Saturday, 12 September 2009

New style of pension tax relief

Credit where it's due to the Commission on Taxation for taking a long-term view on reform of pensions legislation, rather than concentrating on how money could be saved in the short term. Many of their proposals on pensions are largely focused on making pension planning more attractive, rather than cutting costs. Given the changing demographics of our country, this is very welcome, especially since short-term cost-cutting might have been an easier sell to the Government in the current climate.

One of their more interesting proposals is that the idea of "tax relief" on pensions should be replaced with a more transparent system, whereby for every €1.60 an individual contributes to a pension plan, the Government adds €1.00. For the first five years, the Government would match contributions €1.00 for €1.00.

This system would deal with the age-old perceived inequality that our current system offers more benefit to higher-rate taxpayers than to those on the lower rate. It is the equivalent of offering 50% tax relief for five years, then 38% relief thereafter. To take an example of a pension plan that exists for 25 years, that's the equivalent of an average rate of tax relief of over 40%. This is lower than what many high rate taxpayers currently enjoy but higher than what low rate taxpayers are currently offered.

Perhaps more importantly, it's simple. The idea of the Government putting money into your pension plan directly somehow sounds more appealing than the current tax relief system, even though tax relief is also the Government adding money to your pension plan - just expressed in a different way.

Let's hope Brian Lenihan pushes this one through. Radical pensions reform can tend to take an age to implement, as I've said before, even though Charlie McCreevy proved that it doesn't have to.

The pensions section of the Commission's report can be read here.

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