Lifetime ISA withdrawal charges triple in lockdown

Lifetime ISA (LISA) early withdrawal charges have more than tripled in a year from £10m in 2019/20, to £33m in the 2020/21 tax year, according to data from Quilter.

A Freedom of Information request made by the wealth manager showed that over the previous three tax years, a total of £48m has been levied against LISA holders for early withdrawals.

In 2018/19 and 2019/20, the withdrawal charges were set at 25% before they were dropped to 20% from 6 March 2020 to 5 April 2021 to help people impacted by the pandemic to access funds. However, the 25% charge is now back in place.

Quilter said that the 25% withdrawal penalty is to disincentivize people from using a LISA for a purpose other than buying a first home or for retirement. The temporary reduction of withdrawal charges to 20% meant account holders would only have to pay back the 25% government bonus they received, meaning effectively there is no exit fee.

Given there were withdrawal charges of £33m in 2020/21, it implies that the total amount withdrawn from LISAs was around £165m, Quilter stated.

The most recent available government ISA statistics show that when LISAs were introduced in 2017/18, £486m was subscribed to the product and £604m in 2018/19.

“These stark figures illustrate how many people needed to raid their savings to cope with the financial strain brought on them by the pandemic,” Quilter financial planning expert, Rachael Griffin, said.

“Reducing the withdrawal charge to 20% and thus ensuring savers weren’t unfairly penalised during this difficult time was sensible. However, these figures also reveal that the LISA has some significant flaws in its design.

“The products are meant to be a hybrid between a retirement savings vehicle and an ISA product for first-time buyers. Unfortunately, while the product strives for the best of both worlds it falls short. LISAs are neither an ISA, with the flexibility to withdraw money at any time, or a pension, which has generous tax relief but requires savers to lock-up their money to at least age 55.

“They were a muddled idea to start with and the government should carefully consider their place in the long-term future of the UK’s savings system.”

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