Pension Drawdown in the UK

How Pension Drawdown Works

There are a variety of different options to choose from when considering retirement finance. 

One option that offers a great deal of flexibility is pension drawdown, allowing you to keep your pension pot invested while drawing a regular income. Therefore, offering the potential for continued growth of your pension savings. 

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Understanding Pension Drawdown Basics

Pension drawdown, also known as flexi-access drawdown, is a way of using your pension pot to provide a flexible retirement income. With pension drawdown, you can invest your pension pot in funds designed to provide an income, while leaving the original capital untouched. The performance of these investments will influence the income you receive.

.Unlike other retirement income strategies, pension drawdown offers the flexibility to choose how much income you withdraw from your pension pot each year. This may be particularly beneficial if your personal circumstances are likely to be subject to change, as you have the ability to adjust your income. 

However, depending on the reinvestments, it is possible that your pension value will fluctuate. Therefore, whilst it may increase, it can also go down as well. This is especially true if you withdraw too much money or the stock market performs poorly.

With pension drawdown, like pension annuity, you can take up to 25% of your pension tax-free. This can significantly benefit many individuals, providing a sizable amount of money upfront. You can spend this lump sum, invest it elsewhere, or keep it for future needs. Consequently, you would need to pay tax on the remaining 75%.

Managing a drawdown pension should also be accompanied by careful planning and regular reviews. Therefore, it’s best to keep an eye on your remaining pension pot and the performance of your investments. 

A financial adviser may be a good option when considering this, providing guidance and helping with decisions to enable financial security in retirement. 

Pension Drawdown Rules

There are a few rules to consider with the UK pension drawdown, despite its flexibility.

First, you must be at least 55 years old to access your defined contribution pension pot through drawdown. For defined benefit pensions, the minimum pension age to access benefits is currently 55, yet this is set to rise to 57 from 2028. Alternatively, some older schemes may have a lower pension age written into their rules.

Although there isn’t a cap on the amount you can withdraw from your pension pot each year, it is worth noting that all withdrawals, after the initial 25% that are tax-free, are subject to income tax.

Therefore, it’s important to consider the tax implications when deciding how much income to draw down each year.

Another important rule to note is the money purchase annual allowance (MPAA). This rule applies if you start taking money from your defined contribution pension pot. After removing money from this pot, there is a reduced amount you can contribute to a pension pot and still receive tax relief.

Pension drawdown rules also require your personal pension provider to offer ‘investment pathways for your remaining pension pot when you start a drawdown. These pathways are put in place to help you decide where to invest, based on the aims you have for retirement. 

Types of Pension Drawdowns in the UK

The two main types of pension drawdowns in the UK are flexi-access drawdown and capped drawdown. 

Flexi-access drawdown

The flexi-access drawdown, introduced in 2015, allows you to take a tax free lump sum of up to 25% from your pension pot, with the rest invested. It is then up to you how much you wish to take out each year.

Capped drawdown

Capped drawdown was an older system where there was a limit on withdrawals. Although this option is no longer available to new applicants, those already in capped drawdown are able to switch to flexi-access drawdown. 

This drawdown had a maximum limit on the amount you could withdraw each year. However, if you’re already in a capped drawdown, you are able to switch to a flexi-access drawdown if you wish to.

Short term annuity

There is also the option to use your pension pot to purchase a short-term annuity. This provides a guaranteed income for a set period of time. After the set period ends, you have flexibility on how to use your remaining pension pot.

When you have completed the term, you are able to choose how to use the remainder of your pot This can be done either by a similar pension scheme or another option, such as flexi-access drawdown.

For those with smaller pension pots, there’s the option of a small pot lump sum pension withdrawal.

This allows you to take the whole pot as cash, with 25% being tax-free and the rest subject to income tax. However, this option is only available for pension pots valued at less than £10,000. 

pension drawdown rules

The Process of Initiating a Pension Drawdown 

You will need to contact your pension provider to initiate a pension drawdown. They will guide you through the process, involving confirmation of your decision to drawdown and deciding how much you may want to take as a tax free cash. 

Having made these decisions, your pension provider will set up your pension drawdown. To provide income, your pension pot will then be moved into funds or investments.

You can consequently begin to receive withdrawals, but it is important to remember that any income beyond the 25% tax-free lump sum will be taxed.

Initiating a pension drawdown is not likely to be the only action you need to take throughout the time you are receiving this financial option. You’ll also need to review your drawdown regularly to ensure it continues to meet your needs.

This may involve adjusting your withdrawals or changing your investments as and when your financial needs fluctuate.

It’s also important to consider seeking advice from a financial adviser before initiating a pension drawdown.

This is because they can provide valuable insights into your circumstances, helping you to maximise your pension pot with the security of their informed perspective.

"The most significant advantage pension drawdown provides is the flexibility that it grants. You can choose how much you want to withdraw each year, and you can typically take up to 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum."

Advantages of pension drawdown

The most significant advantage pension drawdown provides is the flexibility that it grants. You can choose how much you want to withdraw each year, and you can typically take up to 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum.

Another advantage is the potential for continued growth of your pension pot, rather than a gradual decline that some options offer. Because your pot remains invested, there’s the potential for your money to grow. 

Conversely, it is important to note that this potential applies in the opposite direction. Therefore, there is a risk that your pot could decrease in value if your investments perform poorly.

how does pension drawdown work

Here is a comprehensive list of pros of income drawdown.

1. Flexibility in Withdrawals

Pension drawdown allows retirees to take out money as and when they need it, offering more control over their income.  

2. Potential for Growth

Because your funds remain invested, there’s a possibility for investment growth, which can increase the pension pot over time.  

3. No Annuity Purchase Required

Instead of buying an annuity which offers a fixed income, pension drawdown provides more flexibility in investment decisions and potential returns.

4. Choose Your Investment Strategy

You have the freedom to decide how and where your pension pot is invested, meaning that you can tailor it to your personal risk appetite and financial goals.

5. Pass on Your Wealth

Upon death, any remaining funds in a drawdown pension can be passed on to your beneficiaries, often in a tax efficient manner.

6. Varying Income

You can adjust the amount you withdraw each year, allowing for changes in personal circumstances or market conditions.

7. Transparency and Control

When it comes to drawdown, retirees often have more visibility and say over where their money is invested, facilitating informed decisions.

8. Tax Planning

It also offers the opportunity to manage tax more efficiently by taking out money in a manner that minimises tax liabilities.

9. No Upper Limit on Withdrawals

While there’s a risk of depleting funds too quickly, there’s actually no cap on the amount you can draw in a given year.

10. Potential for More Favourable Death Benefits

Depending on age and circumstances, death benefits from a drawdown can be more favourable than those from an annuity.

how does drawdown work

Disadvantages of Pension Drawdown

One disadvantage of pension drawdown is that it needs to be managed and maintained. This means that you’ll need to review your individual pension pot and your investments regularly. Calculating how long your money will last can also be challenging, especially if you live longer than expected.

Here is a list of the downsides of pension drawdown.

Certainly! Here are some of the disadvantages of pension drawdown, accompanied by brief explanations for each:

1. Investment Risks

Your pension pot remains invested, meaning its value can go down as well as up. So there are no guarantees that it will always be worth more.

2. Depleting Funds

There’s a risk of running out of money prematurely if too much is withdrawn too quickly or if investment returns are poor.

3. Complexity

Managing a drawdown pension requires regular reviews and adjustments to how things are invested and taken out, making it more complex than some other retirement options like annuities.

4. Potential for High Charges

Depending on the platform and adviser used, fees and charges might be higher compared to purchasing an annuity.

5. No Guaranteed Income

Unlike pension annuities, which can offer a fixed income for life, drawdown doesn’t provide any income guarantees.

6. Tax Implications

Large withdrawals can push you into a higher tax bracket, resulting in higher income tax liabilities.

7. Requires Active Management

To maximise potential benefits and mitigate risks, pension drawdown often requires ongoing management and financial advice. This can lead to additional financial advisor costs. 

8. Market Volatility

In unstable market conditions, there’s a potential to suffer losses, which might reduce the available pension pot for future withdrawals.

9. Inflation Risk

If withdrawals don’t keep pace with inflation, the real value of the pension income might decrease over time.

10. Longevity Risk

If you live longer than anticipated, there’s a chance you outlive your savings, especially if the drawdown strategy doesn’t account for this.

While pension drawdown offers flexibility and potential growth opportunities, it also comes with inherent risks. It’s essential to understand these risks and consult with a financial adviser to determine if it’s the right option for your retirement needs.

Key Factors Influencing Pension Drawdown Decisions

Several key factors must be considered when deciding whether to choose pension drawdown. These include your financial needs, the amount of income you’ll need each year, and if this may change over your lifetime.

Perhaps most importantly when considering pension drawdown is your attitude to risk, the process involving investment risk. The way that income drawdown works means that if investments don’t perform well, your pot could decrease in value. This isn’t for everyone, and you should consider whether you’re comfortable with this risk.

It is also important to factor in your health and life expectancy. For those in poor health or with shorter life expectancy, annuities which provide guaranteed lifetime income may be more suitable than drawdown.

Lastly, consider your financial knowledge and experience. Managing a drawdown pension can be complex, meaning it helps to understand investment and tax rules well. If managing this seems like it would be out of your comfort zone, it may be worth seeking advice from a financial adviser.

draw down pension

Tax Implications of Pension Drawdowns

When you start pension drawdown, you can take up to 25% of your pension pot tax-free as a lump sum. The remaining 75% stays invested in your pension fund. Any withdrawals from this remaining 75% are added to your taxable income for the year and taxed at your marginal income tax rate.


The income tax rate which you pay on pension drawdown depends on your total taxable income for the year. The UK has basic rate, higher rate, and additional rate income tax bands. Those with higher overall income pay more tax. This makes it necessary to plan drawdowns carefully, as large pension withdrawals may push you into a higher band.

As previously mentioned, the money purchase annual allowance (MPAA) also influences the tax you pay. Once you start a pension drawdown, the amount you can contribute to a pension pot and still get tax relief is reduced. This holds the potential to affect the amount you can save in your pension pot in the future.

Pension Drawdown versus Annuity Comparison

When deciding how to use your pension pot, comparing pension drawdown with buying an annuity is helpful. Whilst an annuity provides a guaranteed income for the rest of your life, a drawdown pension provides a flexible income that could change over time.

One of the biggest differences between an annuity and drawdown is the level of risk involved.

With an annuity, your income is guaranteed. The income you receive each year remains the same, regardless of what happens to the stock market. Alternatively, with pension drawdown, your income isn’t guaranteed. This is because it is subject to the changing performance of your investments.

On the contrary, pension drawdown offers greater flexibility than annuity. For instance, you can decide how much income to take each year and adapt your investments as you wish. With an annuity, your income is fixed and you can’t change your mind once you’ve bought it.

It is important to remember that there is an added responsibility that comes with this flexibility and risk. With pension drawdown, you must manage your pension pot and make investment decisions. An annuity might be a better option if you’d prefer not to spend the time managing this.

Managing Risks in Pension Drawdown

There are several risks associated with pension drawdown, including investment risk, longevity risk and inflation. Investment risk is the risk your pension pot is subject to as a result of it remaining invested. If investments perform well, their value will increase. Alternatively, if they perform poorly, your pot could decrease in value and you might need to increase your finances for the rest of your retirement.

Longevity risk is the risk of outliving your money. If your life-expectancy is longer than you have planned for, it is possible that you could run out of money. To manage this risk, it’s important to carefully plan and regularly review your withdrawals and take out only a little too soon.

Inflation is another risk to consider. Over time, inflation can reduce the buying power of your money. To manage this risk, you might need to increase your withdrawals over time which will maintain your standard of living.

There is also the risk of making poor decisions whilst managing your pension drawdown. Managing a pension drawdown can be complicated, making it possible to make mistakes. For security it may be worth considering seeking financial advice.

Producing a well-diversified investment portfolio is also essential, helping you to manage risks and limit exposure to market volatility.

When managing a drawdown pension, Seeking ongoing professional financial advice can prove invaluable. They are able to offer expert guidance on risks and investments.

 To help to manage these risks, the FCA requires drawdown providers to offer investment pathways. These are targeted investment strategies based on objectives such as drawing income, keeping money growing, or paying for later life care costs.

Impact of Market Volatility on Pension Drawdown

Market volatility can have a significant impact on pension drawdown. As a result of the ever fluctuating stock market, it is important to have a diversified portfolio. By spreading your investments across a range of assets, you can reduce the risk of your pot decreasing in value. Although this doesn’t eliminate risk completely, it will minimise it. 

It’s also worth regularly reviewing your pension drawdown. This will allow you to monitor the performance of your investments, making changes if necessary.

Although market volatility may have an impact on drawdown pensions, choosing to avoid investing altogether also carries risks. Despite volatility, long-term returns from investing historically exceed cash interest.

Options for Reinvesting Pension Drawdown Amounts

If you choose pension drawdown, you’ll have several options for reinvesting your pension pot. One option is to invest in a mix of shares, bonds, and cash. This could provide a balance of growth potential and stability.

Another option is to invest in a fund that matches your risk tolerance and investment goals. Many different types of funds are available, including equity, bond, and balanced funds.

You could also choose to invest in property. This could be through buying property directly or investing in a property fund. However, remember that property can be risky, and it’s only suitable for some.

Although keeping some cash can provide security for unexpected costs, it is also worth noting that it lacks growth potential and is subject to inflation erosion.

Understanding Drawdown Pension Charges

If you choose pension drawdown, there are certain charges involved which are important to understand. These drawdown charges can reduce the value of your pension pot over time.

Drawdown pensions typically involve an annual management charge, which is taken by your provider for the ongoing management and administration. The amount of this annual charge can vary significantly between providers.

Although charges typically vary among providers, all include an annual management charge. This is charged by your provider as payment for the management of your investments per annum.

The drawdown charges do vary between providers. Whilst some charge a flat fee, others may calculate a fee using a percentage of your pension pot. 

Consequently, it’s essential to consider these charges when estimating your future income from pension drawdown. 

Additionally, some providers may levy charges for withdrawing money from your pension pot or for certain transactions. It is best to discuss these charges with your current pension provider, before deciding to get a full idea of the costs involved.

Drawdown pension charges can vary between providers. Some may offer discounts for larger pots or certain investment choices. It’s important to compare charges from different providers before deciding where to set up your drawdown. Lower fees will mean more of your pension money remains invested for potential growth.

Furthermore, lower charges increase the chances of long-term growth. This makes it necessary to compare fees from different providers when setting up drawdown.

Navigating Pension Drawdown Tax Rules 

The tax of which the 75% remaining after the 25% tax-free amount is subject to is calculated based on your total gross income for the tax year. This includes your pension, wages, and other income. 

The rate of tax you pay will depend on your income tax band. In the UK, the three income tax bands are basic rate, higher rate, and additional rate. The more income you have, the higher the rate of tax you’ll pay. This is worth considering when planning your withdrawals for your pension plan.

Pension Drawdown Withdrawal Allowances

With a flexi-access drawdown, there is no limit on how much you can withdraw each year. You can take as much or as little as you need.

The key thing to remember is that only 25% of your total pension pot can be taken tax-free. Any withdrawals above that 25% will be added to your taxable income for the year and subject to income tax.

Using Pension Wise for Retirement Planning 

Pension Wise is a free and impartial service offered by the government to help you to understand your options for using your pension pot. Like the option of a financial adviser, this service could be beneficial if you are considering pension drawdown.

Pension Wise can offer guidance on the tax implications of pension drawdown, helping you to understand the pension drawdown tax rules. Furthermore, they can explain how pension drawdown works, how you can take your tax-free lump sum, and how your remaining money will be invested.

Alternatively, Pension Wise does not offer personalised advice. After utilising Pension Wise for general guidance, seeking financial advice may be helpful.

The Role of Financial Advisers in Pension Drawdown

A financial adviser may be an ideal option to consider when managing your pension drawdown. They can provide personalised advice based on your circumstances, helping you to make the most of your pension pot and to understand different pension schemes.

Financial advisers can help you to understand the rules surrounding pension drawdown, whilst also helping you to make informed decisions. They can advise you on how much income you could draw each year, taking into consideration factors like your other income, tax position, and lifespan. 

An adviser can also help you to  manage the investment of your remaining pension pot, offering guidance on the ideal level of risk based on your circumstances and goals. Although their advice can be very valuable, services usually come at a cost so this is something to consider when evaluating different pension drawdown options.


1. What does the term ‘25% tax free’ mean in relation to pension drawdown?

The term ‘25% tax free’ refers to the amount you can take from your pension pot tax-free when you reach the age of 55. Under the current pension drawdown rules, you can take 25% of your pension savings tax free. Consequently, you won’t have to pay any tax on this amount, regardless of your other income.

The remaining 75% of your pension pot is then usually placed into a drawdown fund, where it can be invested and grow tax-free. You can then take regular withdrawals from this fund, subject to income tax. It’s important to note that how much tax you pay will depend on your total income for the tax year.

2. How does a flexi-access drawdown work?

A flexi-access drawdown is a type of pension drawdown which, as the name suggests, provides a great deal of flexibility. When you go into a flexi-access drawdown, you can take up to 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum. The rest of your pension pot is then invested, drawing income as you choose. Therefore, the money invested in a flexi-access drawdown remains in your pension fund and continues to increase tax-free. 

3. Can I use a pension drawdown calculator to estimate my retirement income?

Yes, a pension drawdown calculator can be a useful tool to estimate your retirement income. These calculators can consider factors such as the size of your pension pot, age, desired retirement income, and the performance of your investments. 

By inputting these details, a pension drawdown calculator can estimate how long your pension money might last. Additionally, it can show you the potential impact of different withdrawal and investment growth rates. However, it’s important to remember that these calculators provide estimates and the results may vary.

4. Can I continue to make regular withdrawals from my drawdown pot even after I start receiving state benefits?

Yes, you can continue making regular withdrawals from your drawdown pot even after receiving state benefits. The thing to consider here is how much tax these withdrawals may be subject to, and how they may affect your tax rate and the amount of tax you pay.

It’s also worth noting that regular withdrawals from your drawdown pot, and the increased income you receive, could potentially impact your eligibility for certain means-tested state benefits. When planning your retirement finances and making regular withdrawals from your drawdown pot, it may be a good idea to seek advice from a financial adviser or a service like Pension Wise.

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With a keen analytical mind and an ability to break down complex topics, William delivers content that is both deeply informative and accessible. His dual expertise in finance and health allows him to provide a holistic perspective on topics, bridging the gap between numbers and wellbeing. As a trusted voice on the UK Care Guide site, William’s articles not only educate but inspire readers to make informed decisions in both their financial and health journeys. 

Review of Article

This article has been reviewed by Saq Hussain, who is a pension and financial expert, with over 25 years experience of the financial services industry. Saq has regualrly featured in the UK press commentating on financial and specifically pension and retirement related issues. 

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