Online service

Username Password

You are not logged in.

Fund information

Literature library

Related links

Relevant UK earnings

Member contributions - tax relief and annual allowance

Adviser  >  Technical Central  >  Information & guidance  >  Contributions  >  Recycling of tax-free cash

Recycling of tax-free cash

Recycling is where a member boosts their pension savings by taking their tax-free cash and as a result increases their payments into one or more pension plans to gain more tax relief.

Key facts

  • Recycling is where a member boosts their pension savings by taking their tax-free cash and as a result increases their payments into a pension plan to gain more tax relief.
  • The main benefits to the member of recycling are access to a further tax-free cash sum and also maximising death benefits if in drawdown.
  • HMRC outline specific conditions to determine whether a recycling event has taken place.
  • If the HMRC conditions are breached, the tax-free cash is regarded as an unauthorised payment and will be subject to a tax charge.
  • Recycling of income cannot be ignored. The rules apply to any increase in contribution levels as a result of tax-free cash being taken. This means for example, the tax-free cash could have been used to pay off the member's mortgage, and it is the income that is being recycled into a pension plan, but the recycling rules could still be breached.

There are a couple of significant benefits to the member of recycling:

  • It allows further tax-free cash to be paid. The income that is taken from the pension plan is re-invested back into one or more pension plans. The member would continue to benefit from tax efficient growth and would have access to a further tax-free cash sum at the point they take benefits from the plan.
  • Maximising death benefits in drawdown. If the member chooses to take their tax-free cash with nil income, the fund that remains would be liable to a 55% tax charge on death. However if the member takes some or all of the available income from the drawdown plan and recycles the income back into another pension plan, the fund accrued by the reinvested income payments would not be liable to the same tax charge on death.

Whilst income payments from pension plans are treated as taxable income, this can be effectively offset by the tax relief given when the payment is re-invested into the pension plan.

It is worth noting however that the HMRC do not classify income from pension plans as relevant UK earnings, and therefore the member would need to have relevant UK earnings from another source so that they are eligible for tax relief on the re-invested payments.

Our article on Member contributions - tax relief and annual allowance explains all about tax relief on member contributions.

This all sounds too good to be true...

Unfortunately, to an extent it is. HMRC introduced recycling rules in 2006 as it was concerned that recycling could abuse the generous tax relief system. Anyone who falls foul of these rules could face unauthorised payment tax charges.

What are the rules?

HMRC outline specific conditions to determine whether a recycling event has taken place.

Basically, if the answer is 'Yes' to all of the following conditions then bad things can happen. If the answer is 'no' to any of the questions below, then recycling of the tax-free cash hasn't happened.

1. Has the member received a tax-free cash sum?

Recycling of tax-free cash hasn't happened!

2. Is the amount received over 12 months more than 1% of the lifetime allowance?

Recycling of tax-free cash hasn't happened!

3. As a result, have contributions increased by more than 30% of what might have been expected?

Recycling of tax-free cash hasn't happened!

4. Are the additional contributions more than 30% of the tax-free lump sum received?

Recycling of tax-free cash hasn't happened!

5. Is the recycling pre-planned?

Recycling of tax-free cash hasn't happened!

Tax-free cash has been recycled. It will be treated as an unauthorised payment

The conditions

OK, so let's take each of the above conditions in turn and look at them a little closer.

Click on a heading below to learn more:

1. Payment of the tax-free cash

2. Amount of tax-free cash

3. Significant increase in contribution level

4. Contribution increase of more than 30% of tax-free cash

5. Pre-planning

What are the consequences of recycling?

If a member is caught by the recycling rules, the amount of the tax-free lump sum is regarded as an unauthorised payment and any of the following charges may be applied:

  • an unauthorised member payment charge of 40% of the tax-free lump sum paid
  • an unauthorised payments surcharge of 15% of the tax-free lump sum paid
  • a scheme sanction charge of 40% of the tax-free lump sum
  • a de-registration charge of 40% of the scheme's assets.

However not all of the charges are automatic.

The surcharge is levied if the total unauthorised payments to a pension scheme member in a 12-month period exceed 25% of their pension rights. This brings the total charge payable by the pension scheme member up to 55% of the tax-free lump sum.

The scheme sanction charge (payable by the scheme administrator) can be reduced by the lower of:

  • the amount of the unauthorised member payment charge, or
  • 25% of the scheme chargeable payments made on which tax has been paid.

A scheme could also be de-registered if the total amount of unauthorised payments made exceeds 40% of the scheme's assets. If contributions are increased around retirement age, it is important that a member makes sure that HMRC can't claim that recycling has taken place.

Recycling or not recycling

It's worth looking at a couple of examples of where recycling does and doesn't apply.

Where recycling doesn't apply

Jim takes a tax-free lump sum of 9,000 on 1 May 2014 with the intention of using it to pay significantly greater contributions to a registered pension scheme.

The amount of the tax-free lump sum doesn't exceed 1% of the lifetime allowance and no other lump sums have been paid to Jim in the last 12 months. The recycling rule isn't triggered as the amount of the tax-free lump sums is less than 1% of the lifetime allowance.

Where recycling does apply

On 1 June 2014 Jim takes another tax-free lump sum of 10,000 in order to further significantly increase contributions. The increased contributions amount to 10,000 and are more than 30% of the contributions paid in the period starting two tax years before the tax-free cash is taken.

As Jim has received another tax-free lump sum within the previous 12 months (the lump sum of 9,000 taken on 1 May 2014), the 10,000 has to be added to the previous lump sum. The total amount exceeds 1% of the lifetime allowance so the recycling rule is triggered. Here's why:

  • Jim specifically took the tax-free lump sum of 10,000 in order to pay 10,000 back into a registered pension scheme as a tax relievable contribution.
  • that lump sum of 10,000 (together with the earlier lump sum of 9,000) exceeds 1% of the lifetime allowance,
  • the amount of the increase is more than 30% of what could be expected, and
  • the amount of the significantly increased contribution (10,000) exceeds 30% of the tax-free lump sum of 10,000 (10,000 x 30% = 3,000).

The recycling rule applies to the second lump sum, resulting in a deemed unauthorised payment of 10,000.

All references to taxation are based on our understanding of current taxation law and practice and may be affected by future changes in legislation and the individual circumstances of the investor.

In addition, the information provided is also based on our current understanding of the relevant Finance acts.

Published 23 January 2007

Updated 21 March 2014

For professional advisers only