Can you pay into someone else’s pension - and how much can you pay?

Three-quarters of savers are unaware that they can pay money into someone else’s pension. But contributing to a loved one’s nest egg can be a sound financial decision. We explain the rules.

A jar of coins labelled pension
Contributing to a pension for a child or low-earning spouse could be a wise financial decision
(Image credit: © Getty Images)

Three-quarters of savers are unaware that they can pay money into someone else’s pension, according to new research.

Contributing to a loved one’s pension can help reduce the gender pensions gap and provide a loved one with a more comfortable retirement.

Couples, friends and relatives can pay into each other’s pension pots, while parents and grandparents may like to contribute to a child’s pension.

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The survey by Nucleus, a financial adviser platform group, found that 76% of adults were unaware of the possibility of paying into someone else’s pension. Of those, 21% were inclined to add to another person’s pension instead of or in addition to their own.

Compound interest and tax relief can turbo-charge even small contributions made into a friend or relative’s pension pot. For example, five payments of £2,880 could provide that person with an extra £61,000 at age 67.

We look at how the rules work in terms of adding to someone’s pension, and how the contributions can add up over time.

Why contribute to someone else’s pension?

Paying money into someone else’s pension is known as a “third-party contribution”. They can be a useful financial planning tool, particularly if that person has not managed to build up much retirement savings themselves.

This could be because they have taken a career break, such as to raise young children or care for elderly relatives.

Laura Barnes, director of business development at Nucleus, says third-party contributions appear to be a “closely guarded secret” due to so many people not knowing about them.

She comments: “Generally speaking, a greater number of women could see their retirement prospects improve if the family unit considers third-party contributions. Often caring roles have fallen to women in the past and this has impacted their earning power either because of working part-time or giving up work entirely.

“If these women were to receive pension contributions from a partner it could go some way to reduce the gender pensions gap, which currently stands at 35%.”

The research found that 24% of men who did not know about third-party contributions said they would consider making them, compared to 19% for women.

Parents and guardians can also set up a pension for a child to give them a head-start for saving for their future. Other family members, such as grandparents and aunts and uncles, can contribute once the pension is open.

Mark Barlow, chartered team member at Equilibrium Financial Planning, comments: “Whilst planning for your children’s retirement may seem like an unnatural move, they are effectively a long-term savings plan. 

“Considering young people believe that they will never be financially secure, the significant tax advantages provided by pensions could minimise financial pressures by enabling them to focus on their immediate challenges, rather than struggling to acquire additional savings for the future.“

Separate research by Bestinvest reveals that paying the maximum amount into a pension and also a junior ISA for a child from when they’re a newborn baby until age 18 could turn the child into a millionaire before they hit 40.

As well as boosting a loved one’s retirement nest egg, gifting money into someone’s pension could help reduce a potential inheritance tax liability.

We have more information about parents and grandparents gifting money in a tax-efficient way in 4 tax tips for the Bank of Mum and Dad for the new tax year.

How much can I contribute to someone’s pension?

The rules allow for up to £2,880 per tax year to be paid into a pension of a non-earning person. Tax relief of 20% tops up the amount to £3,600.

So, this amount could be added to a child’s pension, or a non-working spouse, for example.

Pension contributions can also be made if the partner is working, providing the amount remains below their annual pension allowance.

This is £60,000 for the current tax year. However, very high earners have a smaller annual allowance. 

The tax relief is based on the recipient’s tax position, rather than the person contributing to the pot. 

Make sure you’re aware of anyone else paying into the pension so you can maximise the tax relief and you don’t accidentally breach the allowance.

Normally it’s not possible to open a pension scheme for someone else - the other person will need to open it themselves. Once open, you can contribute. 

However, with children’s pensions, the legal guardian sets up the scheme, rather than the child.

How much could I boost someone’s pension by? 

Third-party contributions can be made in different ways. You may like to pay in a lump sum, for instance, or set up a regular monthly payment of say £100.

If no-one else is paying into the pension - perhaps it’s your wife’s pension and she’s not working, or a grandchild’s pension - you could try and aim to pay in the full amount of £2,880 each tax year, if you have enough cash.

If you did this for five years in a row, making five payments of £3,600 (including tax relief) into someone’s pension from age 35, this would provide them with an additional fund of approximately £61,000 at age 67, according to Nucleus.

This assumes growth of 4% a year net of charges. Taken as an annuity, this could look like an extra £4,000 for life in retirement.

So, an additional £61,000 at retirement (or £4,000 a year) would have cost the person contributing to the pension just £14,400.

As Barnes puts it: "Shouting more loudly about third-party contributions could be a step in the right direction.

“There’s work to be done to increase awareness and to make this secret common knowledge.”

Ruth Emery
Contributing editor

Ruth is an award-winning financial journalist with more than 15 years' experience of working on national newspapers, websites and specialist magazines.

She is passionate about helping people feel more confident about their finances. She was previously editor of Times Money Mentor, and prior to that was deputy Money editor at The Sunday Times. 

A multi-award winning journalist, Ruth started her career on a pensions magazine at the FT Group, and has also worked at Money Observer and Money Advice Service. 

Outside of work, she is a mum to two young children, while also serving as a magistrate and an NHS volunteer.