UK: The Budget 2014 – New Taxation Developments

Last Updated: 2 April 2014
Article by Ian Bradshaw and Alex Barker

On 19 March, the cameras gathered outside 11 Downing Street as George Osborne raised his red briefcase. Alongside the changes exercising the tabloids (bingo duty and the price of a pint) there were some rather significant announcements affecting the tax and personal finance landscape. Five of the most important are summarised below.

1. Personal allowance for income tax increased to £10,500 from 6 April 2015.

It had already been declared that the allowance will be increasing from £9,440 to £10,000 this April, and the government's latest announcement is effectively an extension of one of the coalition's flagship tax policies. The motives are seemingly both ideological and economic. The Liberal Democrats have advocated an increased personal allowance for some time, and the government hopes that economic rewards are to be reaped when low-earners have more disposable income to spend on goods and services.

2. ISA subscription limit set to increase to £15,000 from 1 July 2014.

Individual Savings Accounts were introduced by the Labour government in 1999, allowing the account holder to save and receive tax-free interest. The Chancellor announced that all existing ISAs will become new ISAs (NISAs) on 1 July 2014, and the annual limit on how much can be put away will rise to £15,000. The previous distinction between cash ISAs and stocks and shares ISAs has effectively been abolished, and it will be possible to hold a mix of cash and shares within the same account.

3. Rules on accessing pension funds to be relaxed.

Members of a defined-contribution pension scheme (one where the pension-holder regularly contributes to a fund, with the benefit on retirement dependent on investment returns) will be subject to fewer restrictions on how they access their money on retirement. At normal retirement age, the pot will be accessible in full without the need to purchase an annuity (a product that pays out a regular income from the accumulated pot for life). This was perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Budget, and, depending on the point of view, has been seen by commentators as either a liberating masterstroke or an unacceptably risky gamble on the financial prudence of pensioners.

4. ATED extended to cover dwellings over £500,000.

The Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings deters the acquisition of residential property through companies, partnerships with corporate members or collective investment schemes, by levying an annual lump sum charge depending on the value of the property in question. Currently ATED is limited to residential properties worth more than £2 million, but the Budget confirmed that properties worth more than £1 million will be caught from 1 April 2015, and those over £500,000 from 1 April 2016. Along with the extension of the 15% Stamp Duty Land Tax rate for corporate entities buying residential properties (also to cover properties worth £500,000 or more), the government clearly sees corporate-owned dwellings as a money spinner.

5. HMRC to benefit from accelerated payment of disputed tax.

Following the trend of recent years, the Chancellor confirmed that the Finance Bill 2014 will further strengthen HMRC's hand when it comes to tackling alleged tax avoidance. Specifically, HMRC will have the power to require taxpayers to pay in advance the disputed tax that is the subject of an ongoing enquiry or appeal where the taxpayer has claimed an advantage under the Disclosure Of Tax Avoidance Schemes regime, or the government is seeking to counteract a tax advantage using the General Anti-Abuse Rule. It could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of risk assessments carried out prior to choosing to engage in certain tax arrangements. Cynics might argue that this has been dreamt up to enable HMRC to use the up-front payments to fund litigation, leaving the taxpayer to fight from a position of financial weakness. There is also an apparent conflict between the philosophy of this policy and the self-assessment rules which require tax to be assessed before it becomes due and payable.

Overall, the Budget was not earth-shatteringly radical, but it certainly wasn't insignificant. Practically, the political timetable means that the dates on which these changes are due to come into force are all-important. The general election in May next year may well throw up a different governing party (or parties), and it remains to be seen which of these plans would survive a change of government. Nevertheless, the announcements summarised above may provide an incentive for some to focus their minds and ensure that their personal affairs are in order.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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