You can only carry forward if you have been a member of a registered pension scheme in the years you want to carry forward. So if you are say aged 50 years and never had a pension, but want to pay into a pension, you are restricted to just this years’ maximum of £40k or 100% of earnings (if lower). You can pay more in but you will not receive tax relief.
You don’t have to be contributing to the scheme - in fact it could have been a stakeholder set up some years ago with a nominal payment, but you just have to have been a member of one.
A recent client example of this was 3 company directors who wanted to put money in a SIPP via an employer contribution to fund a commercial premise but some/all of them had never had a pension before.
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