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So it was with bated breath that Chancellor Philip Hammond stood to deliver his November Budget speech. Rumours has been swirling for weeks that pensions could be hit with changes to taxation. It was suggested that this would be to pay towards the NHS deficit among other things. It was with great relief that when he sat down and we reviewed the actual Budget papers that this was all just speculation and there was little impact. This can only be a good thing as any meddling impacts the distrust that consumers have for the pensions system and makes it difficult for advisers to plan for the long term with clients. How many times have we heard that PCLS or tax-free cash as it is more commonly known will be scrapped? Every Budget for as long as I can remember.
On Valentine’s Day this year I received not only a lovely card and flowers from my husband, but also an email from my financial adviser about a new specialist divorce service they were offering.
Over the last few weeks there’s been a fair amount of noise regarding IHT reforms. First we had The Office of Tax Simplification (OTS)’s call for evidence, and more recently the Intergenerational Commission (IC)’s “Passing on” report on options for reforming IHT.
One of my techie colleagues has recently done some analysis on the most common queries we have dealt with in the department in the last 18 months.
HMRC has taken down a web page, which allows users to check how much money they can put into a pension, after “blunders” were spotted by tax experts at Royal London.

Sipp experts have warned that a provider’s legal triumph in its battle with HMRC over in specie contributions is “not the end of the story”.

We are rapidlying approach that time of year when we remind clients to make use of all their allowances and make sure any surplus cash is used to top up ISAs and pensions. While ISA allowances are straightforward, pension contribution allowances are anything but.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Back in the good old days of 2006 we had a nice simple AA of £215,000 for all, no carry forward, which rose to the dizzy heights of £255,000 in 2010/11. It all seems a distant memory…

Now we have:

• the standard annual allowance (AA)
• tapered annual allowance (TAA)
• money purchase annual allowance (MPAA)
• alternative annual allowance (AAA)

Throw in carry forward and the split pension input year in 2015/16 and we have some seriously complexity.

It is when we get to the MPAA and tapered AA that things get painful.

The MPAA can be grossly unfair in certain specific circumstances. We have had cases where a bankruptcy order was made before the rules changed in 2000. In these cases the Trustee in Bankruptcy (TiB) has the right to take income from the pension when the member turns 55. So someone who went bankrupt in their 30’s could in their 50’s have their annual allowance reduced to £4,000 a year because the TiB starts taking an income, none of which goes to the member.

There are instances where a member’s fund could be significantly depleted by a pension sharing order and they have severally limited ability to rebuild their funds.

Another not uncommon scenario is someone who gets made redundant in their mid-50s, so may be forced to access benefits to meet living costs, but later finds employment and wishes to replace the funds. Retirement is not the once in a lifetime decision of yesteryear, and moving in and out of retirement is more prevalent, which the MPAA works against.

Finally we have the tapered AA. High earners are politically an easy target, but trying to work out an individual’s tapered amount can be complex and time-consuming.

It would be far simpler to have a single, lower annual allowance for all. The obvious amount would be £20,000 to align with the ISA allowance (with carry forward still available).

This works from the point of view that it is more than enough for the average “man-in-the-street” and the high-earners aren’t costing vast amounts in tax relief. However, it would require a separation of the DB and DC regimes, as it would not be sufficient for many public sector workers with DB accrual, not least of whom those in Westminster. Realistically it could only work if DB schemes were limited by the LTA, and DC by AA.

We’ve had MiFID II, and now looking at the annual allowance rules, it makes me crave a Simplification sequel!

Lisa Webster is technical resources consultant at AJ Bell
In April 2017 the Scottish Rate of Income Tax was introduced, which may have gone largely unnoticed by many Scottish taxpayers as the overall basic rate remained at 20% - albeit 10% going to HMRC and the other 10% to Revenue Scotland.
James Hay is fighting an HMRC charge of nearly £2million in connection with a probe into a non-standard investment.
Those of a certain vintage will remember the animated children’s TV programme, “Mr Benn”, where each episode featured the line, “and then – as if by magic – the shopkeeper appeared”.
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