Middle earners are being caught in a government clampdown on tax relief as the Treasury’s take from savers breaching the lifetime allowance on pensions surged by 62 per cent.
Tax revenues of £126m were collected from individuals whose pension pots breached the £1.25m lifetime allowance (LTA) in 2015-16, up from £78m the year before, according to figures from HM Revenue & Customs.
The number of savers whose pension pots exceeded the limit rose to 1,539, from 1,482 in 2014-15, according to HMRC.
The LTA determines how much can be saved into a pension and receive tax relief. Any savings in excess of the cap when the pot is accessed are subject to a tax charge of up to 55 per cent.
But successive cuts to the allowance have widened the pool of savers at risk from the charges. The LTA has fallen from £1.8m in 2011-12 to £1.5m in 2012-13, then to £1.25m in 2014-15 and to £1m in the current tax year.
“The constant changes that the government has made to the lifetime allowance threshold over the past few years is likely to have caused confusion among savers,” said Tim Holmes, managing director of financial adviser Salisbury House, which obtained the data from HMRC through a freedom of information request.
“The lowering of the lifetime allowance threshold means that many people will now face ‘stealth tax’ charges, as many savers have been automatically pushed over the new limit set by the government.”
According to the FOI, 449 individuals whose funds had breached the LTA in 2015-16, were hit with tax charges of 55 per cent, levied on savings taken as a lump sum. Nearly 1,100 savers were hit with a 25 per cent tax charge for withdrawing savings in breach of the LTA as income.
The total tax take from LTA breaches rose to £126m in 2015-16, from £47m in 2011-12 when the allowance was £1.8m, according to the HMRC data.
“This is not just about the super-rich any more,” said Gary Smith, associate director with Tilney Bestinvest, the independent financial advisers.
“The latest cut to £1m in the lifetime allowance is hitting Middle England, including middle managers and deputy headteachers. You could have someone on £60,000-£70,000 a year, who has long service in a final salary type scheme, who could be in line to breach the LTA. These people are prudently saving for retirement and simply don’t realise they may be hit.”
HMRC has not provided an update on revenues generated in the current tax year by the latest reduction in pension tax relief. Advisers said many savers were unlikely to be aware that the LTA threshold had been cut to £1m in April.
In announcing a further reduction to the LTA in 2015, George Osborne, then chancellor, said it was important that pensions tax relief remained “fair, affordable and sustainable”.
At the time, the Treasury said reducing the allowance from £1.25m to £1m would bring in an extra £300m in revenue in the first year of the cut.
Meanwhile it has emerged that the National Health Service is charging staff, including doctors and consultants, £120 to provide the pension statements they need to apply to HMRC to protect their funds from the LTA charge.
“Preparing and calculating the valuations requires a considerable amount of manual work by one of our experienced pension administrators to undertake,” said the NHS.
HMRC said it could not provide details on how many savers had applied to protect their funds from LTA charges but expected the data would be published in the autumn.
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