If a member requests a transfer between one registered pension scheme and another it’ll be a recognised transfer so long as certain conditions are met.
So what's this all about?
If a transfer from one pension scheme to another isn’t a ‘recognised transfer’ bad things happen. Basically, the transfer value is regarded as an unauthorised payment with all sorts of tax consequences which we’ll look at later.
So what if someone moves abroad and wants to transfer to a foreign pension scheme?
HMRC’s starting point is that it doesn’t want pension funds which have enjoyed UK tax benefits to be able to be transferred to overseas schemes which don’t have the same restrictions.
However, rather than ban overseas transfers altogether or penalise them so much that it has the same result, HMRC will, in some circumstances, treat a transfer to an overseas scheme as a recognised transfer. The scheme manager of the overseas scheme has to supply certain information to HMRC and the scheme has to meet certain conditions. If this is done, HMRC will recognise it as a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS) and transfers to it from UK schemes will be recognised transfers.
What is a QROPS?
There are various ‘hurdles’ a scheme has to overcome before HMRC will recognise it as a QROPS. A QROPS needs to meet the conditions to be:
- an overseas pension scheme and
- a recognised overseas pension scheme and finally
- a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme.
This Overseas TV Flowchart (PDF) summarises the process.
A QROPS is therefore the top of the tree in HMRC’s eyes when it comes to foreign pension schemes. However, even if all the requirements are met, HMRC can refuse to recognise an overseas scheme (for instance if it doesn’t provide all the information it said it would).
This list isn’t exhaustive, as it doesn’t include QROPS which haven’t consented to have their details published. The trustees of a UK scheme therefore need to first refer to the list and if the scheme the transfer is destined for doesn’t appear, ask HMRC whether the scheme is a QROPS or not. If it is not, the transfer will be an unauthorised payment resulting in tax penalties.
What does a QROPS have to do?
A QROPS has to:
- notify HMRC that it’s a recognised overseas pension scheme and provide evidence if required
- to re-notify HMRC every five years that it meets the requirements to be a QROPS
- promise to tell HMRC if it stops being a recognised overseas pension scheme
- tell HMRC the name of the country or territory it’s established in
- provide any other evidence HMRC need
- promise to give HMRC certain information on making payments in respect of scheme members
- and not have been excluded by HMRC from being a QROPS.
To notify HMRC, the overseas scheme manager can use form APSS251 which has been designed to help.
Here's the full conditions.
Recognised transfers to QROPS
Unlike a recognised transfer between two UK registered pension schemes, a transfer from a UK scheme to a QROPS is a benefit crystallisation event. So if the amount of the transfer is over the relevant lifetime allowance, a lifetime allowance charge (LAC) will be levied. However, because the payment is not to the individual, the rate charged is 25%, not 55%, despite the fact that it involves a lump sum. There will be no effect on the annual allowance as it isn’t a contribution (although all payments made in the pension input period up to the date of transfer obviously will).
Some overseas schemes (for example schemes in the USA) may not accept the transfer value.
The UK scheme administrator must report the transfer to HMRC (they would also have to report a non-recognised transfer). They must also get a signed acknowledgement from the member that they understand that a transfer overseas could result in them having to pay unauthorised payment charges to HMRC after the transfer is made. See the Non-recognised transfers - tax charges section below.
The QROPS scheme manager must agree to tell HMRC when they pay benefits from the transferred fund or if they transfer the fund again. This reporting requirement applies unless:
- the member is not UK resident and has not been UK resident at any time in the five full tax years before the payment and
- 10 years have passed since the transfer was made.
This means that:
- payments made within 10 years of the transfer have to be reported regardless of the member's residence status
- even if the transfer was made more than 10 years ago, payments to members who are UK resident or have been in the last five tax years have to be reported.
Any payment or transfer made in the reporting period which wouldn’t have been an authorised payment or recognised transfer from a UK registered pension scheme will suffer the normal tax penalties (see below).
A transfer to a QROPS is not a chargeable event for inheritance tax (IHT) purposes.
The QROPS itself is not subject to IHT and therefore doesn't suffer periodic or exit charges.
As a transfer to a recognised overseas pension scheme is a 'permitted transfer', enhanced protection will not be lost on such a transfer, including a transfer to a QROPS.
If the transfer contains a guaranteed minimum pension (GMP) there are other things the UK scheme has to do before the transfer can go ahead. It has to:
- get written confirmation from the member that he understands that the overseas scheme might not give the same degree of protection
- take reasonable steps to check that, where the QROPS is an occupational scheme, the member is actually employed by that employer
- and take reasonable steps to check that the member has received a statement of what benefits the transfer value will provide in the QROPS.
Advantages of QROPS
Exactly what can be paid from a QROPS depends on the tax regime of the country it’s established in but the most common advantages (after the member has been out of the UK for at least five tax years) would be:
- a higher PCLS
- no lifetime allowance limit (although the transfer is a BCE and could trigger a LAC at that time)
- no restrictions on tax relief on contributions
- no tax on lump sum death benefits from crystallised rights
- and avoiding the 55% tax charge on lump sum death benefits after age 75.
Disadvantages of QROPS
If the member remains in the UK, it’s difficult to see what advantage there would be in transferring to a QROPS as any payment from the scheme that would have been an unauthorised payment from a UK scheme will attract charges of up to 55%.
Even if the member is likely to satisfy the '10 years' rule, the advantages of a QROPS have to be weighed against:
- the advice fees tend to be high - this is a specialised area needing a specialised adviser
- the charges levied by the scheme provider
- the actual tax treatment of benefits when they come to be paid
- currency risks (unless set up in Channel Islands or IOM)
- and QROPS status can be withdrawn by HMRC if it’s thought the QROPS has been stretching the rules too much and unauthorised payment charges can be applied retrospectively.
Non-recognised transfers - tax charges
A non-recognised transfer may result in the following tax penalties:
- an unauthorised member payment charge of 40% of the transfer value
- if all unauthorised payments in a 12 month period are more than 25% of the fund value, an unauthorised payments surcharge of 15% of the transfer value will be payable by the member
- the registered pension scheme will have to pay a scheme sanction charge of 40% of the transfer value. If the scheme administrator has deducted the member's tax charge from the transfer payment and paid the tax charge to HMRC on the member's behalf, the scheme administrator may reduce the amount of the scheme sanction charge by the lesser of 25% and the amount of member's tax charge deducted as a proportion of the transfer payment
- and if the amount of non-recognised transfers exceed 40% of the scheme’s assets, it could be de-registered with a de-registration charge of 40% of the scheme’s assets.
Never mind – at least a non-recognised transfer doesn’t count towards the annual allowance or the lifetime allowance!
Transfers from overseas schemes
In this case, a transfer is coming from a pension scheme which is not regulated and taxed by HMRC to one that is. Almost all pension transfers from overseas pension schemes to UK registered pension schemes are allowable and treated in a similar way to recognised transfers. However, a registered pension scheme isn’t obliged to accept the transfer.
Overseas transfers into registered pension schemes aren’t recognised transfers. However they aren’t unauthorised payments either as unauthorised payments can only come from UK registered pension schemes. The transfer doesn’t count as a contribution and therefore doesn’t get tax relief and doesn’t count against the annual allowance. It's also not a benefit crystallisation event (BCE), and doesn’t trigger a test against the lifetime allowance at time of transfer. However, it will count against the lifetime allowance when a BCE does occur.
If the transfer is from a recognised overseas pension scheme, the member's lifetime allowance can be enhanced by the same percentage as the transfer value bears to the standard lifetime allowance at time of transfer. So if John has a transfer of £150,000 from a recognised overseas pension scheme during 2013/14, his personal lifetime allowance will be 10% higher than the standard lifetime allowance (£150,000/£1,500,000). This recognises the fact that the transferred funds haven’t received any tax advantages from HMRC. A member has up to five years from 31 January following the tax year in which the transfer is made to claim this enhancement by registering it with HMRC. So John has until 31 January 2020 to register his claim to an enhancement to his lifetime allowance. It’s important to note that this enhancement is only available if the transfer is from a recognised overseas pension scheme – if it is not a recognised scheme, the enhancement can’t be claimed.
Published 28 February 2007
Updated 18 September 2013
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.
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