How to reclaim tax on pension withdrawals

23 May 2017

Have you taken money out of your pension? If so, it’s important to check that you haven’t paid more tax than you need to and take action to reclaim your cash. One of the biggest attractions of the pensions freedoms is the ability to make lump sum withdrawals once you turn 55. You can use this money as you wish, whether you plan to blow it on a cruise, pay off your mortgage, invest it in a new business or simply help out your family.

However, the taxation of such withdrawals (snappily entitled uncrystalised pension fund lump sums or UPFLS), which are made before you start taking regular income from your pot or buy an annuity, is far from straightforward.


Although no tax is payable on the first 25% of any withdrawal (because you can take 25% of your savings tax free), the remaining 75% will be added to your income for the year and taxed at your marginal rate, that is the highest rate of tax that you pay. If your withdrawal is large, it may even be enough to put you into a higher-rate tax bracket.

For many over 55s – particularly those who pay the higher rate of tax – this is enough to put them off accessing their pension before they retire. However, for those who do proceed there is a further sting in the tail and that is the application of emergency tax.

What is emergency tax?

Emergency tax is applied when HMRC doesn’t have enough information about your income to use an accurate tax code and it will usually be applied until it has up to date details.

You might have previously paid emergency tax when you started your first job, got a company car or re-entered PAYE after a period of self-employment.

Click the table to enlarge.


It is also highly likely to be charged when you make your first withdrawal from your pension because your pension provider will not have an up-to-date tax code for you.


“The reason the government has to apply emergency tax is because when people come to take money out of their pension, their provider has no means of knowing what their income for the year is,” explains Richard Parkin, head of pensions policy at Fidelity International.

In such cases, emergency tax is charged on what is known as a ‘month 1 basis’. This means that even though your withdrawal is highly likely to be a one-off, it will be treated by HMRC as if it is the first of a series of monthly withdrawals and taxed as such. The tax you end up paying is therefore based on you withdrawing more than may actually be the case.

Self-invested personal pension (Sipp) provider AJ Bell gives the example of an investor who – trying to keep their withdrawal under this tax year’s £11,500 personal allowance – takes a lump sum of £10,000 out of their pension. Although our investor might believe no tax will be payable, they could end up paying as much as £3,099 in tax and getting a payout of just £6,901.

This is because the withdrawal would be regarded by HMRC as being the first of 12 monthly withdrawals and taxed on the assumption that you will take out £120,000 over that year.

This means that if there is a specific sum you need to raise from your pension, you may need to make a greater withdrawal than you planned to cover the cost of emergency tax.

How can I get my money back?

The good news is that if the application of emergency tax means you do end up over paying tax, you are entitled to get your money back. The bad news is that if you want to get your hands on it anytime soon, you’ll have to be proactive and apply for a refund.


Guidance from HMRC says that if people don’t apply for refunds, it “will reconcile their account and make any repayment owed as part of its normal PAYE process”.

However, it is not yet proven how quick and efficient this process is – particularly for those who aren’t working, paying tax or completing an annual tax return. When Moneywise asked HMRC how long this process would take it was not able to give us an answer.

Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, says: “Just trusting HMRC to sort it out at some unknown point in future is unlikely to be something most people are comfortable with – it’s their money.”

Mr Parkin adds: “You’ll get your money back much faster if you fi ll out the forms – so that’s what we always encourage our customers to do.”

You can download the necessary form from But make sure you use the right form for your circumstances. Use form:

P50Z – if you have emptied your pension and have no other income in that tax year.

P53Z – if you have emptied your pension but have other taxable income.

P55 – if you haven’t used up your pension and you won’t be taking regular payments.

If you haven’t used up your pension but you do plan to take further regular payments, any mistake should quickly be corrected through PAYE.

Click the image to enlarge.

HMRC says that once it has received your completed forms, it will repay any money owed within 30 days.

Mr Selby adds: “How much you get back will depend on your income. It will be recalibrated to take the tax you should have paid into account.”

Can I avoid emergency tax?

HMRC confirmed that the best way to avoid paying emergency tax is to supply your pension provider with your P45.

Mr Parkin says: “If someone has their P45, we would, of course, urge them to provide us with it in order to prevent a costly emergency tax situation. However, there is an important thing to bear in mind: most people accessing their cash won’t have one as they haven’t stopped working and you only get a P45 when you leave your job. It’s therefore highly likely that most people won’t have anything current to provide, so it’s important that people know they could be incurring a tax bill and inform HMRC promptly.”

Yet while HMRC has processes in place to quickly refund victims of emergency tax, once they have been notified (with the aforementioned forms), many over 55s will understandably be frustrated that they have to shell out in the first place.


Mr Selby says: “A better method would be if HMRC just treated each individual withdrawal and tax it on a 12-month basis, that is as a single withdrawal and tax it accordingly.

“I’m not sure why HMRC is doing this – it feels so heavy handed, like people are punished for doing something they are being encouraged to do as part of the pension freedoms. It causes unnecessary pain and annoyance.”

Top Tip 1: A number of companies including Aviva, Hargreaves Lansdown, and Scottish Widows offer calculators on their websites that can give you an indication of the amount of emergency tax you’re likely to pay, based on the withdrawal you plan to make.

Top Tip 2: Check your tax code. If you think you have paid too much tax on a pension withdrawal, it’s worth checking the tax code on the paperwork you were sent when you received the money. If your withdrawal was taxed on a month 1 basis, you will see the code 1150L for the current tax year (2017/18). For the 2016/17 year, the code would have been 1100L and 1060L for the 2015/16 tax year.

“Tens of thousands of people will have paid too much tax”

AJ Bell reckons that tens of thousands of people who have accessed their pensions since the pension freedoms will have been stung by emergency tax, yet the latest data available suggests that few are actively reclaiming their cash.

Figures from the Financial Conduct Authority show that since April 2015, an average of 139,000 pensions have been accessed for the first time every quarter – the vast majority of which will have been taxed on the punitive ‘month 1’ basis. However, figures from HMRC show that during 2016, it only received an average of 10,998 claims for overpaid tax in each quarter.


Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, says: “HMRC’s insistence that an emergency tax code must be applied to pension freedom withdrawals means tens of thousands of people will have paid too much tax on their withdrawals yet very few of them have reclaimed this tax. This might be because they don’t know they have paid too much tax or the process to reclaim it just seemed too complicated.‑Whatever the reason, there are likely to be millions of pounds sitting with HMRC that could be legitimately reclaimed.”

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have been taxed twice on my drawdown payment . firstly I paid tax at source with the pension company at .20p so draw 10.000 and paid 2000 tax then the tax man has added this 10000 to my total eurnings and are now saying I owe them 1249 pound . so I have paid 40% tax on this

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have just withdrawn £15000 AND £6000 went on tax ,Why the pension providers do not tell us this is collusion with the government to gain easy funds . I am with standard life and they are useless .

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Applied for may tax back 16months ago still not recived .

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi. I did a lump sum withdrawal and began the process on my 55th Birthday in Nov 2017. I didn't work then until July of this year, meaning I had no earnings until then, as I am self employed. Which would be the appropriate form for me to complete to enquire about a tax rebate/refund? Thanks

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

HiAfter my tax free 25% I had 100,000 left in my pot. Hmrc took 44,000 and refunded me 1900.I still think this is a bit excessive I earn 28000 a year will I be due anything else backThanks derek

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have 3 small pension pots all under 10k and not totalling more than 30k now I am disabled and just been advised I have bladder cancer I am thus a non tax payer and not recieved tax free amount so am guessing their is no tax to pay on these pension potsI want to draw them in to help with additional costs of cancer and make my life as comfortable as possible

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

HelloI claimed 25% of a private pension back in 2015 and expected it to be tax free however ended up paying tax on it. The TAS have stated that the pension provider made the payment via the uncrystallised route and not the drawn down route hence paying the tax and it was only recent that this came to light. I have been told to contact the pension provider stating that it was what I believed would be happening, but would it be better writing to the tax office requesting a refund.Many Thanks

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I am looking at early retirement in June 2018 I will be 60 in August I will have 2 small pensions one at £2143 before tax and one at £3002 per year before which will start at the end of JuneThen at the end of August when I turn 60 I will have a army pension of £3042 I will have no other income will I have to pay emergency tax and if so can I claim it back ?

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Had full cash withdrawal 8weeks a go from Scottish widows but not received p45 kind regards Paul lee

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have cashed in 3 pensions. One in each tax year and paid emergency tax on them all. I claimed it back and got it back within 8 weeks. Beware of ringing up to check the progress because Hmrc take your correspondence out of the "system" to check it up , give you the answer and put it at the back of the queue! Hence you will wait longer. The last 1 took only five weeks and I got the money before the calculation. ! It's easy and just read up on your allowances etc.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi, thanks for your question. Many providers won't be used to customers supplying them with P45s - it's not the norm and therefore I suspect some will be more geared up to deal with them than others. I can try however and get an explanation from Royal London.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Thanks for your question - I don't think supplying your pension provider with your P45 is a 'standard process' therefore it may be that some providers are more geared up to deal with them than others. However I can contact Royal London to get an explanation!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My pension provider royal london says they can't accept my very recent p45 as it's not there policy to hold on to client p45 details so that will tax me at the emergency rate can they do this

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi, your artical concerning "can i avoid paying emergency tax" on cash lump sums from my pension pot, by providing my pension provider with my P45 is not accepted by Friends Life and hence they will apply the emergancy tax code.

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