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Introduction to the lifetime allowance

This guide was last updated in August 2015.  

The lifetime allowance is the maximum amount a person can build up in pension savings without incurring a tax charge. The amount of the lifetime allowance fell on 6 April 2014 to £1.25 million. It will fall again on 6 April 2016 to £1 million.

Tax charge

Where a person's pension savings exceed the lifetime allowance, a tax charge, known as the lifetime allowance charge, becomes payable.

A pension scheme will test whether a member has exceeded the lifetime allowance only when a "benefit crystallisation event" occurs. That usually means when the member starts drawing his pension benefits. 

When excess over the lifetime allowance is used to provide a pension it is taxed at 25%. If used to provide a lump sum, the excess is taxed at 55%. Members can usually take the excess as a lump sum.

Paying the tax charge

Usually, the scheme deducts any lifetime allowance charge payable from the member's benefits and pays HMRC on his behalf. The member will still need to report this in his self-assessment tax return.

Protecting higher levels of lifetime allowance

Some individuals benefit from non-standard lifetime allowances. On the introduction of the lifetime allowance in 6 April 2006, individuals were able to apply for an increased lifetime allowance based on their then pension savings (primary protection) or they could take themselves outside the lifetime allowance regime (enhanced protection). Similarly, individuals were able to retain a lifetime allowance of £1.8 million after 6 April 2012, and of £1.5m after 6 April 2014, by applying for fixed protection. And similar protection will be introduced on the reduction of the lifetime allowance from 6 April 2016 to £1million. The important point to remember is that both fixed protection and enhanced protection are lost if the individual builds up any additional pension savings.

From 2012, employers were required by law to start auto-enrolling certain workers into qualifying pension schemes. Employers may auto-enrol workers who have fixed or enhanced protection. Those workers should opt out of the pension scheme within the one month deadline to ensure they do not lose that protection. Employers can decide not to auto-enrol workers with relevant protection, assuming those workers can be identified.

Role of trustees and employers

Pension scheme trustees and employers will not necessarily know whether their scheme members are affected by the lifetime allowance. This is because members may have pension savings under schemes provided by previous employers. Trustees should therefore make generic information about the lifetime allowance available to their members so that the members themselves can decide whether the lifetime allowance is relevant