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UK pension refund: can you claim back your pension contributions?

6 mins read
by Lisa-Marie Voneshen
Last updated Tuesday, June 4, 2024

If you contributed to a pension but have changed your mind and want your money back, is this possible? We reveal whether you can get a pension refund. 

In the UK, the auto-enrolment scheme helps people build a pension by requiring all employers to offer a workplace pension scheme, which employees are automatically enrolled in if eligible. 

However, if you opt out, can you get your pension contributions back? We explore what you need to know about UK pension refunds. 

Summary 

  • You may get a pension refund if you request one within a specific time period.

  • However, there’s much to consider before requesting your money back.

  • A financial adviser can offer guidance and advice if you’re considering a refund.  

What is a pension refund?  

A pension refund is when contributions you’ve already made to a specific pension fund are repaid. 

Whether you can get a pension refund depends on your circumstances, as it’s not always possible. 

If you don’t claim a pension refund, your money will remain in your chosen fund until you access it. Currently, people usually access their pension from the age of 55, although this is increasing in the future, so you may need to wait longer.  

Can I get a pension refund? 

You can get a pension refund, but the length of time you have to request one depends on the type of pension you have. 

We’ll run through the different types of pensions and how long you have to request a refund: 

  • Defined contribution pension: If you leave the pension scheme within 30 days of joining, you can request a refund. 

  • Defined benefit or final salary pension: If you decide to leave a defined benefit pension within two years of joining, you can request a refund of your contributions.  

  • Personal, stakeholder or self-invested personal pension (SIPP): You usually have 30 days within signing up to the pension to request a refund. However, it can be longer, so check with your pension provider.  

It’s worth noting that your employer may re-enrol you in a pension every three years if you’re eligible. So, you may need to opt out again within 30 days if you don’t want to contribute to one.  

If your individual contributions exceed over 100% of your earnings, you may be able to ask for an excess contribution lump sum refund.  

You may be able to request a pension refund for the last five years if you have a public pension and are eligible, but you’ll need to talk to your provider.  

A pension refund may affect any benefits when you retire, so it’s worth considering getting expert financial advice before you make a decision. 

Can I get a refund if I have an NHS pension? 

If you have an NHS pension, you can get a refund of your contributions if you leave within two years of joining the scheme and have not yet reached state pension age.  

What if I want a pension refund after the time period ends? 

If you want to leave a pension after the above periods end, you won’t be able to get a refund, so you’ll have to either: 

  • Keep your pension where it is and access it when you retire 

  • Move it to another provider 

You can choose to rejoin a pension scheme in the future, or you may be automatically re-enrolled if you are eligible.  

What should I consider before requesting a pension refund? 

Building a pension can take decades, and withdrawing money can impact how much you have for retirement, so it’s a good idea to think carefully before requesting a pension refund. 

If you’re unsure, you can also consider getting professional financial advice. 

When you get a pension refund, you won’t receive anything paid via salary sacrifice or employer contributions.  

While you may only have a small pension at the beginning of your career, it can snowball into a much bigger point as employer contributions, tax relief, and compound interest can boost it. 

Compound interest, which is the interest you earn on interest, can be particularly effective over a long period in boosting your pension pot. 

The below calculator shows how much your savings can grow thanks to compound interest, but this is not guaranteed as your pension fund's value can rise and fall.

See how your savings can grow with the magic of compound interest
£
£
Contributions frequency
%
Compound frequency
Potential future balance
£1,705
This is the total amount you need to maintain your desired retirement lifestyle.
Total interest earned
£5
Thanks to compound interest you will gain this much. Einstein called compound percentages the 8th wonder of the world.
Total contributions
£1,200
Initial deposit
£500

Some employers may offer to increase their contributions above the minimum required level if you contribute more, helping grow your money even further.  

If you’re worried about the performance of your pension or the impact of fees, you can transfer it to another provider with lower fees or better performance. 

Of course, the past performance of a pension fund is not an indication of future performance; the value can rise and fall. 

Alternatively, if you find tracking many pensions overwhelming, you can consolidate them, but it’s worth understanding the pros and cons first.  

You’ll keep all employer contributions and any growth in your pension when you transfer or consolidate your pot. 

If you want guidance on how to boost your pension, a financial adviser can help by looking at your pension, personal circumstances, and future goals to offer tailored recommendations. 

Unbiased can quickly connect you to a financial adviser regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).  

How long does it take to get a pension refund? 

If you’re eligible for a pension refund, contact your provider to find out how to get your money back. 

You’ll need to fill out any forms (and share these with your employer if necessary) and send them back. 

Your pension contributions can be returned in up to 10 working days, but this can be delayed if more information is required.  

What will I receive as part of my pension refund? 

You should receive the amount you paid into the pension, minus any tax, which is 20% on any amount up to £20,000 and 50% tax for refunds above £20,000. 

There also may be national insurance deductions to your refund.  

If you’ve made any contributions via salary sacrifice and your employer has paid into the pension, you won’t get this back, so you’re essentially missing out on free money.  

You may also lose some money from a personal pension you’ve set up, as the provider may keep some for any investment costs.  

Can I opt back into a pension scheme? 

You can opt back into your workplace pension scheme by writing to your employer. 

It’s worth stressing your employer doesn’t have to re-enrol you as you only have the right to rejoin the scheme once a year. 

You could also be added to a different scheme and your employer doesn’t have to contribute. 

Can I make additional pension contributions? 

If you’ve rejoined a pension scheme and want to maximise contributions beyond your annual allowance and get tax relief, you can carry forward unused allowances from the past three tax years. 

The annual allowance for the 2024/25 tax year is £60,000.  

It’s worth understanding how to use your unused annual allowances, as you can be charged if you exceed your overall allowance, which includes the previous tax years. 

Need financial advice? 

If you need support or guidance with your pension, including how to boost your pot or take advantage of any allowances, a financial adviser can help. 

Unbiased can quickly connect you with a financial adviser regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. 

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Author
Lisa-Marie Voneshen
Lisa-Marie Voneshen is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of experience writing and editing content across various areas, including personal finance and investing.