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.

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What Charles Windsor’s garden reveals about the future of the British monarchy

As an open-minded republican, two things struck me. 

First we are told that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has lost his battle for a “soft” Brexit. In a joint article, he and the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, the hardest of the ministerial Brexiteers, seem to agree that the UK will leave the European customs union in 2019. Then we get a reverse ferret. Hammond will go for a softish Brexit, after all. A government paper states that the UK will seek a “temporary customs union” in the “transition period” that, it hopes, will follow Brexit.

All this is a taste of things to come. We shall see many more instances of hard and soft Brexiteers celebrating victory or shrieking about betrayal. We shall also see UK and EU leaders storming out of talks, only to return to negotiations a few days later. My advice is to ignore it all until Friday 29 March 2019, when UK and EU leaders will emerge from all-night talks to announce a final, impenetrable fudge.

Lessons not learned

What you should not ignore is the scandal over Learndirect, the country’s largest adult training and apprenticeships provider. An Ofsted report states that a third of its apprentices receive none of the off-the-job training required. In a random sample, it found no evidence of learning plans.

Labour started Learndirect in 2000 as a charitable trust controlled by the Department for Education. It was sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but remains largely reliant on public money (£158m in 2016-17). Since privatisation, 84 per cent of its cash has gone on management fees, interest payments and shareholder dividends. It spent £504,000 on sponsoring the Marussia Formula One team in an attempt to reach “our core customer group… in a new and exciting way”. The apprentices’ success rate fell from 67.5 per cent before privatisation to 57.8 per cent now.

This episode tells us that, however the Brexit process is going, Britain’s problems remain unchanged. Too many services are in the hands of greedy, incompetent private firms, and we are no closer to developing a skilled workforce. We only know about Learndirect’s failure because the company’s attempt to prevent Ofsted publishing its report was, after ten weeks of legal wrangling, overthrown in the courts.

A lot of hot air

Immediately after the Paris climate change accord in 2015, I expressed doubts about how each country’s emissions could be monitored and targets enforced. Now a BBC Radio 4 investigation finds that climate-warming gases emitted into the atmosphere far exceed those declared under the agreement. For example, declarations of methane emissions from livestock in India are subject to 50 per cent uncertainty, and those in Russia to 30-40 per cent uncertainty. One region in northern Italy, according to Swiss scientists, emits at least six times more climate-warming gases than are officially admitted. Remember this when you next hear politicians proclaiming that, after long and arduous negotiations, they have achieved a great victory.

Come rain or come shine

Climate change, scientists insist, is not the same thing as changes in the weather but writing about it brings me naturally to Britain’s wet August and newspaper articles headlined “Whatever happened to the sunny Augusts of our childhood?” and so on. The Daily Mail had one in which the writer recalled not a “single rainy day” from his family holidays in Folkestone. This, as he explained, is the result of what psychologists call “fading affect bias”, which causes our brains to hold positive memories longer than negative ones.

My brain is apparently atypical. I recall constant frustration as attempts to watch or play cricket were interrupted by rain. I remember sheltering indoors on family holidays with card games and books. My life, it seems, began, along with sunshine, when I left home for university at 18. Do psychologists have a name for my condition?

High and dry

Being an open-minded republican, I bought my wife, a keen gardener, an escorted tour of the gardens at Highgrove, the private residence of the man I call Charles Windsor, for her birthday. We went there this month during a break in the Cotswolds. The gardens are in parts too fussy, rather like its owner, but they are varied, colourful and hugely enjoyable. Two things struck me. First, the gardens of the elite were once designed to showcase the owner’s wealth and status, with the eye drawn to the grandeur of the mansion. Highgrove’s garden is designed for privacy, with many features intended to protect royalty from the prying public and particularly the press photographers’ long lenses. Second, our guide, pointing out what the owner had planted and designed, referred throughout to “His Royal Highness”, never “Charles”. I am pondering what these observations mean for the monarchy and its future.

Sympathy for the devil

Before leaving for the Cotswolds, we went to the Almeida Theatre in north London to see Ink, featuring Rupert Murdoch’s relaunch of the Sun in 1969. Many accounts of Murdoch  portray him as a power-crazed monster and his tabloid hacks as amoral reptiles. Ink is far more nuanced. It shows Murdoch as a mixture of diffidence, charm and menace, in love with newspapers and determined to blow apart a complacent,
paternalistic British establishment.

You may think that he and the Sun had a permanently coarsening effect on public life and culture, and I would largely agree. But he was also, in his own way, a 1960s figure and his Sun, with its demonic energy, was as typical a product of that decade as the Beatles’ songs. The play strengthened my hunch that its author, James Graham, who also wrote This House, set in the parliamentary whips’ offices during the 1970s, will eventually be ranked as the century’s first great playwright.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear