The generous tax relief available on pensions makes them a great choice for retirement saving.
You usually benefit from an immediate 20% boost to your savings when you make a contribution – meaning a £1,000 contribution only “costs” you £800. If you’re a higher- or additional-rate taxpayer then further relief is normally available through self-assessment.
However, to balance out this generous relief, the Annual Allowance limits the amount of tax-efficient pension savings you can make in an individual year.
In the 2023/24 tax year, the Annual Allowance stands at £60,000, although it could be lower for you if you’re a high earner or you’ve already started to flexibly access your pension (more about this later).
If you have a larger amount to invest – perhaps through a bonus, windfall, a good year’s profits, or because your employer wants to make a large pension contribution – then the “carry forward” rules can allow you to make the most of any unused Annual Allowance from the previous three years.
Read on to find out how carry forward can help you to maximise your pension tax relief.
Carry forward lets you make a larger tax-efficient pension contribution
When the government introduced the Annual Allowance in 2006, pension savers could have benefited from contributions of up to £215,000 without a penalty. This rose to £255,000 by 2010/11.
However, since then, the Annual Allowance has fallen sharply. It stood at £40,000 for several years before the recent increase to its current level of £60,000 in the chancellor’s spring Budget.
If you want to make a tax-efficient pension contribution in excess of the Annual Allowance, carry forward can help with this. It allows you to make use of any Annual Allowance that you might not have used during the three previous tax years, provided that:
- Any contributions to your pension must have used all your Annual Allowance in the current tax year.
- You must have been a member of a UK-registered pension scheme in each of the tax years from which you wish to carry forward (this will normally apply if you had a defined contribution pension pot, a defined benefit pension, or pension credit membership where you have a share of your ex-partner’s pension).
In addition, to receive tax relief on your contributions, you must earn at least the amount you wish to contribute in the tax year you are making the contribution for.
For example, if you have the maximum carry forward available in 2023/24, you would only be able to make a member pension contribution of £180,000 (for the current tax year and three previous years’ unused allowance) if you also had the earnings in the current tax year to support it. This doesn’t apply if your employer is making the contribution on your behalf.
Also, you must use any unused Annual Allowance from the earliest year first. You can only go back three years so, in the 2023/24 tax year, the earliest unused allowance you could use would be from 2020/21.
Finally, the amount of allowance you can carry forward may be affected by either the Tapered Annual Allowance (if you’re a high earner) or the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (if you have flexibly accessed your defined contribution pension). You can read more about this below.
You could benefit from significant tax relief on your savings
The main benefit of using carry forward is that it can increase the amount of tax-efficient pension contributions you can make.
For example, if you are an additional-rate taxpayer, every £1,000 pension contribution only “costs” you £550. So, if you want to boost your retirement fund, maximising contributions by utilising any unused Annual Allowance can help you to make the most of this generous relief.
For example, if you’ve received a significant bonus, enjoyed a good year in your business, or you’ve inherited some money, you may be able to contribute more than £60,000 to your pension without additional tax charges.
2 other pension allowances you need to watch out for
1. Tapered Annual Allowance
The Tapered Annual Allowance reduces the Annual Allowance for high earners, restricting the amount of pension contributions you can make each year before a tax charge is applied.
In 2023/24, the maximum taper applies if you have an “adjusted income” of more than £360,000. In this case, your Annual Allowance will be reduced to £10,000.
If your Annual Allowance has been reduced by application of the taper in previous years, you can only carry forward the balance of the Tapered Annual Allowance to future tax years.
2. Money Purchase Annual Allowance
If you have flexibly accessed your pension savings – for example by taking income under flexi-access drawdown or by receiving an uncrystallised funds pension lump sum – you trigger the Money Purchase Annual Allowance, which restricts your Annual Allowance to £10,000.
Once you trigger this allowance, you lose the option to use carry forward in relation to money purchase contributions made after the trigger date.
However, you can still use carry forward to offset or eliminate the tax charge that arises from money purchase contributions that were made in the same tax year but before the Money Purchase Annual Allowance trigger date.
Get in touch
As you can see, the rules governing carry forward can be complex. So, if you want to make a pension contribution that’s larger than the Annual Allowance you are entitled to, seeking specialist advice can help you to avoid unwanted tax charges.
Find out how we can help you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your adviser on 020 3828 8100.
This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.
A pension is a long-term investment not normally accessible until 55 (57 from April 2028). The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances. Thresholds, percentage rates and tax legislation may change in subsequent Finance Acts.