Terms explained.

Want to know what the current tax year rates and allowances are? Please read the Tax Year Rates and Allowances Sheet (PDF: 271KB) where you can see the figures for the current and previous tax year.


You can use some or all of your pension pot to buy an annuity that provides you with a guaranteed income either for life or a fixed period. Your annuity income is taxable as income but you can normally take 25% of your pot tax-free before using the rest to buy an annuity.

There are different types of annuities

  • A lifetime annuity will pay you a regular income for the rest of your life. Traditional lifetime annuities pay an income that is fixed, increasing or linked to investment performance (depending on the options you choose).
  • Recent rule changes have enabled providers to offer flexible annuities too, where you can vary your income.
  • You can also buy a fixed term annuity to provide you with a regular income for a fixed period of time only.

Annual Allowance

This is the maximum amount set by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that can be saved into a pension each year without incurring a tax charge. It includes contributions paid by your employer and anyone else on your behalf. Below this maximum amount you'll receive tax relief on your personal contributions as long as the total of those contributions are also within your yearly income. The Annual Allowance applies to all pension schemes that you belong to, including any defined benefit schemes.

The period over which the allowance is measured is called a Pension Input Period which aligns with tax years, from 6 April to 5 April the following year.

If you go over the Annual Allowance you will pay tax on the amount above it. The amount you pay is based on your highest marginal rate of income tax.

You may also be able to carry forward any unused allowances from up to three previous tax years.

Please also see 'Money Purchase Annual Allowance' if you have accessed your pension pot.

Automatic Enrolment Earnings Triggers

You will be automatically enrolled if you're:

  • aged between 22 and state pension age (see state pension for more details);
  • paid over a certain amount each year, known as the Automatic Enrolment Earnings Trigger;
  • and are not already in a suitable pension scheme offered by your employer.

Automatic Enrolment Qualifying Earnings Limits

The Qualifying Earnings upper and lower limits are set by the government and are the earnings on which the minimum contributions for automatic enrolment are calculated. Your employer will tell you the earnings on which your contributions are based.

Automatic Re-enrolment

All employers must automatically enrol their employees into a workplace pension scheme subject to certain eligibility criteria. Although you may opt out, they must re-enrol you every three years to encourage you to start saving into your pension pot. You will have the right to opt out again.

Cash Lump Sum

You can take some or all of your pension pot as a cash lump sum from age 55. Normally 25% of each lump sum you take will be paid tax-free and the remainder will be taxable as income.

Capped Drawdown

Drawdown is a way of taking a taxable income from your pension fund. Historically the amount that most people were able to take in this way was limited to a percentage of an estimated annuity that's calculated using government rates.

Since April 2015, new rules about accessing pension pots mean that people have more freedom about how and when they can take an income direct from their pot. Whilst any existing capped drawdown can continue beyond 6 April 2015, anyone wishing to start drawdown from this date will be taking Flexi-Access Drawdown.

Defined Contribution (Pension) Scheme

A personal or workplace pension where contributions and investment performance dictate how much money you have available to provide an income for retirement. Also referred to as 'money purchase' schemes as whatever pot you have built up can be used to purchase an annuity.

New rules about accessing pension pots mean that people have more freedom to take an income direct from their pot as and when they want or need it.

Flexi-Access Drawdown

Flexi-Access Drawdown is a way of taking an income from your pension fund without having to buy a pension annuity. New pension freedoms introduced in April 2015 have given people more flexibility over how much they can draw down from their pension pot from age 55. Income is taxable and can be taken on a regular or occasional basis with the rest of your pot remaining invested.

Not all pension schemes and providers offer Flexi-Access Drawdown and those that do are likely to charge to use the facility and may have a minimum pot size requirement. You have the right to transfer your pot to another scheme or provider.

Income Tax Relief

Any amount you personally pay into a pension scheme is free of income tax as long as it's within 100% of your annual earnings, and within the Annual Allowance.

This is called Income Tax Relief, and the amount you are entitled to will depend on the rate of tax you pay. The way this works will be set by your employer and depends on the type of scheme, as the government offers two choices:

Relief at Source
This is where your employer deducts your contribution from your earnings after tax, and your pension scheme gives you back tax at the basic rate. For example, if you have agreed to pay £100 a month (gross) into your pension, you only need to pay £80 from your take home pay. Your scheme will then add £20 to this (using the current basic rate of income tax of 20%) bringing the total to £100. However, if you pay tax at a higher rate, you'll need to claim the rest back on your self-assessment return as the scheme is not allowed to claim back more than the basic rate.

Net Pay
This is where your employer deducts your contribution from your earnings before tax. This means that you don't pay any upfront tax on your pension contribution at all. By using this method, the tax relief automatically applies at your highest rate of tax straight away.

If you don’t pay income tax because you’re on a low income, you will still get income tax relief on anything you pay up to 100%  of your earnings each tax year.  However, this would only happen automatically under a Relief at Source scheme.  If your employer uses Net Pay, you’ll need to claim the tax relief back through self-assessment.


An Individual Savings Account (ISA) is a tax-efficient savings plan. The government sets limits on the amount you can save into an ISA each year.

There are two types of ISAs: Cash ISA and Stocks and Shares ISA.

Cash ISAs are simply savings accounts where the interest isn't taxed, and most Cash ISAs offer the same level of security for your money as a building society, or bank deposit account.

Stocks and Shares ISAs let you save money in a range of investments, such as shares, Unit Trusts, Open Ended Investment Companies (OEICs) and Investment Trusts. In a Stocks and Shares ISA your investment can go down as well as up, returns are not guaranteed and you may get back less than you invest.

Lifetime Allowance

This is a limit on the total amount of pension savings that you can build up in all your pension arrangements before you have to pay a tax charge. This is called the Lifetime Allowance. For most people their Lifetime Allowance will be the Standard Lifetime Allowance. Certain circumstances may mean you have a different personal Lifetime Allowance - these are known as fixed, primary, enhanced or individual protection and you will have completed an HMRC election form if they apply to you.

If you go over the Lifetime Allowance, anything over this amount will be taxed and the rate of tax is different depending on whether you choose to take it as cash or provide yourself with an extra pension income.

If you choose to use it to provide yourself with an extra pension income, the income will also be taxed at your marginal rate of income tax.

It is important to be aware that the Lifetime Allowance may reduce in the future, and you may be entitled to a higher Lifetime Allowance if you have received a certificate confirming this from HMRC.

Money Purchase (Pension) Scheme

Please see 'Defined Contribution (Pension) Scheme'.

Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA)

The MPAA is the maximum amount that can be paid into your money purchase (defined contribution) pension pots in a tax year after you have started to take money from your pension pot in certain ways. The maximum that can be paid for that tax year and every year thereafter is £4,000 each year and you will lose the ability to carry forward any unused allowances from previous tax years.

The MPAA does not apply when:

  • You just take your tax free cash sum and leave the rest of the pension pot invested. However, the MPAA will apply as soon as you start to take any more money from the pot.
  • You cash in a small pension pot of up to £10,000. You’re allowed to do this up to three times for personal pensions but there is no limit on how many you can take from occupational pension schemes.
  • You buy a pension annuity to provide you with a guaranteed income for life.

Your pension scheme or provider will tell you if the MPAA applies to you at the time you withdraw any money from your pot.

If you do have an MPAA, you will need to tell all other pension schemes that you’re still building up benefits in within 91 days from when you’re first told the MPAA applies to you. If you join any new schemes in the future, you’ll have 91 days from when you join to tell them that you have a MPAA. If you don’t do this, you will be fined by HM Revenue & Customs.

If you have an MPAA and are still building up benefits in a defined benefit or final salary pension scheme, the MPAA may have an impact on that too. For example, if you use up all of the £4,000 MPAA, your annual allowance for defined benefits will be £36,000. If you use £2,000 of the MPAA, your annual allowance for defined benefits will be £38,000.

The rules are complicated and if you are affected you should consider seeking financial advice.

Please see ‘Annual Allowance’ and ‘Pension Freedom’.

Pension Credit

The Pension Credit consists of two parts, a 'Guaranteed Credit' or income and a 'Savings Credit' for singles and couples:

  • Guaranteed Credit tops up your weekly income to a guaranteed minimum level;
  • Savings Credit is extra money for those who have attempted to save for their retirement who have a small amount of income or savings.

You can find more information on the Pension Credit on the government website.

Pensions Freedom

You can normally take up to 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum and with the remaining 75% you can:

  • Take a lump sum which will be taxed as income or;
  • Leave it invested and take regular or occasional amounts that will be taxed as income or;
  • Buy an annuity. An annuity will provide you with a guaranteed income either for life or a fixed term, that will be taxed as income.

From age 55, you can choose how and when to access your pot, including using a combination of the above options. Your pot will remain invested until it has been used up or transferred to another provider. Different providers will offer different options, features, rates of payment, terms and charges.

When you come to access your pension pot, free and impartial guidance is available to you from an independent government service called Pension Wise to help you understand your options.

Pensions Tax Relief Limit without relevant UK earnings

Relevant UK earnings are earnings that are subject to UK tax. If you are a UK taxpayer, you're able to pay up to 100% of your annual earnings each year into a pension scheme and get tax relief on what you pay in up to the Annual Allowance (see Annual Allowance for more details).

It is worth noting that even if you aren't a UK taxpayer but you are a UK resident, you're still able to pay up to a certain amount into a pension scheme each year and still receive tax relief.

Primary Threshold for National Insurance

Your pay has to be above the Annual Primary Threshold for National Insurance in order for National Insurance to be taken from your pay.

National Insurance will be deducted from your pay whether you are paid on a weekly, four-weekly or monthly basis.

State Pension

The state pension is a regular payment from the government that you can get when you reach state pension age. On 6 April 2016 a new state pension was introduced for people who have not already reached their state pension age and replaced the previous basic state pension scheme.

To be eligible for the new state pension you'll need to have been born:

  • on or after 6 April 1951 (if male)
  • on or after 6 April 1953 (if female)

In order to be eligible you'll also need 35 qualifying years on your National Insurance (NI) record to receive the full amount, and 10 qualifying years to receive some of it. This includes any qualifying years built up before 6 April.

However, qualifying years don't need to be consecutive (one after the other) and you'll qualify if in a single year:

  • you worked and paid NI contributions
  • you received NI credits due to unemployment, sickness or as a parent or carer
  • you paid voluntary NI contributions

If you've lived or worked abroad you may still be able to get some new state pension too. You may also qualify if you've paid married women's or widow's reduced rate contributions.

The amount you receive can be higher or lower depending on your NI record and you may have to pay tax on it.

You can check your state pension age and National Insurance record at Gov.uk.

Tax Year

The tax year runs from 6 April to 5 April of the following year.

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