Make the most of tax allowances: Caroline Merrell passes on some advice to offset the effect of the impending Budget increases

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The Independent Online
THERE are many measures that people can take towards the end of the tax year to ensure that they have used up all their tax allowances.

Using allowances to the maximum is particularly important in the light of changes announced in the last Budget, which are expected to cost the average household about pounds 70 extra tax a month.

One of the first things tax specialists are warning clients to look out for is whether their tax codes are correct. Earlier this year the Inland Revenue admitted that 10 per cent of this year's codings were wrong. It said the errors could affect up to a million people.

The Government also estimates that about 7 million people are due for a tax refund and are not claiming.

Other areas tax planners say that clients should look at at this time of year are:

Capital gains tax: The bumper year for the British stock market means that many people are looking at big increases in the value of their portfolios for the first time in six years.

The annual individual capital gains exemption is pounds 5,800. Investors should consider 'bed-and-breakfasting' their shares to take maximum advantage of their CGT allowance.

This involves selling shares and buying them back the following day to use up your exemption. If shareholders do not carry out this exercise they will lose their exemptions altogether and will be liable to pay tax on all their gains when they realise their portfolio.

Inheritance tax: Gifts of up to pounds 3,000 can be made tax-free in any one year, and it is also possible to make any number of gifts of up to pounds 250. Andrew Burgess, national tax director at the accountants Neville Russell, says: 'Many people are sitting on big inheritance tax liabilities and they may have cash they want to give away.'

He says it is possible to carry forward the pounds 3,000 inheritance tax exemption, but for only one year. 'On an estate of pounds 300,000 - a pounds 200,000 house perhaps, pounds 50,000 in insurance policies and pounds 50,000 in investments - the tax would be pounds 60,000,' he adds.

Pensions: Advisers advocate making the maximum possible contributions to pensions to reduce the tax bill. For personal pension policyholders the maximum amount that can be invested varies according to age.

For those under 35 the maximum is 17.5 per cent of earnings. This increases to 40 per cent for people aged between 61 and 65. It is also possible to backdate premiums for one year and make use of any unused relief for the previous six years.

People who are in occupational pension schemes may be able to make additional voluntary contributions up to the limit of 15 per cent of taxable salary. This cannot be carried back to previous years.

PEPs: The maximum amount of money that can be invested in one tax year through a personal equity plan is pounds 9,000 - pounds 6,000 into a general PEP plus pounds 3,000 in to a single company plan.

The cooling-off requirements mean that investors have until about 20 March to put money up to the limit in a PEP. They are free from capital gains tax and income tax.

Independent taxation: Stephen Ingledew, from the independent financial adviser Frizzell, says that the end of the tax year will be a good time to ensure that the maximum advantage is being made of independent taxation of spouses.

Advisers say that appropriate investments or deposits could be transferred to a lower taxpaying or non-taxpaying spouse to ensure that the least amount of tax is paid.

Company cars: Tax can also be cut by management of business mileage. Clocking up more than 2,500 miles a year means that company car users pay less tax on the vehicle.

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