Can I join my workplace pension scheme if I’m on a low salary?

If you’re employed, your employer will usually automatically enroll you into a company pension scheme, into which both they and you must contribute.

However, if you earn less than £10,000 a year, perhaps because you work part-time, you won’t be automatically enrolled into your workplace pension by your employer. This threshold figure applies to each job you do, not the total amount you earn each year.

So, if you do two or more part time jobs, you might earn more than £10,000 in a year, but if you earn less than £10,000 from each of your jobs, you wouldn’t qualify to be automatically enrolled into either of your employers’ workplace pension schemes.

The good news is that you can still join your employer’s pension scheme if you earn less than £10,000. Here, we explain how auto-enrolment rules work and how to go about joining your company scheme if you’re on a low salary.

Auto-enrolment rules explained

Under current rules, anyone aged 22 or over earning a minimum of £10,000 from a single job is eligible for auto-enrolment. You can choose to opt out if you want to, but it’s not usually recommended unless there are exceptional circumstances, for example, you need to pay back expensive debts first or because you have already started taking your pension and triggered the Money Purchase Annual Allowance which limits your annual pension contributions.

If you’ve been auto-enrolled into your employer’s workplace pension scheme, under current minimum contribution limits, you’ll be paying in 5% of your salary before tax (of which 1% is tax relief), whilst your employer will pay in 3%, bringing the total contribution to 8%. Your payslip should show any pension contributions that are deducted each month and if you’re not sure whether you’ve been auto-enrolled, check with your employer.

It’s important to note that these auto-enrollment contributions only have to be paid on ‘qualifying earnings’ of between £6,240 and £50,270 in the 2021/22 tax year. So for those earning low salaries, or indeed very high salaries, the effective contribution may be significantly lower than the headline percentage figures of 3% from the employer and 5% from your own contributions. If in doubt, speak to your employer to understand how your particular workplace pension scheme works.

Some employers will pay in more than the minimum contribution, and you can pay in extra if you want to. You are also able to make additional one off voluntary contributions into a workplace pension at any time and still receive any tax relief eligible to you.

Your options if your earnings are below the auto-enrolment threshold

If your earnings are below the £10,000 auto-enrolment threshold, you can still ask your employer if you can join your company scheme and they can’t refuse. However, bear in mind that if you earn less than £520 a month, or £120 a week, your employer doesn’t have to contribute to your pension, although you’ll still benefit from tax relief on your contributions. You can learn more about this in our article How pension tax relief works.

Even if your employer contributes into a workplace pension on your behalf, you are still able to take out a private pension on your own to supplement your pension – providing you stay within your annual contribution allowances. If you’re self-employed and therefore don’t have access to a company scheme, again you can take out a private pension to save for retirement. Find out more about the different types of pension that are available in our article Self-employed? Your pension options explained. You can read more about annual contribution allowances in our article Understanding your pension allowances.

Have you asked to join your company pension scheme because your salary meant you weren’t automatically enrolled? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can get in touch on the Rest Less Community forum or post a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, VouchedFor is offering Rest Less members a free pension check with a local advisor. There’s no obligation but once you’ve had your review, the advisor will discuss the potential for an ongoing paid relationship if you think it might be useful to you.

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