This week, new Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver his first Budget speech, exactly 27 days after Sajid Javid’s shock resignation. The Government has declared an end to austerity, but whether or not Sunak loosens the Treasury’s purse strings remains to be seen.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that “radical changes to taxes” are needed to deliver pledges to raise funding for the NHS and social care. Without doing so, the IFS claimed the Government seems highly unlikely to stick to its own borrowing rules. “Sunak should recognise that more spending must require more tax,” said Paul Johnson, director at the IFS.
However, the Conservative election manifesto promised to freeze the rates and thresholds for income tax, VAT and corporation tax. “The Chancellor is hemmed in by a rising deficit and fiscal targets set out in the Conservative manifesto,” added Johnson.
“They will allow him to increase investment spending, but they will not allow substantial increases in current spending, or tax cuts, to be funded by more borrowing.”
There inlies Sunak’s conundrum, which begs the question as to what tax changes could be announced in the Spring Budget on 11 March 2020.
Digitising, reforming or even abolishing inheritance tax was certainly on Javid’s mind. Whether it’s on Sunak’s is anyone’s guess.
Each year more estates are liable for death duties, but still very few actually pay it. Only 28,100 estates were liable in 2016/17, for example.
The Office for Tax Simplification has made a series of proposals, including reducing the seven-year rule on gifts to five years and scrapping the taper.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Inheritance and Intergenerational Fairness recently suggested going a step further, by slashing the inheritance tax rate from 40% to 10%.
It certainly seems, especially in light of the IFS’ comments, as if changes to death duties are in the offing.
Short odds are offered when it comes to reform or abolishment of entrepreneurs’ relief, which can reduce a capital gains tax bill in certain circumstances.
Business owners who qualify for the relief can pay 10% in capital gains tax, instead of the standard 20%, when they sell all or part of a company for up to £10 million.
The suspicion is that thousands of people who apply for the relief are not in fact entrepreneurs, and providing the relief costs the Treasury around £2 billion a year in lost revenue.
Pensions tax relief
A rather large elephant in the room ahead of Spring Budget 2020 is the taper issue in doctors’ pensions, and the outcome of an ongoing review could be announced by Sunak on 11 March.
Providing pensions tax relief in 2017/18 cost the Government an estimated £37.2bn. Action seems likely as these funds could be reinvested elsewhere.
Possible solutions include removing the £110,000 threshold for net income; scrapping the taper, which can erode the annual pensions allowance from £40,000 to £10,000; or reducing the annual pensions allowance to £20,000.
Whether or not the report delivers changes just for doctors, or they kick in for all high net-worth individuals across the whole taper regime, is anyone’s guess.
We know business rates in England for 2020/21 will rise by 1.7% from 1 April, in line with last September’s Consumer Prices Index rate of inflation.
A comprehensive review of business rates, in an attempt to reduce the overall burden to businesses, is one possible option or reduced rates could be offset by a future online sales tax.
Outside bets include reducing the five-year revaluation period, which has been criticised for not keeping up with the rate of change, or some form of transitional relief scheme to phase in changes after revaluations.