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What are pensionable earnings?

Lee Mannion | Tuesday 17th May, 2022

For employers, the amount you'll need to contribute into a workplace pension scheme is based on the pensionable earnings of your employees.

There are three ways you can calculate pensionable earnings. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between them and the impact this can have on your pension contributions and tax efficiency.

pensionable earnings refers to the portion of an employee's salary you'll use to calculate your company pension contribution

Qualifying earnings for pension contributions

Pensionable earnings helps you as an employer work out how much to pay into your employee's pension.

It refers to the portion of their salary you'll use to calculate how much you need to contribute.

When discussing employer pension contributions, you may come across the phrase 'qualifying earnings' - although in reality qualifying earnings is only one method of calculating pensionable earnings. More on that shortly.

Currently, companies and employees need to contribute at least 8% to auto enrolment pension schemes.

Minimum auto enrolment contributions

table showing minimum auto enrolment pension contributions

How to calculate pensionable earnings

There are 3 ways you can calculate how much of your employees' earnings are eligible for employer pension contributions.

They are:

  • basic pay
  • qualifying earnings
  • total earnings

Depending on the method you use to calculate pensionable earnings, the employer and employee contribution figures will vary.

Which approach you use is completely up to you - all are officially recognised by HMRC.

Basic pay

The basic pay approach uses the employee's base salary or wages, including holiday pay. However, the calculation excludes additional earnings such as overtime or bonuses. 

Qualifying earnings

Often used for defined benefit pension schemes, qualifying earnings only apply to the portion of an employee's earnings between £6,240-£50,270. This can include:

  • salary/wages
  • bonuses
  • commission
  • overtime
  • statutory sick pay
  • statutory parental leave 

Total earnings

Calculations involve all income earned in employment, minus dividend payments.  This includes all the additional earnings listed above.

Pensionable earnings examples

The worked example below demonstrates how each of these approaches impacts your total employer contributions.

This example is based on an employee earning an annual salary of £38,000 with a £2,000 bonus.

table showing how employer pension contribution changes under basic pay, qualifying earnings and total earnings

Under the basic pay method, the bonus is excluded. The employer contributes £1,140 and the employee contributes £1,900 to the scheme. 

For qualifying earnings, £6,240 is subtracted from the total earnings (£40,000), leaving £33,760 as the pensionable earnings. The employer contributes £1,012.80 and the employee contributes £1,688 to the scheme. 

Finally, for total earnings of £40,000, the employer contributes £1,200 and the employee contributes £2,000 to the scheme.

For any contributions made to a workplace pension scheme using a net pay approach (before tax), the amount of tax paid on earnings will be calculated on the lower amount.

This means you won’t pay any income tax or National Insurance on your pension contributions. Opting to use a salary sacrifice pension scheme could help reduce tax obligations even further. 

Managing a workplace pension scheme

Whether you choose basic pay, qualifying earnings or total earnings, you should ensure that your method for calculation lines up with your payroll software.

Request more information today and our team of pension experts will explore how we can manage auto enrolment for you.

Or learn more about Penfold’s award-winning workplace pension.

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