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Pension top-ups for Net Pay Arrangements from 2024

In July 2022, the UK government published details of new legislation that will allow workers who save for their pension through a Net Pay Arrangement (NPA) to receive the same level of top-ups from the government as workers who save through a Relief at Source (RAS) scheme.

When the new legislation takes effect in April 2024, around 1.2 million workers will receive the government support they previously lost out on due to an anomaly in the system, which has been resulting in less take-home pay for those enrolled in these ‘net pay’ pension schemes.

This correction to the pension tax system means that lower earners could see up to a hundred extra pounds a year added to their take-home pay from the start of the 2024–2025 tax year. Read on to learn more about the previous situation, how it’s changing, and how this could affect your earnings.

How do Net Pay Arrangements work?

When an employee makes contributions to their pension directly from their salary, they should receive pension tax relief based on the rate of income tax
they pay on their earnings. So, basic rate taxpayers should receive 20%
relief, higher rate taxpayers can claim 40% relief, etc.

This means that if you were in the basic rate income tax band and paid £100
into your pension, for example, the tax relief should mean that the contribution only costs you £80 from your take-home pay. However, this depends on the type of pension scheme you’re enrolled in.

  • Net Pay Arrangements (NPAs) deduct pension contributions from your salary before tax.
  • Relief at Source (RAS) schemes deduct pension contributions after

earner would pay the £100 and likely wouldn’t receive the tax relief they should, instead receiving a marginal tax relief rate of 0%. Meanwhile, the pension schemes of RAS earners should automatically send a request to HMRC to receive a 20% top-up.

This issue mainly affects low earners whose taxable income is above the auto-enrolment amount of £10,000 a year but below the annual Personal Allowance
of £12,570.

The government is thereby taking steps to rectify the problem, giving HMRC the duty of making top-up pension payments
directly to eligible earners from 6th April 2024 once new IT system support is in place for this, regardless of the scheme individuals are registered with.

How will pension top-up payments work?

The Treasury provided an example to explain how the changes are going to work. In this scenario, two employees both earn less than the Personal Allowance (£12,570) and both pay £500 in pension contributions. However, Employee A uses an NPA scheme and Employee B uses an RAS scheme.

Employee A has the full contribution deducted from their earnings before paying tax, so they don’t have to use their Personal Allowance to pay the £500 out of their untaxed income. The rest of their earnings are taxed afterwards, but there is no income tax due – all £500 goes into their pension.

Meanwhile, Employee B has no income tax to pay because their earnings are below the Personal Allowance. The equivalent pension contribution is paid to their scheme as if basic rate tax (20%) had been deducted from the £500, so £400 goes into Employee B’s pension. Though they didn’t pay any tax on it, the RAS scheme provider can still claim £100 tax relief from HMRC, topping it up to £500.

So, while both employees have £500 in their pension, Employee A had the full contribution deducted from their earnings, while Employee B only had £400 deducted, leaving them with more take-home pay. However, Employee B will have used up more of their Personal Allowance
for the contribution.

From April 2025, the tax year after the new legislation takes effect in April 2024, Employee A could qualify for top-up payments on eligible pension contributions from the previous year. HMRC will have a system for identifying and notifying eligible earners like Employee A, and paying them a top-up of 20% of their contributions (so in Employee A’s case, £100 would go into their bank account).

Who will benefit from pension top-ups?

As mentioned, individuals saving into an occupational pension under a Net Pay Arrangement (NPA) while earning an annual income below the Personal Allowance are most likely to be affected by this legislation. HMRC will determine eligibility for top-up payments based on whether you contributed to an NPA pension scheme and if your total taxable income is lower than the Personal Allowance.

When the new measures come into force in April 2024, HMRC
will use the information it already has to identify eligible workers and contact them. These individuals will be invited to provide their bank details to receive their direct top-up payment – they won’t have to confirm their entitlement first.

The payments should be made as soon as possible after the end of the tax year in which qualifying pension contributions were paid – so, from April 2025 at the earliest. If HMRC contacts you about a top-up payment, you’ll have to confirm your details through a digital service so you can receive the money. It will go to your personal bank account rather than your pension, reducing your tax burden.

Unfortunately, these payments will be taxable – but given the lower level of earnings, it’s unlikely to mean that recipients of top-up pension payments will end up paying any additional income tax.

The government estimates that a massive 1.32 million people will qualify for the top-up, with the average worker receiving an extra £53 a year. Around 200,000 low-income workers could receive an extra £100 a year. The vast majority of the beneficiaries are likely to be women, making up 75%.

Should you increase or reduce your pension contributions?

With the cost of living crisis continuing to worsen in the UK, it could be tempting to stop making pension contributions. While this might ease the strain on your finances in the short-term, it won’t help you in the future when it’s time to retire. Cutting back on contributions is likely to mean missing out on various tax reliefs and employer contributions, so you’ll be losing more money that way.

Realistically, most people won’t be contributing up to the Pensions Annual Allowance every year (set at £40,000 for the 2022–2023 tax year­, with unused allowances able to be carried forward from the last 3 years). Currently, around 84.2%
of income tax payers are on the basic rate, meaning the average UK income for most workers is somewhere between the thresholds of £12,571
and £50,270.

Even if you earn a little above the Personal Allowance
and part of your pension contributions already benefit from other tax reliefs, you could still receive a top-up payment for a proportion that doesn’t. It’s always a good idea to seek professional pensions advice to ensure you’re making smart investments in your future, so you’ll be able to get the most out of your retirement fund later on.

If you’re looking for accountants to help you with tax relief planning, you can always contact GBAC, accountants in Barnsley, by calling 01226 298 298 or emailing info@gbac.co.uk. For more details on the pension tax relief legislation changes, view the policy paper on ‘pensions relief relating to net pay arrangements’.