PM-in-waiting tries a Budget balancing act
Brown daren't raise taxes - but he could still close loopholes
Sunday 12 March 2006
In 10 days' time, Gordon Brown is due to unveil his 10th Budget. And, prime ministerial ambitions very much in mind, his top priority will be his relationship with the tax-paying electorate.
"As this could well be his last, the Chancellor will look to deliver a Budget which he feels confident will help him as a new prime minister," says Ian Luder, tax partner at accountants Grant Thornton.
Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, agrees. "I think he will minimise tax rises where he can - leaving these to his successor," he says. "He will want to show he is a man of the people, and go out on a high."
The first Budget of a new parliamentary term is often an occasion to announce unpopular measures. But within the financial services industry there is a strong feeling that, this time, nasty shocks such as an increase in national insurance contributions or the standard rate of VAT are unlikely.
"Instead, the Budget could provide the Chancellor with the opportunity to pursue some of his current hobbyhorses - such as green policies and [a clampdown on] tax avoidance," says Victor Dauppe, tax principal at accountants MacIntyre Hudson.
That said, the Chancellor's spending programme and subsequent budget deficit mean he will need to boost tax revenues.
Below, we take a look at the Chancellor's options, what the tax specialists expect him to do, and what they would like him to do.
New rules demanding that accountants disclose details of tax-avoidance schemes such as onshore and offshore trusts have already been announced, and will be extended from 6 April, the start of the new tax year.
Mr Roy-Chowdhury predicts a widening of these measures to take in areas such as stamp duty and inheritance tax. Those most affected are likely to be people with comfortable incomes, rather than the super-rich.
Individual savings accounts (ISAs) and the child trust fund (CTF) could be enhanced in the Budget.
Last year, the Chancellor announced that the £7,000 annual limit for investing in tax-free ISAs would stay in place until 2010. But there are calls for this allowance to be extended beyond this date, and also to be raised.
Speculation is also rife about the Savings Gateway, a pilot scheme under which the government matches savings accumulated by those on low incomes.
"Is this going to be taken forward or quietly dropped?" asks John Whiting of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The Chancellor may also decide to put a figure on proposed CTF payments to be made when a child reaches the age of seven.
On the question of self-invested personal pensions (Sipps), independent financial advisers (IFAs) and pension providers are desperate for the Chancellor to finalise details of any further restrictions on investors. In December, Mr Brown horrified the industry when he did a U-turn and decided that exotic investments such as holiday homes could no longer be put into Sipps.
A-Day - on 6 April - will bring about the biggest changes for years in the UK's pensions regime, including greater flexibility for those taking benefits from pension schemes. From A-Day, people can opt to bequeath part of their pension savings to their families - but the inheritance tax (IHT) implications are still unclear, and tax specialists will be looking to the Chancellor to provide answers.
Investors are nervous about changes to tax rules surrounding venture capital trusts, which back small unquoted companies or start-ups. Since 2004, VCT investors have received 40 per cent income tax relief, but this is due to end on 5 April. Many experts, including Grant Thornton's Mr Luder, expect it to revert to 20 per cent.
Draft legislation has already been published on modernising the taxation of trusts - often set up by grandparents for grandchildren.
Andrew Swallow from IFA Swallow Financial Planning warns that family trusts could be dealt a "massive tax hit".
Could Mr Brown use this Budget to push a green agenda?
Mr Whiting says: "We may see small moves towards an environmentally based tax system - such as a rise in air passenger duty."
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