MONEY TALK: Come on, Gordon, give us a clue

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The Independent Online
SO WE now have a Labour government with the sort of majority that means it has little reason to show restraint if it doesn't want to. Yet worryingly, we know very little of what it really plans for our finances. What do we know, and what should we be looking out for?

A first Budget is due in weeks, but even before then interest rates are likely to rise. The expectation is that the base interest rate - and therefore mortgage rates - will go up at least 0.25 per cent almost immediately. If the Government feels the need to increase rates by a greater amount in the short-term, don't expect it to hold back - after all, any rises can be blamed on the economic inheritance left by the Tories.

A windfall tax on the privatised utilities is a virtual certainty for a first Budget, and it would be surprising if Labour didn't also carry out its stated policy of abolishing the tax relief the over-60s get on private medical insurance at the same time.

The fast-approaching reality of a windfall tax is hardly good news for the millions of small savers who own utility shares, but how much prices might fall is unclear. The shares of these companies have been held back by the shadow of this tax, and Labour has yet to make clear how much it wants from which companies. A lighter-than-expected tax could see a rebound in prices; likewise if any of the targets were "let off" by Labour.

If, as expected, Labour gets rid of the tax relief the over-60s enjoy on private medical insurance, expect this to affect policies in force, so beware of "buy now while stocks last" talk from insurance salesmen.

Mortgage tax relief could well be on the incoming government's hit-list. Miras is now only worth a maximum of pounds 300 a year to borrowers, and its abolition or further restriction could be presented as reasonable, given that a housing market recovery now seems well underway in much of the country.

PEPs are unlikely to be abolished in the coming Budget - so, again, there seems little reason to rush out and buy immediately. They could, however, be made less attractive by a possible change to dividend taxation, which, if anything, is another reason to wait and see because any change would almost certainly affect all PEPs in existence.

Labour is committed to not raising the basic or higher rates of income tax, but it may have other plans up its sleeve to increase the tax burden (and why not on the super-rich?) through changing tax allowances and the like. Both capital gains and inheritance taxes, if anything, are likely to be made to bite harder.

Labour needs to tell us a lot more about what it plans for pensions - its existing comments are worryingly fuzzy. We are also a long way from knowing how, if at all, it plans to protect inheritances from the costs of care for the aged.

Look out for a move to make saving towards pensions compulsory - favoured by Frank Field, a Labour welfare specialist - but, hardly surprisingly, not something the leadership backed before the election. The idea of forcing people to save some of their income for a pension risks the accusation that it is a tax rise by another name.

Finally, Labour has said it wants to tighten up the way financial products are sold, particularly to improve the quality of mortgage advice - a reform that is long overdue and pertinent, given the return of speculative excesses in the housing market in the south-east.

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