Register a pension scheme

The scheme administrator is responsible for registering a pension scheme with HM Revenue & Customs.

Benefits of registering a pension scheme

Only registered pension schemes can qualify for tax relief on all of the following:

  • pension contributions
  • investment income and gains
  • some lump sums paid from the scheme

Until scheme registration is confirmed any:

  • contributions received won’t qualify for tax relief
  • transfers received from another registered pension scheme will be an unauthorised payment

Conditions for registering a pension scheme

A pension scheme that had tax approval on 5 April 2006 is automatically a registered pension scheme.

A pension scheme can only become a registered pension scheme if it’s:

  • set up by a person or organisation with permission under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to establish a personal pension or stakeholder pension scheme - for example a bank or insurance company
  • an occupational pension scheme set up by an employer for their employees
  • a public sector scheme set up under legislation or with Parliamentary approval

Whatever the type of pension scheme it must be set up mainly or wholly for the purpose of providing authorised pensions and lump sums.

A registered pension scheme doesn’t have to be set up in the UK but the scheme administrator has to meet the required criteria to register.

How to apply to register a pension scheme

As scheme administrator you must apply to register the pension scheme using the Pension Schemes Online service.

If you haven’t used this online service before you’ll need to sign up to use it before you can submit your registration application. This process can take up to seven working days.

Submitting your application

If you’ve completed all of the relevant fields in the correct format you’ll receive a ‘submission successful’ message giving you a submission reference number.

Your scheme is not registered at this point.

If you enter your submission reference number into Pension Schemes Online you can monitor the progress of your application. Schemes that aren’t registered will show the ‘Registration for Tax’ date as ‘Pending’ on the ‘Scheme Summary’ page.

Tax relief on pension contributions can only be given once a scheme is formally registered after your application has been reviewed.

Application Review

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will review the application to register the pension scheme. If they have further questions or need additional information they’ll send a Section 153A Finance Act 2004 notice to you.

There’s no time limit on how long HMRC can take to decide whether to register a pension scheme. However, if HMRC hasn’t decided within 6 months of getting the application you can appeal to a tribunal as if HMRC had told you that they’d decided not to register the scheme.

In some cases HMRC may also need to inspect certain documents on your premises. Where they do they’ll usually send a written notice at least 7 days before the visit telling you what they need to inspect.

Scheme registered

If HMRC have decided to register the pension scheme the scheme status will be updated on Pension Schemes Online to show the ‘Registration for Tax’ date. A registration notification will be sent to you by post confirming the date of registration and the scheme’s Pension Scheme Tax Reference (PSTR). The registration date is the date that HMRC makes their decision.

If the tribunal has decided that the scheme can be registered they will determine the date of registration.

You must keep the registration notification as it’s your confirmation that the scheme is a registered pension scheme.

If your scheme was registered from July 2015, you can view and print a copy of your registration notification on Pension Schemes Online.

If your scheme was registered before July 2015 you can’t download a copy of this from Pension Schemes Online so if you lose your registration notification you’ll need to contact HMRC.

The duplicate notification will be issued to the scheme administrator shown on Pension Schemes Online so it’s important to keep the online record up to date.

Scheme not registered

If HMRC decide to not register the pension scheme they’ll post a notification of rejection to you setting out the reason for their decision.

Pension Schemes Online will also be updated and the pending status will be removed.


If you provide documents or information in connection with an application to register a scheme that are materially inaccurate, or are found to have made a false declaration, you may be issued with a penalty of up to £3,000 for each falsehood or inaccuracy.


You have the right of appeal if HMRC issue a penalty or reject your application to register a scheme.

Published 16 September 2014
Last updated 23 December 2016 + show all updates
  1. Text amendments to the Scheme registered and Scheme not registered sections
  2. First published.