The 5thof December 2013 may well linger in the public consciousness for reason more momentous than the Chancellor’s latest Autumn Statement. But to the matter at hand.
With party politics clearly much in his mind, the Chancellor had a difficult balancing act to perform with this year’s Autumn Statement: try to woo voters with some popular measures but avoid giving too much away or they’ll relax and let someone else in, come the day.
- Revival (of sorts) of the transferable Married Couples’ Allowance - £1,000 of one spouse’s Personal Allowance from April 2015 but worth no more than £200 in real terms because it will not be available if either spouse (or civil partner) is a Higher Rate taxpayer. Nor is it really news because it was formally announced in the Conservative Party Conference in October.
- Personal Allowance to be £10,000 from April 2014. Although it would not be a great surprise if it were increased again in the 2014 Budget as further evidence of the success of the Chancellor’s economic policy.
- Non-resident owners of residential property will be exposed to Capital Gains Tax on future capital gains on disposals from April 2015. “Future gains” suggests that there will be a baseline date and gains attributable to prior ownership periods will not be charged. Which should avoid a cataclysmic rush to sell before April 2015. Foreign ownership of expensive London property is much publicised but it really so widespread as to warrant so specific an intervention?
- Property owners have long benefited from the generous “Only or Main Residence” tax relief on the sale of their former home in that the last 36 months’ ownership are almost always exempt from Capital Gains Tax; this is set to change and, from April 2014 this period will be halved to just 18 months.While there are many property owners who have benefited from the regime as it currently stands, the provision was aimed squarely at people who were struggling to sell their old home in a difficult market. Perhaps the Chancellor reckons homeowners no longer need such help. Or perhaps he is making one or two surreptitious changes to encourage property sales over the next year or so, to lessen the chance of upward pressure on house prices from the “Help to Buy” Scheme forcing an embarrassing U-turn on his flagship policy. It might be helpful if the rules for employment-related absences were relaxed to help those who are obliged to work away from home and ultimately to sell up and relocate.
- Small Business Rate Relief will be extended again, through to 2015. From April next year, it will also remain available for one year, when a business takes on an additional property. In addition, there will be new discounts for businesses occupying some retail and “food and drink” premises, and extra relief for those occupying retail property that has been standing empty for a year or more, from April 2014. These last two measures have a two-year eligibility period from 1 April 2014. Perhaps more importantly, the government has committed to resolve 95% of the many outstanding rateable value appeals by July 2015.
- Employers’ NIC will be abolished for wages paid to under-21s from April 2015, up to the Higher Rate threshold of £813 per week. This should serve as a useful boost to encourage recruitment of the younger end of the workforce spectrum. Although it does seem a little at odds with the general policy on age discrimination.
- The government is threatening to continue its sterling work on anti-avoidance and evasion. While it may be fair for HMRC to insist on disputed tax being paid “up front” in cases where it feels it has already successfully challenged the scheme in point, a particularly unsavoury further measure is that there may soon be special penalties for those who refuse to back down from tribunal, (when HMRC has won a similar case), and then lose. The odds seem unfairly stacked against the taxpayer. But at least the government’s appetite for further meddling with the “loans to participators” regime appears to have diminished.
- One goal that appears to have lost its appeal is simplification. I noticed it in only two places:
- “Simplifying” the BPRA regime to deter avoidance schemes …trying to avoid tax on a measure designed to… …reduce tax
- “Simplifying” trusts apparently includes new measures to add trust income to capital (at least when it comes to calculating the 10-year anniversary charge) if it hasn’t been distributed after 5 years. With simplifications like these…