By Gemma Johnston, Associate Director, Tax, Grant Thornton Northern Ireland 

Gemma Johnson

Gemma Johnson

With the Autumn Budget having been cancelled, now may be the time to consider making the most of available tax reliefs or relatively low rates of tax – before it’s too late.

Change is happening at an unprecedented level, and it can be difficult to keep on top of what is going on; COVID-19 seems to bring with it new rules and restrictions each week, and we ponder what the end result will look like for our economic landscape.

The Winter Economy Plan has been published and it sets out how the Government intends to continue to support businesses, save jobs, and keep people safe.

We are expecting a Budget sooner or later that will include further measures designed to increase spending, tackle unemployment, and boost the economy, however we know that the Chancellor will eventually need to find ways to pay for these.

The Conservatives’ manifesto in 2019 promised there would be no increase in the rates of income tax, VAT or National Insurance. Assuming these promises are kept, whilst bearing in mind the vastly changed economic climate, how else might the Government impose tax increases?

The UK’s Corporation Tax rate is currently 19% which is around 5% lower than the global average tax rate – although the impact of a tax hike on businesses trying to navigate their way through the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis could be devastating.

Capital gains tax (CGT) rates in the UK range from 10% to 20% (with a rate of up to 28% for disposals of residential property) with HMRC netting around £9 billion a year in receipts.

There is much speculation that these relatively low rates of tax, which are paid predominantly by wealthier individuals, will rise in the next Budget.

Inheritance Tax (IHT) reforms have long been discussed. The Office of Tax Simplification recommend streamlining exemptions, making tax on lifetime gifts simpler and more intuitive, and addressing reliefs for business and agricultural property.

With IHT payments following only 5% of deaths, might the Chancellor use his next Budget to get the ball rolling?

The Spring Budget cut Entrepreneurs’ Relief (now ‘Business Asset Disposal Relief’) by 90% and we may well see other reliefs trimmed back further – such as CGT and IHT reliefs.  Pension tax relief is another area where we might expect some tinkering, perhaps with the abolition of higher rate tax relief.

We are all too aware of how previous tax changes have come into effect immediately at the Budget date, taking taxpayers and advisers by surprise.

With the cancellation of the Budget providing some extra breathing space, it might be worth considering accelerating any future plans now – e.g. making pension contributions, selling personal assets or making lifetime gifts, in order to secure a lower rate of tax.

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