Let’s talk pensions. Everybody needs to make a plan for when they eventually retire. Nobody wants to work forever, and that means making sure you have enough money to live off of after saying goodbye to your 9 – 5 job. The most common way to save for retirement is through pensions.
Pensions are schemes which you pay a certain amount into regularly and which will pay money out to you once you reach retirement age. Pensions don’t simply hold onto this money to pay it back to you later. They will invest this money in some way so that you end up receiving more money in the end than you’ve paid in over the years.
There are many types of pensions in the UK, but the most important divide is that of the state pension vs. private pensions.
State Pension Summary
As the name suggests, the state pension is provided by the UK government. The previous state pension scheme is called the Basic State Pension. In 2016, this scheme was replaced by the New State Pension. Those who reached pension age before 2016 will continue to be paid the Basic State Pension.
The New State Pension rules therefore apply to men born on or after 6 April 1951, and women born on or after 6 April 1953.
How do I check if I have a state pension?
To get information about your State Pension, contact the Pension Service if you’re in the UK or the International Pension Centre if you live abroad.
Eligibility for the New State Pension is based on how many years you have paid National Insurance Contributions (NICs). Usually, NICs are taken off your salary automatically by your employer if you earn at least £242 a week from one employer. Employers are also required to pay a portion of NICs for each employee.
If you’re not working, you can still receive ‘National Insurance credits’ in certain cases. This applies if you are getting Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, or claim Child Benefit for a child under 12.
The number of years you’ve paid NICs or received credits as above, are called your Qualifying Years. You usually need at least 10 Qualifying Years to claim any state pension.
What is the state pension amount in the UK?
The full New State Pension payout is £185.15 per week. However, this is the maximum amount. You will only receive this full payout if you have a total of 35 Qualifying Years, as explained above.
Of course, the New State Pension only came into effect in 2016. This means that most people began accumulating Qualifying Years while the Basic State Pension scheme was still in place.
Qualifying Years from before 2016 will be considered using the new rules except when you would have gotten a higher amount under the old scheme. If this is the case, Qualifying Years from before 2016 will be worth this higher amount. This won’t often be the case as the old full Basic State Pension was £141.85 per week.
All Qualifying Years from after 2016 will be considered using the New State Pension rules.
How do I calculate my state pension amount?
In most cases, you will need at least 10 Qualifying Years (QYs) to qualify for any state pension. The maximum QYs you can have is 35, which will net you the full £185.15 per week.
Each QY is worth the same amount, so we can work out that each year would add about £5.29 a week to your payouts. You can get a pension amount estimate by dividing 185.5 by 35, and multiplying by your number of Qualifying Years.
This means someone with 17 QYs would receive £89,8 per week (£5.29 x 17 QY).
This also means that the New State Pension minimum is £52.9 (£5.29 x 10 QY).
You can get a state pension estimate by using the State Pension Forecast tool.
Does the state pension amount increase?
The new State Pension increases each year by whichever is the highest:
- Earnings – the average percentage growth in wages (in Great Britain)
- Prices – the percentage growth in prices in the UK as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI)
What if I was contracted out of state pension contributions?
You will have a deduction from your state pension amount because you were ‘contracted out’ before April 2016. This means that you paid lower National Insurance Contributions because you were also paying into some kind of private pension scheme. This is more likely if you worked in the public sector
You can check if you were contracted out by looking at old payslips. If your National Insurance Contributions line has the letter D or N next to it, you were contracted out. If it has the letter A, you have not been contracted out.
What is the state pension age?
The state pension age is currently 66. However, this is increasing over time, and so it may in fact be higher by the time you reach pension age. Between May 2026 and March 2028, the state pension age will gradually increase to 67.
To find out exactly what your state pension age will be when you get there, use the government’s state pension age calculator.
Aside from state pensions, you can also take part in private pension schemes, which are not run by the government. These are split into personal pensions, which you yourself must organise, and workplace pensions, which are organised by employers.
You can claim from both the state pension, and any other pensions you have contributed to. Private pensions will have different ages at which you can start claiming payments. This is usually at least 55.
Workplace pension providers
All employers are required to provide a workplace pension scheme for workers who:
- Are aged between 22 and state pension age
- Earn at least £10,000 per year
This is referred to as ‘automatic enrolment’. Contributions for these pensions are taken off your salary, but your employer is required to also pay into the scheme themselves.
A common provider is the NEST pension for workplace schemes. The National Employment Savings Trust was set up after workplace pensions became mandatory, and any employer can use it as their pension provider.
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Personal pension contributions
You can also make payments into a personal pension scheme that you sign up to yourself. These can be ‘stakeholder pensions’, which must meet specific government requirements such as charge limits. These could also be self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs), which give you greater control over the investments you make.
You can make either regular or lump sum payments to pension providers.
What are the different types of private pension schemes?
Pensions come in two types – ‘defined benefit’ and ‘defined contribution’.
Defined benefit schemes take the money you pay into them and put them into investments. These investments could include things like shares, property, or other financial assets. The total value of your pension will go up or down depending on how these investments perform.
Defined benefit schemes pay out a set amount, and are not dependent on the amount you paid in or on investments. These are often used as workplace pensions, and based on your salary and how long you’ve worked for your employer.
The State Pension scheme acts as a combination of these two types. The amount you receive in the end is based on how much you have paid in, but that money is not invested. Your payouts will only change based on your number of Qualifying Years.
Are pensions taxable?
You will pay Income Tax as usual if your total income is above the Personal Allowance of £12,570. This could include:
- Your state pension
- Private pensions (both workplace and personal)
- Employment earnings
- Income from investments
But, you can also take up to 25% of the amount in any pension as a tax-free lump sum. This tax-free one-time deposit does not affect your personal allowance. Keep in mind that despite this tax-free 25%, taking large sums from your pension could push you into a higher tax bracket.
How does pension tax relief work for contributions?
You do not pay tax on your pension contributions unless they:
- Total more than 100% of your earnings in a year
- Exceed the annual allowance of £40,000
- Exceed the lifetime allowance of £1,073,100
You will receive pension tax relief up to these amounts automatically if:
- Your employer takes workplace pension contributions out of your pay before deducting Income Tax
- Your rate of Income Tax is 20%. Your pension provider will claim it as tax relief and add it to your pension pot.
If you pay Income Tax above 20%, you will have to claim extra pension tax relief on your Self Assessment tax return.
You will also pay tax on your contributions if your pension provider:
- is not registered for tax relief with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
- does not invest your pension pot according to HMRC’s rules
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