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Since 27 March 2013 members of pension schemes have been able to avail of a once-off early access option to additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) which they have made to their pension scheme. This option is provided for under section 782A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (the 1997 Act) and allows members to withdraw up to a maximum of 30% of their AVC fund prior to retirement.

When the legislation was first introduced last year it was unclear whether it overrode the express provisions of a pension scheme’s trust deed and rules and, in particular, whether an amendment to a scheme’s trust deed and rules would be required before an individual could avail of such an option. While the Department of Finance clarified that the intention of the legislation was to permit trustees to act on an instruction from members without an amendment to the rules, it acknowledged that trustees would need to take their own legal advice and indicated that if the issue caused real uncertainty it would consider including an amendment to section 782A of the 1997 Act in the next Finance Bill.

The Department has now, by virtue of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2013, amended section 782A of the 1997 Act. This amendment is intended to allow a member avail of the early access option notwithstanding anything contained in the rules of a scheme. This amendment reinforces the legislative intent to allow trustees to act on an instruction without an amendment to the trust deed and rules. However, it does not address all legal issues arising for trustees when making a payment on foot of an instruction under section 782A.

In particular, the amendment to the legislation does not provide trustees of pension schemes with a discharge in respect of any AVCs withdrawn nor does it prescribe the form of instruction required.  In such circumstances, it may remain prudent for trustees to consider an amendment to the governing provisions of their scheme to deal with such issues where members are exercising their option to avail of early access to AVCs on foot of section 782A.

The Finance (No. 2) Act 2013 also made a number of other changes relevant to pension provision.  These include:

  1. A reduction in the Standard Fund Threshold (SFT) to €2 million with effect from 1 January 2014.  Individuals with pension entitlements in excess of €2 million on that date may be able to claim a Personal Fund Threshold (PFT) up to the previous SFT of €2.3 million.  The time limit for making an application for a PFT is within 12 months from the date on which the Revenue’s new electronic system is made available or before the first benefit crystallisation event occurs after 1 January 2014, whichever is earlier. The reduction in the SFT will also increase the tax on retirement lump sums in excess of €500,000.
  2. Changes to the valuation factor used to value defined benefit entitlements. The new factors vary depending on the age of the individual when the pension is drawn down.
  3. Changes to the pension levy. The current 0.6% pension levy will not remain after 31 December 2014.  However, a new levy at the rate of 0.15% has been introduced with effect from 1 January 2014 resulting in a total levy of 0.75% for 2014 reducing to 0.15% for 2015. This is currently intended to remain in place until 31 December 2015.