HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has paid back more than £33m in overpaid tax to individuals who have withdrawn money from their pensions during the first quarter of 2020.

The tax authority published the data today alongside details on the number of tax repayment forms it processed from January 1 to March 31, 2020.

Almost 10,400 pension flexibility claims forms were processed in the first quarter of 2020 with a total of £32.7m repaid to those who had been charged emergency tax when they withdrew money from their pension pot.

This means the 2019/20 tax year was a record year for emergency tax applied to pension withdrawals, with HMRC repaying £166.6m in total.

Since April 2015, when the freedoms were introduced, savers have reclaimed more than £600m in tax.

Andrew Tully, technical director at Canada Life, said: “Beware of the sting in the tail if you are considering using your pension as a cash machine. Any withdrawals over your 25 per cent tax-free allowance are taxed as income.

“However, HMRC often require the first withdrawal to be taxed at the emergency rate, which normally means too much tax is deducted. This can catch people out, for example those who are planning to use the withdrawal for a specific purpose and haven’t factored in the tax that is due.

“The whole system is complex and there is a clear need to review how it works in practice given we are now five years into the freedoms.”

Under the pension freedom rules people aged 55+ no longer have to purchase an annuity to access their pension income but can instead enter drawdown or take a cash amount.

However, any withdrawals above the 25 per cent tax free amount are taxable at an individual’s marginal rate of income tax.

In some cases, the pension provider will already have a proper tax code for the beneficiary, if the saver has previously withdrawn money from their pension during the tax year.

But where the provider does not have the correct tax code for the individual – which is in the majority of cases – withdrawals are taxed using a higher rate emergency tax code, which routinely results in an excessive tax deduction that has to be reclaimed later.

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