Marriage Tax Allowance
Get a tax break worth up to £1,188
If you're married or in a civil partnership, you may be entitled to a £1,188 tax break called the marriage tax allowance – something 2.4 million qualifying couples miss out on.
In this guide
The marriage tax allowance allows you to transfer £1,250 of your personal allowance (the amount you can earn tax-free each tax year) to your spouse or civil partner if they earn more than you.
If your claim is successful, it will lower the higher earner's tax bill for the tax year, but you can also backdate your claim if eligible.
WARNING: Applying for the marriage tax allowance is quick and most importantly FREE. Always be sure to check that you are dealing with the official HMRC website. Some MoneySavers have reported claims companies taking 30% of the final amount.
Only people with specific circumstances will be able to apply:
- You're married or in a civil partnership (just living together doesn't count).
- One of you needs to be a non-taxpayer, which usually means earning less than the £12,500 personal allowance between 6 April 2020 and 5 April 2021 (previous personal allowance rates).
- The other partner needs to be a basic 20% rate taxpayer (higher or additional-rate taxpayers aren't eligible for this allowance). This means you'd normally need to earn less than £50,000 (previous tax year rates) or if you live in Scotland, £43,430 (previous tax year rates).
- You both must have been born on or after 6 April 1935 (if not, there's another tax perk).
So, in a nutshell, one of you must be a non-taxpayer and one must be a basic-rate taxpayer.
Not sure if you're a non-taxpayer?
In rare circumstances, your personal allowance (the amount you can earn tax-free) may be different to the amounts above, but your tax code letter will tell you. This could be because you have a company car, you owe tax or your savings interest takes you over the threshold (see savings interest). For more guidance on tax codes, see our Free Tax Code Calculator.
If you earn above £50,000, but your pension contributions drop your take-home pay to under £50,000, you may still be eligible for marriage tax allowance.
If you're on the pay-as-you-earn system (PAYE), HMRC should already be aware of how much you contribute to your pension. If you self-assess, make sure you specify how much you're contributing to your pension, so HMRC can see your take-home pay is below the £50,000 threshold.
If your pension contributions vary each month, or you're not sure whether you'll be a basic or higher-rate taxpayer in one particular year, HMRC recommends waiting until the end of that tax year and deciding then whether you should apply.
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The marriage tax allowance for the tax year 2020/21 is a maximum £250.
And in addition to this tax year's allowance, you can also backdate your claim by up to four tax years (currently 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20). The amounts for each year are:
- 2016/17 – £220
- 2017/18 – £230
- 2018/19 – £238
- 2019/20 – £250
- 2020/21 – £250
This means that if you claim now and backdate the maximum four years, you'll get up to £1,188. You'll be paid money for previous tax years as a cheque. You won't have to tick any boxes or make a special request for this as it'll happen automatically.
The rest of this guide uses allowances and thresholds for the 2020/21 tax year, though as we say above you can also claim for previous tax years.
How the marriage tax allowance is calculated
The partner who has an unused amount of personal allowance can transfer £1,250 of their allowance to the other (so basically 10% of the full allowance). It doesn't matter if they have £5,000 of allowance left or £500, they can only transfer £1,250.
This is how it works:
Part-time Peter works just enough and earns £5,000 at his local fish and chip shop. His full personal allowance for the year is £12,500, so he has plenty of spare allowance to transfer £1,250 to his wife.
Peter's wife, full-time Fiona, is a software developer. She earns £35,000 and is a basic-rate taxpayer (higher-rate tax starts at £50,000 for most). Her personal allowance increases by £1,250 to £13,750 when Peter chooses to make his transfer.
So she has an extra £1,250 which she would've paid tax on at 20%, but is now tax-free, so she's £250 up (20% of £1,250).
When will I get the allowance?
In most cases, the allowance will be given by adjusting the recipient partner's personal tax code. The partner who transferred their personal allowance will also receive a new tax code, if employed. If the recipient partner is in self-assessment, it will reduce their self-assessment bill.
It really is very simple, and only takes a few minutes – just use the application at HMRC. To do it, you'll need both your national insurance numbers and one of a range of different acceptable forms of ID for the non-taxpayer.
If there's a problem doing it via the web, just call 0300 200 3300 and do it by phone.
It's worth noting you can only apply for those years in which you both met the criteria. So, for example, if you earned more than the £12,500 personal allowance in 2019/20, HMRC won't allow you to claim it.
It's the non-taxpayer who must apply to transfer their allowance.
If the taxpayer applies, you're doing it the wrong way round and it won't work.
After going through the application process, you'll immediately be informed that your application has been received via email (you can apply over the phone too). If you were also eligible for the allowance in previous tax years, you'll have to select this option as part of the application process.
Although the onus is on you to check you're eligible, HMRC will write to inform you if you're not – although you may have to wait a few weeks.
There's no cut-off date to apply (but if you want to apply retrospectively all the way up to tax year 2016/17 you need to do so before 6 April 2021). When you're applying for the current year, it's paid via changing your tax code over the remaining months of the tax year.
You do NOT have to apply every year. Your personal allowance will transfer automatically to your partner until one of you cancels the marriage allowance or you inform HMRC that your circumstances have changed, eg, because of divorce, employment pushing you into a higher-rate tax threshold or death.
Once you've applied, you (or your partner) will get the extra allowance either:
- By changing the higher earner's tax code, which can take up to two months.
- When they file their self-assessment tax return.
Yes you can, but it's a bit more complicated. This is because you have to transfer £1,250 to take advantage – nothing more, nothing less. This means if you've less than £1,250 left of your allowance, you could exceed your personal allowance. If that happens, you'd end up paying tax on the amount you've gone over. There will still be a net gain for the two of you, just not that much.
This is how it works:
Part-time Peter decides to put in a few extra shifts at the chippy and his earnings go up to £11,700 a year. His full personal allowance for the year is £12,500, so by transferring £1,250 to his wife, he's left with a personal allowance for the year of £11,250.
Full-time Fiona still gets the full personal allowance increase of £1,250 to £13,750 when Peter chooses to make his transfer.
However, Peter now earns £450 more than his personal allowance, meaning he'll pay basic-rate tax for the year of £90. Meanwhile, Fiona gets an increase in her personal allowance of £1,250, so she'll get to keep an extra £250 (the 20% tax she would have had to pay).
The net benefit to Peter and Fiona is £160 – still worth having.
This year, the basic personal allowance for most is £12,500, meaning that's how much you can earn in the tax year before paying tax. So only if the lower earner in the couple earns less than £11,250 (£12,500 less £1,250) will they get the full £250 basic-rate tax saving.
We've been inundated with emails from MoneySavers who've had their tax codes changed, and got money back. Here is some inspiration...
I made a claim for this year and previous years. I was amazed to get a rebate of £1,100. My wife is terminally ill and this money will enable us to tick off another part of her bucket list. I cannot tell you how grateful we are.
Thanks for your info, we got a cheque for £923.52 within a week of applying.
- Kevin & Sue
As my hubby only retired in April, I didn't think I was eligible for the marriage tax allowance. It took two minutes to fill in the form – five days later, the tax code had been changed and we'd had a £655 refund.
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Although it's highly unlikely your application would be accepted if you weren't eligible, you still won't be fined. If you were accepted, as above, any underpaid tax would be collected through a PAYE code adjustment.
Applying can prompt HMRC to look at your tax position. As millions are on the wrong tax code, for some this means getting notes that you owe them money (for others, notes that they owe you). If this happens, some people blame the marriage tax allowance – yet actually all that's happening is your application has crystallised HMRC to look at an existing problem. At some point, you'd have needed to pay that anyway.
It's all about what counts as a non-taxpayer, and it does get complicated as there's something called the tax-free savings allowance for lower incomes, which is a separate £5,000 tax-free allowance for people who just have income from savings.
The crucial part is that even if you have savings interest, as long as you're not a taxpayer, you can still apply for and benefit from the marriage tax allowance.
Some people have reported difficulties applying online. If this is you, call HMRC on 0300 200 3300 for help.
If that happens, HMRC will not know until the end of the tax year thanks to the way tax is calculated. It doesn't matter even if the taxpayer is occasionally pushed into the higher-rate tax band, as long as their total income for the tax year doesn't exceed £50,000 (£43,430 in Scotland).
At the end of the tax year HMRC will reconcile your tax affairs, send a P800 calculation and recover any tax due in the following year through an adjustment to your tax code to claw it back via the payroll (or self-assessment for the self-employed).
What counts is how much you earn over the course of a tax year – so as long as the non-taxpayer earns less than £12,500 in a tax year, and the basic-rate taxpayer's total income is less than £50,000 (£43,430 in Scotland) for the same tax year, you'd be eligible.
If you do claim for the current year and end up going over the threshold, any underpaid tax would be recovered through a tax code change the following year.
If your partner dies after you've transferred the £1,250 allowance to them, their estate will be treated as having an increased personal allowance (ie, less tax will be taken from the inheritance) while your own personal allowance will revert back to what it was before the transfer.
If your partner transferred some of their personal allowance to you before they died, your own personal allowance will stay at the higher level until the end of the tax year, while their estate will be treated as having the lower amount.
Yes. A rule introduced in the 2017 Autumn Budget means widows or widowers can now claim up to £1,188 in backdated marriage tax allowance – if their spouse died in 2020/21 and they were married for each year of the claim.
So if you and your spouse were eligible for it at any time from April 2016 but you didn't claim before the death of your partner, you can now apply retrospectively.
You'll be eligible (assuming you meet the criteria above) for a payment for any year in which both of you were alive – and, even if your partner died on day one of the tax year, you'd get the payout for the whole tax year. Meanwhile, it doesn't matter if the taxpayer or the non-taxpayer has died, you're eligible regardless.
You will need to apply over the phone and the adviser will take you through the process. Again, you'll only be able to backdate as far as April 2016.
There's a different, better allowance available to you that HMRC is phasing out. If one of you is over 84, you could be eligible for the married couple's (and civil partner's) allowance. This could give you a reduction on your tax bill of up to £891.50 per year. However, if you're an unmarried couple (even if you're living together), you get nowt.
Peter earns £11,900 and is a non-taxpayer. His wife Fiona earns £12,800 and is a basic-rate taxpayer. If Peter decides to transfer some of his personal allowance to Fiona, he'll have no choice but to transfer the full £1,250, leaving him with a personal allowance of £11,250 and bumping Fiona's personal allowance up to £13,750.
Peter now earns £650 more than his personal allowance, meaning he'll pay basic-rate tax for the year of £130. Meanwhile, the £1,250 personal allowance increase Fiona gets means she'll get to keep an extra £60 (the 20% tax she would've had to pay on her £12,800 salary).
The net loss to Peter and Fiona is £70 – showing that in niche circumstances, couples could lose out.
Quite simply, yes. This is a Government policy to reward the institution of marriage – its view being that marriage provides a more stable family.