Pension tax relief ‘cost’ passes £41 billion as automatic enrolment drives up contributions

by | Sep 30, 2021

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Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell

AJ Bell’s Tom Selby comments on new HMRC figures published today, which reveal the gross cost of pension tax relief hit £41.3 billion in 2019/20, up from £38.2 billion a year earlier.

Tom Selby, head of retirement policy at AJ Bell, (pictured) says:

“While a previous Chancellor once described the cost of pension tax relief as ‘eye-watering’, the main driver of this has been the success of automatic enrolment.

“Millions of people have been brought into pension saving as a result of the reforms, many for the first time.

“The fact the cost of pension tax relief is edging up simply reflects the success of auto-enrolment and represents an investment in the future for millions of people.

“This is good news for those individuals and, over the long-term, should be good news for the Treasury too as it will reduce the likelihood of people falling back on the state in old age.

“While rumours of radical pension tax relief reform are always likely to swirl – particularly ahead of a Budget when the public finances are severely strained – it acts as a vital incentive to encourage people to plan for the future and automatically bolsters the value of millions of retirement pots.

“Historically pensions have all-too-often been seen as a honeypot for Chancellors looking to boost their short-term balance sheet.

“But the reality is that too many people are still saving too little to fund a decent retirement and successive Governments have added damaging complexity and uncertainty to the system.

“Encouraging higher levels of saving and making the rules people have to navigate simpler must therefore be a priority for the Government.”

Annual and lifetime allowance charges jump

“As both the annual and lifetime allowance have been repeatedly hacked back over the past decade or so, it is no surprise to see the Exchequer raking in more tax as a result.

“However, the amount raised by the annual and lifetime allowances in the context of the UK’s finances is relatively small, with horrific complexity in the retirement system the price we all have to pay.

“The decision to freeze the lifetime allowance at £1,073,100 until the end of this Parliament will inevitably drag more people into paying lifetime allowance charges, further boosting Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coffers.

“Hiking the point at which the annual allowance taper kicks in by £90,000 from 2020/21 onwards, on the other hand, will reduce the amount of cash the Treasury nets from pension savers.”

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