One in four higher rate taxpayers do not contribute to pension schemes, despite the attraction of tax relief to help boost their retirement savings, according to independent research from Prudential. Nationally, this equates to around 216,000 employees missing out on up to £438m a year in pension tax relief.

The nationwide study of those earning between £42,275 and £149,999 found 21% claiming they cannot afford to contribute to a pension scheme. One in eight (13%) say they do not see the point of saving for retirement, despite the tax benefits of pensions, while 17% don’t know why they fail to save into a pension scheme.

An average higher rate taxpayer contributing £425 a month into a pension fund receives basic rate tax relief of £85 a month or £1,020 a year, directly into their pension fund. Up to an additional £1,020 a year in higher rate tax relief can be claimed, which could also be used for pension saving.

Figures from HMRC show that around 58% of the estimated 900,000 higher rate taxpayers in the UK contribute to defined contribution pension schemes, while another 15% are members of either non-contributory or defined benefit schemes.

But despite earning average salaries of £58,541, the rest do not save into pension schemes at all. Around 43% of those who don’t save into a pension scheme claim to have made alternative retirement arrangements, 4% have existing Self-Invested Personal Pension schemes and another 2% claim they will not retire.

Matthew Stephens, Prudential’s tax expert, said:

“Pension saving offers valuable tax reliefs to all workers and particularly to higher rate taxpayers. Basic rate 20% tax relief is available at source plus up to an extra 20% from HMRC for higher rate taxpayers. Turning down what is effectively free money simply does not make sense.

“It is worrying that so many higher rate taxpayers say they cannot afford to save into a pension despite earning healthy salaries.”

The Prudential research shows that recent changes limiting annual tax-free pension contributions to £50,000 a year have not significantly dented pension saving among higher earners. Just 8% said the change had put them off pension saving while 25%were unaware of the change.