Finance: A little something for the small people

Tax is one of those curiosities that is a dreary mystery to the general public, yet a source of apparently endless fascination and even fun to those who make it their trade. For the latter group, the run-up to a Budget is a time for speculation about the sorts of changes the Chancellor may make away from the main attraction of income tax rates and changes to duty on drinks and cigarettes.

However, even those folk are apt to admit that the system is overly complex. While that creates room for manoeuvre for those of their number who advise big corporations and wealthy individuals, it means many who cannot afford help give too much of their income to the Government.

Tackling such anomalies will be a priority for John Andrews, who took over as president of the Chartered Institute of Taxation yesterday, just as Simon McKie was handing over the reins of the Institute of Chartered Accountants' tax faculty to Anita Monteith. Mr Andrews, a partner with Coopers & Lybrand, is a specialist in the taxation of company directors and employees, but he wants to turn the spotlight on the plight of the less advantaged - not to ensure that they avoid tax, but to help them get some back. "I want to concentrate a lot of firepower on those people who can't afford tax advice," he says. He claims the Inland Revenue accepts that confusion in a number of areas has led it to hold money that it could give back to taxpayers. He hopes to work with the Revenue and consumer bodies in an effort to correct the situation.

While such initiatives might help right past wrongs, he is aware of the need to deal with the system. Here, he thinks there is an opportunity for Gordon Brown to continue the radical policies begun with granting greater independence to the Bank of England. If not in the forthcoming Budget, then in future ones, there is tremendous scope for bringing the income tax and social security systems closer together, on the grounds that National Insurance contributions represent a heavy additional tax burden for the lower paid.

The changing ways of working - under which more people are shifting to freelance or contractual arrangements - create a case for doing something about the rigorous distinctions between Schedule D, which covers the self- employed, and Schedule E, which deals with those who are employed and pay tax as they earnn

Roger Trapp

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

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