Widows' windfalls strategy still `up for grabs'

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The Independent Online
LAWRENCE URQUHART, the chairman of Scottish Widows, the life insurance group being taken over by Lloyds TSB, the high street bank, said yesterday that the structure of the windfall payouts to its 900,000 with-profits members was still open to negotiation.

"They are not set in stone. The structure is still up for grabs," he said.

Mr Urquhart was speaking after The Independent revealed that members will be liable for capital gains tax when the cash payouts are made next year. Members who receive the maximum payout of pounds 40,000 might find themselves paying up to pounds 16,000 to the taxman.

Mr Urquhart said that, beyond the views expressed at the time the pounds 7bn deal was struck - that the size of individual payments should reflect the size and longevity of policies - no firm decisions have been taken.

The average payout for with-profits policy holders is pounds 6,000, but many individuals stand to get substantially more.

Widows is believed to favour structuring the payouts so that carpetbaggers get only small payouts while long-standing members who have chosen to make the bulk of their retirement provision through Widows should get proportionately more.

However, analysts say that the total tax liability would be reduced if the payouts were more evenly spread.

Mr Urquhart added that the group had looked at other forms of distribution, such as top-ups to policies, which would have been more efficient, but had rejected them.

This is the first demutualisation where tax has threatened to be a major issue. Previously where life offices or building societies have been taken over and cash payments made to members in return for giving up control, the sums involved have been too small to breach the pounds 7,100-a-year CGT exemption ceiling.

Scottish Widows has said that it does not expect for several weeks to be in a position to give a detailed breakdown of how the payouts will be structured.