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How to add pension contributions to your self-assessment tax return

Kyle Chubb
Thursday 13th January, 2022

It’s that time of year again. Christmas decorations have been taken down, new year’s resolutions are going strong (ahem) and the online tax return deadline of January 31st is looming.

Of course, this isn't everyone's favourite time of year - and while it may feel like a chore, there is a silver lining.

It’s a great time to check if you’re owed any unpaid tax relief from your pension.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to correctly add your pension contributions to your tax return and, most importantly, make sure you don’t miss out on any tax relief.

Do I put pension contributions on my tax return?

Ok, first thing’s first: do you actually need to enter your pension contributions on your self-assessment tax return?

Just because you’re currently paying into a pension scheme, does not mean you need to enter your contributions during self-assessment.

Here's the main takeaway: you should only include pension contributions on your tax return if you're a high earner, or you're making significant payments into your pension.

Let's look at a couple of examples.

If you’re employed

If you’re paying into a workplace pension scheme organised by your employer and are earning under £50,270 you won’t need to declare your pension contributions on your tax return.

That’s because most employer pension schemes will claim tax relief at source for you. This also applies if you’re part of a salary sacrifice pension.

It is, however, worth double-checking your tax relief is being added for you. You can contact your pension provider if you aren’t sure.

If you’re self-employed

If you work for yourself and pay into a private pension, you similarly won’t need to declare any payments if your income for the tax year is less than £50,270.

That’s because your pension provider should claim basic rate tax relief from the government for you and add it into your pension pot automatically.

What about higher earners?

If you fall into the higher or additional rate tax band (i.e. you earned over £50,270 this year), declaring your pension contributions in your tax return is definitely in your interests.

That’s because you’ll be able to claim extra tax relief on your pension contributions.

You’re probably aware that any payments into a workplace or private pension benefit from 20% basic rate tax relief automatically. Your pension provider claims this back from the government on your behalf. 

However, because you are taxed at 40% (or 45% for additional rate taxpayers) on a portion of your earnings, you are essentially still owed that extra 20% or 25% tax back on your contributions.

More on how to do this is a little further on.

Where do I put pension contributions on my tax return?

Your private pension contributions for the year will need to be added to the main section of your tax return (form SA100).

This is the part that focuses on:

  • income from dividends
  • charitable donations
  • benefits such as the State pension and child benefits

You’ll need the section titled ‘Tax reliefs’. Here’s what that looks like in a paper tax return.

tax reliefs section on self assessment tax return

How to calculate pension contributions for a tax return

If you need to declare your pension contributions during self-assessment, you'll need to enter your total gross pension contributions for the tax year - including the automatic 20% basic rate tax bonus.

To find this number, look for your annual pension statement. You’ll need to add every payment you’ve made, as well as the tax relief.  This should be available online - if not, your pension provider will be able to help.

With Penfold, you can check this year’s contributions from your dashboard. 

Simply sign in and use the number just above ‘Saved this year’. This number should include your latest tax relief bonuses - remember to double-check any pending transactions under the ‘Activity’ tab.

penfold app highlighting annual pension contributions

You can also download your complete transaction history from the ‘Activity’ tab.

download transactions button

Do employer pension contributions count towards the annual allowance?

All contributions into your pension, whether they are from you, your employer or a third party count towards your annual allowance.

Again, it's important to include your total gross pension contributions from every source when filling out your tax return.

Are tax return pension contributions gross or net?

It’s important to remember that any contributions you add to your tax return should be gross and include any basic rate tax relief

Essentially, you need to tell the government how much has been added to your pension in total for this tax year.

Once you’ve entered this, it’s time to start thinking about claiming back any extra tax relief you’re owed.

How to claim higher rate pension tax relief on your self-assessment

To claim additional tax relief, you’ll need to enter your total gross pension contributions for the tax year - including the 20% basic rate tax bonus.

Once you’ve calculated your annual pension contributions, submit your tax return and HMRC will process your additional rax relief.

Remember, you can also claim tax relief for previous years if you missed out on the past.

Your tax refund will take the form of:

  • Paying less tax this year
  • An update in your tax code (so you pay less tax next year)
  • A tax rebate

You don’t need to put your tax rebate into your pension. You’re free to use your rebate as you please - although adding to your pot is a great way to help it grow.

Missed the online tax return date? You can also write to HMRC with details on how much you’ve paid. For more details on this, head to the government’s dedicated page on claiming a tax refund.

The only other thing to be wary of is your annual pension allowance.

What happens if I exceed my pension annual allowance?

Most people are only entitled to claim tax relief on pension contributions up to £40,000 (or 100% of their earnings) each year.

The only exception is the tapered annual allowance, which affects very high earners. If you earn more than £200,000 a year, we recommend visiting the government’s site on calculating tapered annual allowance to avoid any surprise tax charges.

Here’s the main takeaway: if you exceed your annual pension allowance, you may have to pay an extra tax charge.

If you have gone over your annual allowance, it’s your responsibility to let HRMC know.

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