Scheme pays

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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Normally, an individual will need to pay an annual allowance charge if their pension savings in a tax year exceed the annual allowance (this has been £40,000 since 6 April 2014), and they don’t have sufficient unused allowance to carry forward from the previous three tax years. An annual allowance tax charge will apply to any excess.

From 6 April 2015, individuals who flexibly access pension benefits from a money purchase arrangement will be subject to a money purchase annual allowance (MPAA) of £10,000 pa. If the MPAA applies, a person can still accrue benefits in a defined benefits arrangement. If the £10,000 MPAA applies, then the combined total of all the pension savings that can be made will be subject to the full £40,000 annual allowance with the balance of £30,000 known as the ‘alternative’ annual allowance. There is still the opportunity to use carry forward for the three previous tax years but it’s not possible to use carry forward for any unused MPAA amount.

It’s possible for someone to have an annual allowance charge liability despite their total pension savings being less than their available annual allowance. For example, this could happen where their only pension savings are into a money purchase arrangement and these exceed the £10,000 MPAA limit. So, someone could incur an annual allowance charge through exceeding the full £40,000 annual allowance (plus any carry forward amounts), the MPAA or both. You can find out more about the MPAA in our separate Money Purchase Annual Allowance FAQs. 

If an annual allowance tax charge is due it’s payable at a person’s marginal tax rate taking into account their taxable income and the amount of their excess pension savings. The charge could, in whole or in part, be at 45%, 40% or 20% and is usually paid through a self-assessment tax return.

Scottish taxpayers (with an S rate identifier at the start of their tax code) would be subject to an annual allowance tax charge based on Scottish rates of income tax if these were ever to differ from the tax rates applicable to the rest of the UK.

In certain circumstances, an individual can elect for their pension scheme to pay part or all of the charge on their behalf from their pension savings. This is known as ‘scheme pays’.

Scheme pays is a process that allows an individual to pay an annual allowance charge from their pension scheme. This means the scheme pays the annual allowance charge direct to HMRC on their behalf, and the tax charge is taken out of their pension fund. There are certain conditions that need to be met for an individual to have the right to use this facility.​

All registered pension schemes must offer a scheme pays facility. However, an individual must meet all of the following statutory conditions to have the right to use scheme pays:

  • the individual’s pension savings – either contributions or benefit accrual – in the pension scheme have exceeded the annual allowance for the relevant tax year.
  • the individual’s annual allowance charge for the relevant tax year – across all savings in registered pension schemes – has exceeded £2,000.
  • the notice for scheme pays is made within the timescale permitted.
  • the individual hasn’t already taken all of their benefits from the scheme.

Where an individual has pension savings across multiple pension schemes, the maximum amount of charge any scheme can be required to pay is based on the amount by which the individual’s savings in that particular scheme have exceeded the annual allowance. There is no minimum amount of charge that a member can ask their scheme to pay but if a charge is less than £2,000 then they would need to confirm to the scheme that their total annual allowance charge is more than £2,000.

The scheme pays conditions were not changed when the pension flexibility rules were introduced from 6 April 2015. 

Pension schemes can allow access to the scheme pays facility where one or more of these conditions haven’t been met – known as the ‘voluntary basis’ – but are not required to do so. Aegon’s stance is to only provide access to scheme pays when the statutory conditions have been met.

A scheme is not obliged to offer scheme pays where:

  • it’s being assessed by the Pension Protection Fund at the time the member makes a scheme pays request.
  • a scheme pays request has been made but before tax is paid to HMRC the scheme starts to get assessed by the Pension Protection Fund.
  • a pension scheme would be unable to make an adjustment to the member’s benefits in the scheme to take account of the tax paid because the benefits to be adjusted include ‘contracted-out’ rights.
  • the MPAA has been exceeded but the full £40,000 annual allowance hasn’t. 

A scheme may also apply to HMRC for a discharge of their liability to pay a charge if doing so would substantially harm the interests of other members of the scheme or where it would not be reasonable for the scheme to pay a charge (for example, where the value of a member’s benefits is not enough to meet the charge). 

This is the responsibility of the member and their adviser. The member should simply tell their scheme or provider how much of the charge they want the scheme to pay. This can be done using a ‘scheme pays notice’.

There is no industry standard form, but any notice requesting scheme pays must be made in writing or electronically. The notice must contain certain information and declarations. Most schemes and providers have produced suitable forms that their members can use for this purpose. You can find Aegon’s scheme pays notice at: 

https://www.aegon.co.uk/content/dam/ukpaw/documents/notice-of-joint-liability-for-the-annual-allowance-charge-scheme-pays-notice.pdf

A pension scheme must receive a notice no later than 31 July in the year following the tax year in which the annual allowance charge relates.

For example, if an annual allowance charge relates to the 2014/15 tax year, then the deadline for submitting a scheme pays notice to a pension scheme would be 31 July 2016. Once a pension scheme has received a notice for scheme pays, and the necessary conditions have been met, it can’t be withdrawn. However, the amount of charge that an individual has asked their pension scheme to pay can be amended later by submitting a revised notice.

The deadline stated above can be brought forward in the following circumstances:

If benefits are taken or a BCE at age 75 occurs before 28 July 2015

If a member intends to take all of their benefits from a pension scheme or if a member will reach age 75 and there will be a benefit crystallisation event (BCE) at that age*, and the member wants a scheme to pay an annual allowance charge for the same tax year, then they have to give a scheme pays notice to the scheme administrator before the date on which they either intend to take all their benefits or before the BCE at age 75.

If benefits are taken or a BCE at age 75 occurs after 27 July 2015

If a member intends to take all of their benefits from a pension scheme or if a member will reach age 75 and there will be a BCE at that age*, and the member wants a scheme to pay an annual allowance charge for that tax year or another tax year, then they have to give a scheme pays notice to the scheme administrator before the date on which they either intend to take all their benefits or before the BCE at age 75.

*A BCE will take place at age 75 if there are uncrystallised benefits or if there are drawdown funds held that were set-up after 5 April 2006. 

Where an individual intends to use scheme pays but there is a transfer of all of their benefits from one scheme to another before they submit a scheme pays notice, they can submit the notice to the receiving scheme. 

Where a pension scheme pays part or all of an individual’s tax charge, there must be a corresponding reduction in their benefits, otherwise the member may become liable to an unauthorised payments charge. Under a money purchase arrangement, the member’s fund is reduced by the amount of the charge (including any early withdrawal charges, if any). For defined benefits arrangements, there is flexibility as to how a scheme reduces a member’s accrued benefits, but any adjustment must be ‘just and reasonable’. Dependants’ pensions, other death benefits or contracted-out rights such as guaranteed minimum pensions can’t be reduced to pay an annual allowance charge.

Pensions Technical Services