Budget 2012

George Osborne’s budget is the first under the budgetary process in full.  This involves an announcement made in budget 1 (in this case the 2011 budget on 23 March) being subject to consultation over the summer, then the draft finance bill measures are published in December for consideration.  If adopted they are included in the budget statement No 2, this year on 21st March and then published as part of the actual finance bill, this year expected on 29 March.  The measures are considered by parliament and the final amended version emerges in the middle of July.

Meanwhile advance announcements in this budget in 2012 will be consulted on this summer, included in a draft bill next December, and then adopted in the Finance Act 2013 after next year’s budget.

One measure which was going to included in this year’s finance bill was the new statutory residence test we discussed in October last year.  This is to be postponed and will now be brought forward for inclusion in next year’s finance bill, the rules becoming operational from 6 April 2013.  We also learn that the concept of ordinary residence is to be largely abolished and it’s effect preserved in connection with certain overseas duties.

A number of measures in this year’s budget have started with consideration by the Office of Tax Simplification – and one of these seems to have backfired on the government. You’re probably aware that the office started off looking at IR35 and redundant tax reliefs.  It then went on to consider small businesses and some it’s recommendations are adopted here including allowing businesses with a turnover below the VAT registration threshold, called ‘Nano’ businesses, to use the cash basis rather than the full GAAP which, in strictness, they should be using.  OTS think that 65% of the smallest businesses, many not using accountancy services, are using this method anyway!

The OTS went on to look at two further areas, issuing initial reports but not final recommendations; one of these concerned employee shares schemes, the other taxation of the elderly. They identified the problem that the tax affairs of elderly people are quite complex, they often have several sources of pensions and income, often dealt with by different districts and, if the taxpayer’s income is below £29,000, they have been entitled to a higher tax allowance when reaching 65 and a higher allowance still on reaching 75, although if their income is just below £29,000 the higher allowance is subject to clawback.

In the meantime the coalition have been pursuing the idea of substantially increasing the normal personal allowance to take increasing numbers of people outside of the scope of IT.  From April 2012, as was announced in 2011, the personal allowance goes up by £630 to £8,105 and to balance this the higher rate threshold is reduced by £630 from £35,000 to £34,370.  This budget provided that next year, from April 2013, the allowance would increase by £1,100 to £9,205, although the higher rate band threshold would reduce by rather more, £2,125, to limit the benefit of the allowance increase to higher rate taxpayers to 25% of what a basic rate taxpayer benefits by.

Now we know that the Lib Dems want to increase the allowance to at least £10,000 and if this allowance eventually exceeded the higher amounts of the age allowance, and of course you can’t have an allowance which is lower that the personal allowance so the age allowance can be done away with then the complexity of the age allowance and the clawback of the additional relief which gives affected taxpayers a marginal rate in excess of 20% could be done away with.

But George has jumped the gun.  Before the OTS makes its final recommendations and before the ordinary personal allowance has caught up with the age allowance George has decided to accelerate its withdrawal – this is the so-called “Granny Tax”.

The age allowance will be restricted now to those who reached the age of 65 before 6 April 1948 and the higher level of the allowance will only be available to those born before 6 April 1938.  It is also going to be frozen, which is the main complaint of the grannies, that in inflation adjusted terms they will be worse off. Although the pension may well be increased next year to compensate those persons who are affected by this ‘granny tax’, the increase in liability of those whose allowance is frozen has been seized upon by the press.  It reminds me of Gordon Brown’s ill-fated attempt to ‘simplify’ the tax system when he controversially eliminated the 10% starting rate for all income other than savings income.

It is made all the worse because George also decided to reduce the 50% rate to 45% on the grounds that the higher rate was counterproductive, it may well be that it is, HMRC figures seem to suggest it, but of course it makes it look as though he is taking from pensioners to transfer to the very wealthy.

In an historical sense this budget will be seen as the one where the government and the revenue finally accepted the need for a General Anti-Avoidance Rule or GAAR; given the number of targeted rules (TAAR) implemented since 2006 when the first one was introduced (concerning capital losses for CT purposes, and was so successful that it was extended a year later to individuals and trusts for CGT purposes) this should enable a significant reduction in the length of taxation legislation and may allow abolition of individual TAARs which now litter the legislation and account for much of the length of recent Finance Acts.

In the past HMRC have been reluctant to introduce this sort of measure, even though it is a potent one in the war against avoidance, because of the need to have a parallel clearance mechanism so that business can achieve certainty before entering into transactions.  It is claimed that Canada – who introduced a GAAR without a clearance mechanism – have suffered as a result.

Graham Aaronson QC, who suggested the GAAR in a report commissioned in last year’s budget, believes that it is possible to have such a rule as a limited GAAR, Sounds like a contradiction in terms which would allow ‘reasonable tax planning’ and so would not require new clearance mechanisms.  It remains to be seen whether it could be effective, as the arbiters of reasonability in the first instance would be – the revenue, although the final decision would be up to the Tribunals and the Courts.

Investors may have a quite unique opportunity in 2012/13 to secure 78% tax relief – it works like this…

Genuine small start-up businesses can use a scheme to raise capital called the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme or SEIS – this offers investors a tax reducer relief of 50% which they can set against this year or last year’s liability regardless of the rate of tax they actually pay.  But they can do better than this – if they also make gains during the year 2012/13, and they would be advised to do so if they can, these can be matched against the investment into the SEIS and will be exempt from CGT.  Now the ordinary EIS offers 30% relief and deferral of gains, but this is a genuine exemption worth a further 28%.

Middlemen have already started to try to attract investors and match them with suitable small businesses.  It is obviously very high risk but the relief available may make it worthwhile.

Company cars are subject to good news and bad news – lets look at the… good news first.  From April 2013 the current scheme which gives a business 100% relief on the cost of a car which emits less than 100 g/km of CO2 was to come to an end.  It will now be extended to 2015 but at a slightly lower emission limit of 95g/km.

You can still get an Alfa Romeo Mito 1.3 diesel and claim a 100% FYA after April 2013 but if you want an Audi A1 Sportback you’ll need to be quick as it will cease to qualify after April 2013, its emission value is 99g/km – unless the manufacturer improves efficiency even further.

The Bad news? – well there’s rather a lot of it… cars which emit more than 130 g/km but less than 160 g/km will qualify for an 18% WDA until April 2013, but from that time onwards purchasing such a car will give you a writing down allowance of 8% pa only which at the moment only applies to cars with an emission figure in excess of 160 g/km.

In addition between April 2014 and April 2016 several changes are to be made to the company car benefit in kind scheme which will see the benefit in kind, in other words the tax liability, on some vehicles increasing by 25% over this short period, or indeed even more!  If you have a zero emission vehicle, which at the moment has a zero benefit in kind, from April 2015 onwards you will have a 13% benefit and in the following year this will be increased by a further 2% to 15%.  The maximum percentage for company cars is going to go up as well, it is at the moment 35% but will increase to 37%.  From April 2016 onwards you will no longer need to add the extra 3% for a diesel vehicle.

The announced reduction in the rate of corporation tax from 26% down to 24%, where last year we were told that the rate would go down to 25%, was a welcome reduction for larger companies with profits in excess of £300,000, and next year and the year after the rate will go down to 23% and 22% respectively.  But what of the lower 20% rate that applies to profits up to £300,000?  Would that be reduced as well?

The problem is that if this rate is reduced a 40% taxpayer taking a dividend from a company would be liable to a combination of corporation tax and income tax on the dividend which would be less than 40%. This was the mistake made some years ago by Gordon Brown, in reducing the rate to 19%, which he compounded by increasing national insurance so that a self-employed taxpayer was liable at 41% but dividend extraction from a small company attracted a liability of only 39.25%.

In a throwaway comment George indicated that he intended the main rate to fall even further to 20% in the future when there would then be one rate of tax applying to all companies regardless of size and the marginal relief calculation, necessary for profits between £300,000 and £1,500,000 to avoid a large jump in liability would no longer be needed and the complicated Associated Company rules, which were only reformed in last year’s Finance Act would also not be necessary.

In addition to increasing R&D relief further for small and medium sized businesses, a welcome change, he also confirmed the introduction of the idea of a “patent box”.  Originally dreamed up by his predecessor, Alistair Darling, this would mean that profits derived directly or indirectly from the exploitation of patent rights would be charged at an effective rate of 10% from April 2013 onwards and it worth noting here that this is not confined to patent royalties but also the trading profits that manufacturers derive.  As a response to this and the general reduction in CT liabilities Glaxo SmithKline have already announced a half a billion pound investment in UK manufacturing.

The CFC, Controlled Foreign Company, regime is extensively overhauled as announced last year to prevent it falling foul of EU discrimination laws and will only apply where profits are artificially diverted away from the UK by larger companies, rather than applying by default at the moment unless you benefit from an exemption.

A number of VAT anomalies have been removed from 1 October 2012 so that enjoying a hot chicken from your supermarket, drinking sport nutrition drinks, using self-storage facilities, even going to the hairdresser now that self employed stylists will not be able to rent chairs in a salon on an exempt basis could all become more expensive.

When the last government implemented SDLT, Stamp Duty Land Tax, in 2003 a number of bodies suggested they were too hasty in doing so and since then every year has seen further attempts to limit tax losses caused, at least in part, from the revenue’s Stamps Office seemingly not understanding real world property transactions. Of course, before SDLT came in, they were experienced in valuing legal documents but were not required to be aware of other transactions.

Residential properties costing more than £2,000,000 will now be subject to a 7% rate of SDLT and where companies have been used to acquire this sort of residential property there will be a 15% liability on the transfer into the company, because subsequently the shares can be transferred at a much lower Stamp Duty liability of 0.5% or outside the UK with no liability at all – other measures will include charging gains on the sale of property within these offshore companies to CGT and even a version of Vince Cable’s vaunted mansion tax where a company is used as an envelope to avoid liability.

This podcast can only skim the surface of the budget provisions and further information can be obtained from the revenue and treasury websites. There is a 206 page document “Overview of Tax Legislation and Rates” containing details of all of the budgetary changes which can be downloaded from http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/budget2012/ootlar.htm and The Chancellors full budget report, the ‘Red Book’ as it is called is available from http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/budget2012_documents.htm