18 July 2019

HMRC admits it 'hasn't got a clue' how many people are facing fines over pension tax relief rules

5 min read

Steve Webb
Royal London



A new FOI response obtained by Royal London has revealed that HMRC simply do not know how many people they are fining each year over breaching rules relating to pension tax relief.

Under current rules, most people are allowed to contribute up to £40,000 per year into a pension whilst benefiting from tax relief on their contributions.

But since 2015, a reduced contribution limit has applied to people who start to take chunks of taxable cash from a pension using the new pension freedoms legislation. The limit, known as the Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) was originally £10,000 and was reduced to £4,000 in 2017. The idea of this reduced limit is to discourage people from ‘recycling’ money in and out of pensions, repeatedly benefiting from tax relief on the way in and tax-free cash on the way out.

The way that the system works is that when an individual takes a chunk of taxable cash from one pension, their pension provider is meant to notify them that they have triggered the MPAA. The customer then has three months to notify their active pension scheme (eg their current workplace pension provider) that the lower limit applies. Failure to make this notification triggers a fixed penalty of £300 and then an escalating daily penalty of £60 a day.

However, when asked by Royal London policy director Steve Webb how many people had triggered the charge since it came in, HMRC said that they did not know. They also said that it would be disproportionately expensive to find out, as it would take more than three days of work to obtain the information.

Commenting, Steve Webb said:

“It is truly astonishing that HMRC are presumably fining people for not complying with complex regulation but do not even bother to keep track of how many people they are fining.  HMRC would take a dim view of any taxpayer who did not keep proper records, yet they appear not to have a clue about their own actions. If large numbers of people are being fined for non-compliance then we need to know so that more can be done to alert customers as to their responsibilities under the law. Even if HMRC have no historic information, they should, at the very least, start to keep records now”.

Notes to editors:

More information on the Money Purchase Annual Allowance can be found here. The MPAA is triggered by taking a chunk of taxable cash using the new ‘pension freedoms’, but it is not triggered if a saver only takes their tax-free lump sum. It is not triggered by those who use the rules for taking a ‘trivial’ small pot in full. Copy of FOI reply is available on request.

For further information please contact:

Royal London Press Office

About Royal London:

Royal London is the largest mutual life insurance, pensions and investment company in the UK, with assets under management of £139 billion, 8.6 million policies in force and 4,348 employees. Figures quoted are as at 30 June 2020.