Budget week in “tax land”

As with any Budget statement, it is best to take a few days before passing judgement.  That said, and even before all of the detail has been analysed, there are a number of issues that stand out even just 24 hours after the Chancellor sat down.

The first concerns the debate, for “debate” read “leak everything”, that has surrounded a large number of Budget issues over the last few months.  We have a come a long way from the days when Gordon Brown did not even tell Tony Blair what was going to be in the Budget statement.

The proposed reduction in the top rate of income tax has dominated the political news coverage over the last few months.  The debate over how much it has raised will not end with the Budget statement.  There is no doubt it has led to a great deal of tax avoidance, aggressive tax avoidance.  That was to be expected.

The changes to the personal allowance and tax rate thresholds, has already begun to dominate the news coverage.  The coalition government must be hoping that the news coverage concentrates on the increase in the personal allowance and not the 300,000 more people who will be drawn into the 40% income tax rate from 2013/14.  To put this in context.  In the 1980’s approximately 5% of people were higher rate taxpayers.  Now it is 15%.

The freezing of age related allowances is also likely to cause problems for the coalition government.  Somehow they need to show that this is a good example of tax simplification.

The claim that does stand out is that by reducing the top rate of income tax, combined with other avoidance measures, five times more tax will be raised from the richest.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies noted today that that this is the third worst Budget statement for measures relating to tax avoidance.  This is measured on how much tax the avoidance measures to be introduced are likely to save.

Now to an old Budget favourite, stamp duty and Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT).  The SDLT changes were not unexpected especially for anyone who buys a Sunday newspaper.  The Chancellor announced that the level of stamp duty on residential properties over £2m which were bought via a company would increase to 15% with immediate effect.  In addition, overseas companies that already own UK residential property worth more than £2m will be subject to capital gains tax (CGT) from April 2013.  The CGT point was less expected but nonetheless welcome.  This though should have been dealt with many years ago.  The Chancellor also made it very clear if avoidance of this kind continues, further measures would be introduced without warning which have retrospective effect.

That though is not the main issue with SDLT in Scotland.  In Scotland only around 10 properties a year are sold that are worth over £2m.  The jump from 1% to 3% of SDLT at £250,001 is a much bigger issue.  Hopefully that will be one of the first issues dealt with when this tax is finally under the control of the Scottish Parliament.

One change I was hoping to see, in vain I might add, was a targeted VAT reduction for home repairs and renovations.    

Now to the fiscal powers debate.

The UK and Scottish Governments have agreed a number of changes to the Scotland Bill.  Both Governments will now recommend that their respective Parliaments support the Bill.  A number of minor changes have been agreed.  The Scottish Government has secured changes to the sections of the Bill dealing with borrowing powers and the Supreme Court.  It was also agreed that the measures contained in the Scotland Bill would only be implemented with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.

The proposed reservations of insolvency procedures and regulation of health professions will also be removed preserving the Scottish Parliament’s existing legislative competence for these areas.  More on this can be found on the Scottish Government’s website which can be found here.  The list of proposed amendments agreed by both the present, and previous, Scottish Parliament Scotland Bill committees is also listed.  These lists show how few changes have been made to this Bill.  A report from the BBC news website on this matter can be found here.

The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has said that the Crown Estate’s control of 50% of Scotland’s coast and almost all the seabed should be devolved to Scotland’s local authorities.  The Scottish Affairs Committee said management of the marine environment lacked transparency and public consultation.  It is now difficult to find someone who is opposed to devolving this power.  Does that mean the Scotland Bill will be further amended to include this power?  I suspect not.  More on this can be found on a report on the BBC news website which can be found here.

I was intrigued to see the Secretary State for Scotland, Michael Moore, asking for tax clarity from the Scottish Government and in relation to the independence referendum.  There is a simple answer to this question, and which would provide a degree of certainty for individuals and businesses alike.  There should be no major changes for two or even three years to the tax legislation, and system of administration, that the Scottish Government inherits in the event of a “yes” vote.

I was not surprised to read that the Scottish Government is struggling to persuade HM Treasury that the new Scottish police and fire services should be exempt from VAT.  This is likely to mean an annual VAT cost of between £22 and £36m.  Under the current structure police forces are treated like local authorities and are exempt from VAT.  However, if they merge they may be subject to VAT.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  My earlier blog on this can also be found here.

The new definition of a charity will apply to all UK charity tax reliefs from April 2012.  More information on this can be found here.  I still find it odd that when it seems that everyone is talking about tax simplification, that bodies wishing to become a charity have to meet various conditions set by OSCR (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) and then by HMRC.  The reason for this is that the definition of a charity in Scotland is different from that used in England and Wales.  HMRC apply English and Welsh law.  This means if Scottish charities wish to claim the various UK charity tax reliefs then they also have to submit an application to HMRC.  What utter nonsense.  If the UK Government were serious about tax simplification, the fact that you are registered as a Scottish charity should be enough to allow a charity to claim the various UK tax reliefs.  The same issue applies in Northern Ireland as it now has its own charity regulator.

I was interested to see that the European Parliament has finally voted to approve the cross border inheritance law proposed by the European Commission to clarify which jurisdiction’s succession law should govern an international estate. The UK and Ireland remain opted out of the regulation.  A report on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

François Hollande, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, has provided more detail of his plan for a 75% top rate of income tax.  He now says there will be a ceiling on the total tax paid by an individual in one year; and that the rate will be only temporary until the public sector budget is balanced.

Finally to Greece and some encouraging news.  The head of the European Union’s Greek task force, Horst Reichenbach, has reported the collection of almost €1bn (£830m) in back taxes.  Almost double the target figure.  A good start but still a fraction of the amount outstanding as they believe there is around €8bn in uncollected tax revenues.  More on this from a report on the BBC news website can be found here.

Have a good weekend.


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