Budget 2013 looms: what are the predictions?

What can we expect?

On 20 March, the Chancellor George Osborne will deliver his Budget speech. As businesses and individuals across the country wait to see what is in store, partners from accountancy firms Saffery Champness and Crowe Clark Whitehill consider the likely changes and discuss the implications below.

Ronnie Ludwig comments: “George Osborne really needs to pull something special out of the bag this year. Stimulating the economy is imperative, especially given that we have now lost our Moody’s rating. The Coalition is hardly high on political capital, so the choices are likely to be tricky ones and are certain to be interesting.”

Inheritance tax

Tim Gregory says: “There are lots of very good reasons to leave this alone, not least of them political pressures. I can however foresee some tinkering here. The Coalition plans to fund the new £75,000 cap on elderly care costs with changes to IHT. So far, they have proposed to freeze the nil rate band for another few years. This seems unlikely to be enough to cover the care costs, and so something further may need to be done."

Capital gains tax

Ronnie Ludwig comments: “We may well see a reduction in the headline rate of CGT, bringing it down from 28 per cent to 25 per cent. This would be very nice little incentive to get people investing again. Recent evidence suggests that CGT has also raised less tax since it was increased to 28 per cent, so a return to 25 per cent would make sense on a fiscal level too.”

Incentivising business creation

Tim Gregory comments: “If this Government is really serious about creating a start-up economy, it should give some time to further reconsidering income tax loss relief restrictions for businesses. Not doing this just prolongs an unnecessary disincentive for people to start new businesses and dampens the entrepreneurial spirit we seem to be missing.”

First time buyers

Ronnie Ludwig suggests: “The housing market is still sluggish, but Government can have a hand in boosting it; especially with first time buyers. One way of doing this would be to re-introduce tax relief on mortgage interest. Another solution could be a Stamp Duty holiday for first time buyers. The housing market is a good economic indicator, so the Government would do well to try and give it a leg up."

Cutting corporation tax

David Mellor, Head of National Corporate Business at Crowe Clarke Whitehill, comments: “The big announcement in the Budget is expected to be that corporation tax for larger businesses is to be cut to 21 per cent from April 2014. When this comes into force it will be the lowest rate of corporation tax in G8 countries. This reduced tax rate will help to ensure that the UK remains a desirable destination for corporations and maintains its competitive edge in a time of global economic turbulence.

“However, more could be done. The tax system itself is complex and costly to administer, as well being difficult for taxpayers to understand and process. A simpler regime would lessen the red tape associated with compliance and reduce the cost to the government of verifying, enquiring into returns and collecting taxes. These savings could be used to reduce the headline rate of corporation tax further, which should be lower than 20 per cent if the UK really is set on being an inward invsestment direction. We know that the Chancellor has announced that the Office of Tax Simplification will undertake a review of employee benefits and expenses in December.”

Combating corporate tax evasion

David Mellor, Head of National Corporate Business, continues: “Given the recent media focus on corporate tax evasion, the Chancellor is likely to announce greater investment in resources to ensure that multinational companies pay more tax. The closure of tax loopholes, which combined with a crackdown on tax evasion through Swiss bank accounts should bring in £2bn per year.”

“Employee shareholders” schemes – risk of creating tax avoidance opportunities for owner managed businesses?

Director Susan Ball comments: “The Chancellor is expected to announce that the Government will be proceeding with the proposed ‘employee shareholders’ scheme. However, it is not obvious that this will have material tax benefits.

“The essential idea is to encourage employees to give up employment rights for a tax incentive. As the proposals stand, there are significant tax costs in connection with the issue of these shares and the tax saving only applies when the shares are sold, making it unlikely that many employees will wish to participate.

“On the other hand, if the Government increases the incentive, it runs the risk of creating an avoidance opportunity for smaller owner managed businesses (as the issue of shares presents no cash cost to the company but, in most cases, entitles it to a tax deduction). So the development of this policy is something to watch carefully. We know that the Chancellor has announced that the Office of Tax Simplification will undertake a review of employee benefits and expenses in December.”

Mansion tax – damaging for business?

Partner Stacey Eden comments: “We can expect more changes to the taxation of property to be confirmed in the Budget. 

“The Government's focus remains on stamping out certain types of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) avoidance in a way that does not damage business by focusing on attacking high-value residential property transactions and investments, with wide-ranging exemptions if the property is part of a rental or development operation. However despite the reliefs these changes make it necessary for overseas holders of residential property worth £2m and held for “personal use” via a non-natural person (effectively a company) to consider significant restructuring prior to 5 April 2013.

“There is a further possibility of the Chancellor proposing an increase to the SDLT rates, or attempting to appease the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition by proposing a higher council tax for high-value residential properties. These measures, if introduced, could go some way towards taking some of the sting out of the prime residential property market in London, restricting the massive price hikes we have seen in recent years.

“The other possibility is the introduction of further anti-avoidance measures following on from the proposed wholesale re-drafting of the rules on sub-sale relief (transfer of rights). The existing rules have been the vehicle for widespread avoidance. Limiting them to the intended purpose of allowing purchasers to immediately sell on land surplus to their requirements without incurring a double charge is not going to be easy. It remains to be seen if the final rules meet the challenge.”

Limit on income tax relief – holding back start-ups?

Partner Laurence Field comments:  “Provisions in the 2013 Finance Bill are expected to limit certain income tax reliefs to the higher of: 25 per cent of total income or £50,000.

“The Government, having been forced to give ground by removing charitable donations from the scope of this restriction, are unlikely to make any further amendments. This is a revenue raising change. It seems likely that a significant part of that revenue will be from people starting new businesses.

“Businesses frequently make losses in their early years and the opening year loss rules have allowed those setting up on their own to recover significant amounts of tax paid while in their previous employment. The cap may reduce those recoveries considerably.

“The usefulness of income tax relief for lost investments in unquoted trading companies may also be significantly impaired by this restriction. Those who make larger trading losses will also be affected but, where able to survive, will be able set the losses against future profits. It will take time to fully appreciate the implications of these provisions.”

Further regulation (GAAR, FATCA)

Partner Laurence Field continues:  “The Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement that the Government will be pushing ahead with a General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) in its attempt to counter perceived abuses of the tax system. The GAAR is intended to give HMRC broader powers in closing off abusive tax avoidance. The majority of taxpayers would argue they are not involved in abusive tax arrangements and it will be interesting to see how many people will be surprised by HMRC enquiries.

“Foreign Account tax and Compliance Act (FATCA) requires financial institutions outside the US to report information about their account holders to the IRS. The Chancellor’s is also expected to confirm that the Treasury will be allowed to make regulations to override data protection laws to allow compliance with this.”

International tax issues – ‘exit charge payment plan’ to alleviate cash flow issues

Partner Laurence Field continues:  “The Budget is expected to confirm some interesting proposals on international issues. Companies looking to leave the UK typically suffer an “exit charge” on the value of certain assets. The thinking is that UK Government should be able to tax gains that have arisen while the company was UK resident. However, it is not clear this is consistent with UK law.

“The Chancellor has proposed that where an European Economic Area (EEA) incorporated company ceases to be UK resident and takes up residence in another EEA state it can enter into an ‘exit charge payment plan’. Essentially, allowing it to defer payment of UK tax on exit for a period of up to ten years. This should alleviate cash flow issues for companies who give up UK tax residence.

“There will also be welcome changes that will allow non-UK resident companies to surrender losses from their UK branches to tax paying UK members of the same group. There are protections to ensure the losses cannot be used in both the UK and overseas.”

Statutory residence test – marginal cases will remain as difficult to resolve

Tim Norkett, Partner, comments: “The draft Finance Bill published in December 2012 contained a revised version of the legislation originally published that summer. It seems unlikely that any significant changes will be made between now and the 2013 Budget.

“There is no doubt that the statutory residence test is going to be an improvement on the current situation based almost entirely on case law. Nevertheless, the new provisions are disappointing inasmuch as they lack precision, and it will mean that in many marginal cases will remain as difficult to resolve as before.

“The most significant recent amendment has been to introduce a new minimum presence test when considering possession of a home. This has the laudable effect of meaning UK homes occupied for less than 30 days a year are less likely to make a person UK resident. On the other hand, an overseas home which is occupied for less than 30 days is also ignored so it cuts both ways.”

Annual Investment Allowance

Partner Laurence Field adds: “Although the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) was increased tenfold from 1 January 2013 for a period of two years, the legislation is not yet been enacted and will actually be in the Finance Bill 2013. There are two key points to be made about the allowance now standing at £250,000 per accounting period.

“The first is that it is time apportioned over the two years to 31 December 2014 using complex transitional provisions. Unless you have a calendar year accounting period, care is needed in calculating the position in the accounting periods straddling either end of those two years, and careful thought given to the timing of capital expenditure.

“The second point is that the new restriction on income tax losses applies to losses generated by this relief. So individuals will need to consider their overall tax position, to ensure they will be able to utilise the relief.”

This article first appeared on Spears.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.