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Wealthy workers to cash in on pension tax break

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

A leading think tank has warned that pension tax breaks will help highly-paid bankers, as well as doctors.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in the Spring Budget last week that the pension lifetime allowance of £1m will be abolished.

Both Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claim that scrapping the tax-free lifetime allowance on pensions will encourage more doctors to stay in employment rather than taking retirement and, in turn, cut NHS waiting lists.

But the Resolution Foundation think tank said other measures to retain NHS staff could have offered better value for money.

Speaking at a Treasury committee meeting yesterday, Resolution Foundation chief executive Torsten Bell said that the tax break would “benefit almost as many bankers as doctors”.

Regarding who would benefit from the rule change, Bell told MPs: “We do not have the exact numbers by occupation, because HMRC does not tell us exactly who is paying the lifetime allowance charge when they exit. We can step back and use what we know from the wealth and asset survey about who has the highest pensions.

“That is calculated on a different basis from a tax basis, but let us look at who has million-pound pensions in that data set. Yes, it is lots of doctors. About a quarter of them are doctors or other senior, high-paid medical staff, but 20% work in the financial services sector. There are nearly as many bankers in the group as doctors.”

Bell said he thought the Chancellor had been motivated by solving a genuine problem with NHS retention, but that alternative measures could have offered better value for money.

He added: “It’s been done for a good reason. There isn’t a perfect answer. But the HR answer may have been cheaper and easier than the tax answer.”

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, more than half of non-retired people with a pension pot worth more than £1m are in the private sector.

But Sunak has stood by the decision. In an interview with BBC Breakfast on Tuesday he said: “This is about cutting waiting lists. We need our best doctors, our experienced doctors, we need them working, and they want to work, they want to help get the waiting lists down, they want to work longer hours, they don’t want to retire. And because of the pension regime, they were stopped from doing that, it was preventing them from doing that.

“And I want to get the waiting list down and that’s why we’ve made the change that we’ve made, and it’s going to benefit everyone to get healthcare quicker.”

Related: Spring Budget 2023: All the key announcements at a glance