Dynamics in private pension saving

Status: Active

How much money people save for their retirement is important. It matters not only for individuals’ wellbeing but also for society in general because those with insufficient private savings are more reliant on government benefits. This is increasingly important because people are living longer.

Various policy levers are used to encourage retirement saving. Most notably, there are large tax advantages to pension saving. In 2012, the government also began to roll out pension auto-enrolment. This policy requires employers to put most of their employees into a workplace pension scheme and contribute towards it. Despite these types of policy actions, there are concerns that some groups are not saving enough for their retirement.

The data 

The data will provide insights into private pensions in the UK by using comprehensive information on pension contributions (known as the COM100 data) held by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) from the 2007 to 2018 tax years. Specifically, the project will use de-identified data on total annual pension contributions made either by individuals or their employers to personal pensions and link this to individuals’ de-identified tax records. The tax records will also provide information on how much income a person has and how that income is generated.

The two linked datasets will be created by linking all the “COM100” administrative data on annual contributions to personal pensions held by HMRC to:

  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE) panel tax records
  • Self-Assessment panel tax records.

The project team will produce documentation to support researchers in accessing the linked datasets, along with high-profile research to highlight its value.

Data for this project is being linked under the provisions of the 2017 Digital Economy Act, which provides a legal gateway for researchers to access government data in a secure way.

Potential of the newly linked data 

Research using this data has the potential to help us understand the patterns of pension saving across different groups in society and the role of various policies in shaping decisions. It could inform future government decisions on pensions policy, as well as related issues such as housing benefits and tax to improve the lives of older people and wider society.

Linking the de-identified HMRC data on annual pension contributions to the PAYE data will provide high-quality information on employees regarding their pay from their employers. It will also make it possible to observe details such as age and sex, which will allow us to understand differences in pension provision and savings for different parts of the work population. It will facilitate analysis of employee earnings and total personal pension contributions over a crucial period where there were significant changes to the saving environment, including substantial policy change.

The HMRC data linked to Self-Assessment tax records will yield high-quality data on personal pension saving and income for self-employed and high-income individuals. These groups are currently under-analysed due to data limitations. The self-employed have been the fastest growing part of the UK labour force since the early 2000s and around 15% of the UK workforce is now self-employed. This dataset will enable researchers to understand how pension contributions change as people move from employment to self-employment. It will also be possible to analyse whether the saving habits of people who were auto-enrolled as an employee influence their saving behaviour if and when they become self-employed.

In both linked datasets, it will be possible to track de-identified individuals over time, thereby observing, for example, how pension saving changes as income and the policy environment change. The analysis will also be able to indicate the effects of tax policy on different types of people’s behaviour, such as how much they save and their wider investment and economic choices.

Key questions these newly linked datasets could help to address include: 

  • What are the factors that affect how people save for retirement?
  • How has tax policy affected how much different types of people choose to save in a pension?
  • How do pension contributions change as people move from employment to self-employment?


It is intended the private pensions linked datasets will be made available to external researchers via the Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service in late 2024 or 2025. This is subject to approval by the data owner HMRC. Accredited researchers will need to submit a successful application to access the data.

Early pathfinder research

In addition to creating the linked datasets, the project team will undertake research on the linked datasets. The answers to two research questions will provide important insight into the patterns of saving for the retirement of workers in the UK:

  1. How much are people saving in personal pensions and how does this change over working life?
  2. How does pension saving change when someone moves from being employed to self-employed and was this pattern changed by the introduction of auto-enrolment?

This research will serve as an early pathfinder project to demonstrate the real-world value of the new or improved data linkage.

Project details 

This project is paused until February 2024.

This project is funded via the ADR UK research-ready data and access fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data. The funding decision was based on advice from an independent expert panel, and in consultation with the Office for National Statistics. This project is part of the ADR England portfolio.

Details of the funding grant awarded by ADR UK for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform. 

Categories: Data linkage programmes, Research using linked data, ADR England, Office for National Statistics, Growing old, World of work

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