourage doctors from retiring early to avoid a pension tax charge. However, the beneficiaries of the change will stretch far beyond the medical profession. The LTA was £1.8 million in 2011/12, but since then has been frequently cut or frozen. Consequently, an increasing number of higher earners have reduced or stopped pension contributions for fear that they too would face a tax charge (at up to 55%) when they drew their benefits. 

Additional pension measures

There were three other pension measures in the Budget:

  • The annual allowance, which sets a limit on the tax-efficient total contributions in a tax year, was increased to £60,000, but remains subject to taper rules for the highest earners. 
  • The money purchase annual allowance, which applies if you have drawn pension income flexibly, was also raised, from a constraining £4,000 to a less restrictive £10,000.
  • A new total cash limit of £268,275 will apply on the tax-free pension commencement lump sum, unless they are covered by some form of LTA protection. The strangely specific figure is based on the effective 2022/23 limit – 25% of the then LTA of £1,073,100.

Mr Hunt’s reforms could offer an opportunity to boost your retirement fund, particularly if you are one of those people forced to halt pension contributions some years ago. In those circumstances, you may be able to contribute up to £180,000 in 2023/24. However, before taking any action, advice is essential – not all the pension tax traps have disappeared. 

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