There are a lot of older people who simply think they are too old to save – that they’ve missed the boat. But actually, it’s usually better to pay into a workplace pension than to take the money you would have contributed as salary instead – even if you’re over 55. Here are some things to consider.
Benefit from tax relief and employer contributions
Opt-in to a workplace pension and you'll benefit from tax relief and employer contributions. If you're under 75, you get the benefit of tax relief and an employer contribution.
Thanks to tax relief, £100 into your pension only costs you £80 if you're a basic rate taxpayer (or just £55 if you pay tax at the highest rate). It means that the net cost coming out of your pay packet will usually be less than the full amount going into your pension. For example, if 5% of your gross pay equals £200 a month, the net cost to you will usually be just £160. The net cost of a £200 gross contribution could be as low as £110 if you pay tax at the additional rate. If you are a higher or additional rate tax payer, you will need to claim your extra tax relief through your self-assessment form.
Under auto-enrolment regulations, a minimum of 8% of your gross salary between £6,240 and £50,270 (2023/2024 tax year) must be paid into your pension.
This is split between the contributions made by you and your employer, but your employer is legally obliged to pay in at least 3%. If your employer chooses to pay in more than 3%, this reduces the amount you have to pay to reach the minimum level.
Some employers disregard the lower and upper earnings thresholds and calculate contributions based on the whole of your gross salary instead, which also affects how minimum payments are worked out. Of course, you may choose to pay in more than the minimum and you may find that, if you pay in more, your employer will too. It’s worth checking with your employer how they calculate your pension payments.
Your pension plan won't be taken away from you
There’s no minimum service period required to qualify for a pension. So even if you think you’ll stop working in a year or two, it won’t be taken away from you. And, when it comes to saving for retirement, every little really does help. However, it is important to remember the value of your pension can go down as well as up and you may get back less than has been paid in.
Maximise tax relief
Up to the age of 75, you can normally get tax relief on personal pension contributions of up to 100% of your taxable UK earnings, although you will have to pay a separate tax charge on contributions in excess of an overall yearly limit known as the annual allowance. The standard annual allowance for 2023/2024 is £60,000, but your own allowance may be lower than this. If you earn more than £200,000 (excluding any pension contributions) and £260,000 including pension contributions, you will be subject to the Tapered Annual Allowance, which may reduce your annual allowance to as little as £10,000. You can find more details on tax relief here.
Once you’re able to withdraw money from your pension, you can still opt in to a workplace pension. But the moment you take a taxable amount from your pension, new annual contributions into all the Defined Contribution (Money Purchase) pensions you hold, including your workplace pension, are limited to a total of £10,000, rather than the normal £60,000 a year before a tax charge will apply. This is called the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) – read more details in our article on tax relief. Please seek advice if you have concerns about a tapered Annual Allowance or Money Purchase Annual Allowance. An adviser may charge you for their services.
When it could make sense to opt out
Before 2023/2024 there were certain situations where it may have been be worth considering opting out of your workplace pension. These were if your pension is more than the Lifetime Allowance (LTA), which is £1,073,100; if you have a form of LTA Protection; or if you expected your pension to exceed the Lifetime Allowance by retirement. Many people in this situation deliberately opted out to avoid high rates of tax on any excess savings over the Lifetime Allowance. Changes announced in the budget on 15 March 2023 mean that these considerations may no longer apply. The way in which benefits over the lifetime allowance are taxed will change. The LTA protections which would have been lost if further contributions are also changing so that contributions paid on or after 6 April 2023 will not lead to the loss of the protection. Anyone with this level of pension savings should speak to a financial adviser to determine the most appropriate course of action.
Tax treatment depends on your individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future.