Pension levy pay cut will be closer to 4-5% after tax relief


ANALYSIS:The impact of tax relief means that those on higher incomes in the public service will, in percentage terms, suffer a smaller hit to their incomes than their lower-paid colleagues, writes Dominic Coyle

WHEN PUBLIC service workers open their pay slips next month, they will notice a drop in their take-home pay as the pension levy announced this week by the Government kicks in.

The actual impact will depend on their current pay. They will also benefit from tax relief on the sum deducted towards their pensions.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the levy would take 3 per cent from the first €15,000 earned in a year.

Above that level, 6 per cent will be deducted on earnings between €15,001 and €20,000. On anything higher, 10 per cent will be taken.

The levy will take into account total earnings, not just salary. In that, it will operate in the same way as the income levy introduced by the Minister for Finance in the last budget.

That means overtime payments, which do not count when calculating pension entitlement, will be included when applying the levy.

However, the impact on take-home pay will be reduced because workers will receive tax relief on the amount deducted in the pension levy. Income tax, PRSI and the health levy will only be assessed on the amount of pay left after the levy has been deducted.

That will hit the Government coffers which are likely to receive closer to €900 million as a result of the levy.

For those earning above the marginal tax threshold – €36,000 for single people and €45,400 for married workers bringing in the only family income – tax relief means they will no longer be taxed at 41 per cent on the portion of their income taken in the Government pension levy.

The Department of Finance says average earnings in the public service amount to €50,000. At that point, the levy will amount to €3,750, or 7.5 per cent of earnings.

But that will be offset by the tax relief. Precisely how much tax will be paid depends on whether people are single or married with just one income.

People first recruited to the public service after 1995 already pay limited pension contributions and that will also affect their final take-home pay.

A single person who joined the public service after 1995 and is earning €50,000 will see his or her annual take-home pay drop only €1,998, rather than the €3,750 indicated by the levy – effectively a 4 per cent fall in take-home pay, not the 7.5 per cent headline rate.

The worst-off workers at that salary point would be a married public servants in a household with just one income – again recruited since 1995. They will see a net fall of annual take-home income of €2,331, but even that is 4.7 per cent of their pay.

The impact of tax relief means that those on higher incomes in the public service will, in percentage terms, suffer a smaller hit to their incomes than their lower-paid colleagues.

An assistant principal employed since 1995 and earning €69,659 will face a levy of €5,712. At first sight, that amounts to an 8.2 per cent cut in pay. However, when the impact of tax relief is taken into account, the real hit to earnings is just €3,239, or 4.6 per cent of take-home pay.

At the other end of the scale, a married clerical officer on €25,338, who has worked in the puiblic sector since before 1995 and is the sole earner in their household will face a pension levy of over €1,413, or 5.3 per cent.

Even after allowing for tax relief, this worker will still face a 5.1 per cent, or €1,361, fall in annual income.

The largest group of public service workers earns between €40,000 and €60,000 according to figures supplied by the Department of Finance.

The Government will have to introduce legislation to permit the introduction of the levy. It expects to have this in place to allow the tax authorities implement the levy from March 1st.

While the figures first presented by the Government indicate that public service workers could be facing an effective pay cut of over 9 per cent, it appears now that, for most, the figure will be closer to 4 or 5 per cent of their take-home pay.