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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle