Savers withdrew a record £8.18bn from their pension pots in 2017-18, up by more than £1.5bn on the previous year, according to figures from HM Revenue & Customs released today (April 30).
In total, savers have withdrawn £25.6bn since the start of pension freedoms in April 2015.
The first quarter of 2019 was a record for the number of payments (648,000) and number of people who flexibly accessed their pensions (284,000).
But the total value of payments, at £2.06bn, was below the highest value recorded of £2.27bn in the second quarter of 2018.
Andrew Tully, technical director at Canada Life, said these figures showed pensions "continue to be treated as cash machines".
He said: "While this behaviour may not be cause for concern just yet, our research suggests only a third of people seek advice before flexibly accessing their pension.
"This can leave consumers exposed to a new set of risks including paying too much tax than necessary on withdrawals, or leaving the money languishing in low or near zero paying deposit accounts."
Steven Cameron, pension director at Aegon, had a more optimist view on these figures.
He said: "The freedoms marked a radical change in the retirement landscape which is now almost unrecognisable from where it was before inception in 2015.
"Individuals now have much more control over their pension savings including allowing those looking for a more gradual transition into retirement the chance to work, combining reduced hours with part pension as they approach or move beyond traditional retirement age."
He noted that while the number of payments made was at a record high, the average amount being withdrawn had fallen year on year since inception.
In the first year, the average value was £8,430. This had fallen to £3,713 for 2017-18 and has fallen again to £3,358 in 2018-19, which he said suggested people were exercising restraint over how much to take out.
Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, agreed with this view.
He said: “All the available evidence suggests that, in the main, savers continue to use the pension freedoms sensibly and are managing withdrawals with sustainability right at the front of their minds.
"Most of the first four years of the new rules has also been something of a golden period for investors, with the FTSE on a flyer for the vast majority of that period, with the notable exception of the back end of 2018.
“It would be optimistic to say the least to expect the stellar performance enjoyed in the first three years of the freedoms to be repeated. Investing in the stock market remains a get rich slow scheme and patience is required to reap the rewards of long-term growth.
“This is why it is so important for people keeping their money invested in retirement to review their funds and withdrawal strategy regularly and be prepared to reduce income payments where necessary.”