The Cost and Distribution of Tax Expenditure on Occupational Pensions in Ireland
The pensions industry's argument that the favourable tax treatment of occupational pension funds amounts to tax deferment rather than tax exemption is evaluated using a net present value approach to estimate the cost of the tax foregone in taxing employee pension contributions on a consumption tax basis rather than an income tax basis. It is shown that the net present value estimate and the Revenue Commissioners cash flow estimate are in close agreement if tax rates for workers and pensioners are the same and that the Revenue Commissioners estimate is conservative if tax rates for pensioners are lower than for workers. A comparison is made of the trend in the cost of tax expenditure on occupational pensions since 1980 relative to the trend in the cost of direct expenditure on social welfare pensions and it is shown that the cost of tax expenditure has grown from around 10 per cent in 1980 to 66 per cent in 1997 and that the Exchequer support for the average participant in an occupational scheme has risen from one quarter to more than one-and-a-half times Exchequer expenditure for the average participant in the social insurance scheme. The assumption, therefore, that pensions can be provided at less cost to the Exchequer through private financial institutions is questionable given existing pension tax arrangements. The distribution of the tax incentives provided for members of occupational pension schemes is evaluated and it is shown that most of the benefits accrue to those at the top of the income distribution.
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