Cuts to pension tax relief allowances announced in yesterdays Autumn Statement could work against government efforts to encourage more people to save for their retirement, industry figures and business leaders have warned.
In his speech, Chancellor George Osborne said the annual limit on tax-free contributions would be cut from £50,000 to £40,000, and the lifetime limit would be reduced from £1.5m to £1.25m.
John Cridland, director general of the CBI said the move would damage both savings and investment.
'The chancellor has avoided some of the more sweeping effects that would have been caused by cutting the annual tax relief limit to £30,000, but the cut to £40,000 still undermines the government's efforts to encourage saving and investment in our economy,' he explained.
Steve Simkins, head of public sector pensions at consultancy KPMG, said public sector workers would bear the brunt of the reduction in the annual allowance.
'This change, together with the reduced lifetime allowance of £1.25m... is designed to restrict pensions tax relief for people earning over £100,000 a year,' he said. 'However, public servants earning as little as £40,000 a year could incur a tax charge because of public sector pay scales.'
'To add to this, public sector employers are committed to fixed pension arrangements and so are unable to respond to the additional tax charges by reducing benefit accrual in the way private sector employers can.
'This means that talented teachers, doctors and civil servants will see further benefit reductions in addition to the Hutton benefit reforms,' he added.
Joanne Segars, chief executive of the National Association of Pension Funds, said the £1bn the government expected to make from the change every year from 2016/17 was double the amount it would make from next year's 0.13% increase in the Bank Levy also announced by Osborne.
'That cannot be fair, and will only undermine confidence in pension saving,' she said. 'The Chancellor is wrong to say that the changes will only affect those at the top of the wage tree. Osborne claims he is taking a carrot away from the rich, but he is also beating many middle class savers with a stick. Middle managers in the public and private sectors will get caught in the net.
She added: 'People in a final salary pension who have worked loyally for the same employer for years and then get a pay rise, or a promotion, could end up with a tax bill of several thousand pounds. This is a charge just for saving into a pension. The self-employed and those nearing retirement desperately trying to "catch up" by boosting their pension are also at risk.'
Morten Nilsson, the chief executive of pension provider NOW: Pensions, said the change could work against wider efforts to encourage people to save more, or to begin savings through pensions auto-enrolment.
'With annuity rates reaching historic lows, and the Financial Services Authority having lowered long-term return expectations significantly, it is essential we work towards recreating the savings culture in the UK and encourage people to save more into their pension pot,' he said.
'Restricting the ability for people to contribute appears to contradict the auto-enrolment initiative to reinvigorate pension saving and is yet another rule change for consumers to get their heads around. 'Auto-enrolment was introduced because people in Britain simply aren't saving enough for retirement, so penalising those who save hard for their long-term financial security does not seem fair. The government should be encouraging us to make higher contributions, not putting us off from saving more through these cuts in tax allowances'.