Personal contributions

These FAQs are for financial advisers only. They mustn’t be distributed to, or relied on by, customers. They are based on our understanding of legislation at the date of publication.

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There’s no limit on how much a person can pay into a registered pension scheme – but there are tax thresholds:

  • tax relief – there’s a limit on the amount of personal contributions someone can make that can benefit from tax relief.
  • annual allowance – if total personal, third party and employer contributions exceed the annual allowance, tapered annual allowance or money purchase annual allowance (MPAA) for a tax year this may attract an annual allowance tax charge.

Individuals can be members of and contribute to more than one pension scheme at the same time, but the above thresholds need to be considered when deciding on how much they can pay to each one.

Personal contributions are contributions paid by an individual or by a third party on their behalf. The third party can be an individual, a corporate body or other legal entity but not the employer. Contributions paid by a third party count towards a member’s tax relievable limits. This means the member will receive any tax relief due on the contribution made, not the third party making it. So, if the member is a higher rate taxpayer then they will be able to claim higher rate tax relief on any third party contributions made.

The following payments count as personal contributions:

  • monetary amounts paid by an individual or a third party (other than the employer).
  • compensation payments (usually paid by a provider or financial adviser following a complaint relating to poor advice, mis-selling, poor administration or poor performance of an investment).
  • in-specie contributions (non-monetary assets) made by an individual or a third party where the legal ownership of an asset such as shares or property are transferred from the individual or third party as a net contribution into a pension scheme.
  • pension credit rights from a non-registered pension scheme.
  • shares from Save as you Earn (SAYE) share option schemes and share incentive schemes transferred to a scheme within specified timescales.

The following payments don’t count as personal contributions:

  • employer contributions.
  • transfers from another registered pension scheme.
  • pension credit rights from a registered pension scheme.

To qualify for tax relief on personal contributions, a person must be:

  • an active member of a registered pension scheme, and
  • a relevant UK individual.

An active member is a member of a registered pension scheme, where benefits are accruing for that member under one or more arrangements in that scheme.

A relevant UK individual is someone who, in the tax year, meets any one of the following conditions:

  • has relevant UK earnings chargeable to income tax in the year.
  • is resident in the UK at some point in the year.
  • was resident in the UK both at some point in the previous five tax years and at the point they joined the scheme, or
  • has, or their spouse has, general earnings from overseas Crown employment subject to UK tax.

For personal contributions, any contribution made by an individual under age 75 or by a third party on their behalf should be eligible for tax relief providing the gross amount of the contribution is within the tax relief limits.

Conversely, any personal contribution made by or on behalf of an individual aged 75 or over is not eligible for tax relief. 

The maximum gross personal contribution a person under age 75 can receive tax relief on is the greater of:

  • the basic amount of £3,600, and
  • 100% of relevant UK earnings

It’s worth being aware that many pension providers won’t accept contributions that aren’t eligible for tax relief. If an individual under age 75 inadvertently pays a contribution that isn’t eligible for tax relief (for example they pay more than 100% of their relevant UK earnings for the tax year) they have up to six years to ask the provider for a refund of the excess contribution. There is no right to a refund – whether or not it is given will depend on the rules of the particular scheme.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) list examples of what can be classed as relevant UK earnings at:

Look at the section titled ‘Earnings that attract tax relief’. 

Tax relief on personal contributions can generally be given in one of three ways. These are net pay, relief by claim and relief at source.

1.    Net pay

For a scheme operating under the net pay arrangement, the employer deducts the gross contribution from an employee’s pay before operating Pay As You Earn (PAYE) – in this way the employee gets tax relief immediately at the highest marginal rate.

On a net pay basis, because contributions are deducted from pay, tax relief will only actually be available on a maximum of earnings, even if these are less than £3,600. For example, if relevant UK earnings are £3,000, this will be the maximum gross amount that tax relief will be available on. Tax relief on personal contributions made by a third party can’t be given under net pay. If such a contribution is made, the scheme member must claim any relief due via self-assessment.

Typically, occupational pension schemes accept personal contributions using the net pay method.

As an example, assume an employee’s gross monthly salary is £2,000. If this was all subject to 20% basic rate tax, the amount of income tax payable would be £400. If the same employee made a £200 gross monthly pension contribution to an occupational pension scheme this would be deducted from their gross pay. This would leave £1,800 subject to 20% basic rate income tax, equating to £360.

The difference in income tax of £40 (£400 less £360) is the 20% basic rate tax relief on the gross pension contribution of £200.

2.    Relief by claim

For the relief by claim method, the contribution is paid gross and tax relief is claimed through self-assessment.

Typically, retirement annuity contracts accept personal and third party contributions using this method. HMRC guidance does allow retirement annuity contracts to accept contributions using the relief at source method but a provider would need to allow this in practice. Aegon only accepts gross contributions into the retirement annuity contracts they administer.

If an individual’s earnings are below £3,600pa and they have a retirement annuity contract to which they make gross contributions, then they will only be able to claim tax relief on up to 100% of their earnings. If an individual has no earnings, then they will be unable to claim tax relief on any pension contributions they make.

3.    Relief at source

Under a scheme operating relief at source, personal contributions are paid net of basic rate tax. The scheme administrator claims the tax relief due from HMRC and applies it to the member’s arrangement. Higher and additional rate taxpayers can claim any extra tax relief separately through self-assessment.

Typically, personal pension and stakeholder arrangements accept personal and third party contributions using the relief at source method. Where personal contributions are paid through salary, the net contribution is deducted from net pay after income tax is calculated. So, this is different from the net pay method used for occupational pension schemes. 

Here’s a comparison of both methods assuming an employee earns £2,000 gross per month and all their income is subject to 20% basic rate tax.

Net pay method (OPS) Relief at source method (PP)
Gross salary £2,000 Gross salary £2,000
Less gross personal contribution £200 Amount subject to tax £2,000
Amount subject to tax £1,800 Less income tax £400
Less income tax £360 Less net pension contribution £160
Net income £1,440 Net income £1,440

In both cases, £200 gross is invested in the pension arrangement. 

In addition to the limit on tax relief for personal contributions, there is also a test against the:

  • ‘annual allowance’, or
  • ‘money purchase annual allowance’ (MPAA) where someone has flexibly accessed any pension benefits, or
  • ‘tapered annual allowance’ where someone is classed as a high earner and is subject to a reduced annual allowance under the tapered annual allowance rules.  

You can find more information on each of these in our separate FAQs.

When making a decision about how much to pay as a personal contribution to a money purchase arrangement, an individual has to be aware of how the annual allowance and tax relief limits interact. For example, if an individual has relevant UK earnings of more than the standard annual allowance and pays a gross personal contribution equal to their relevant UK earnings, they will receive tax relief on the full contribution. However, an annual allowance charge may apply to the amount of the contribution that exceeds the annual allowance if there is no unused annual allowance available to carry forward from the previous three years. 

Pensions Technical Services