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Tax

Inheritance Tax (IHT) and the Residence Nil-Rate Band

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Recent changes to Inheritance Tax (IHT) legislation are certainly helping individuals to pay less tax on death, however it’s fair to say the system is slightly more complicated.

Last year, the government introduced a new allowance, the Residence Nil-Rate Band (RNRB) to reduce the impact of IHT on families and to make it easier to pass on their home to children and grandchildren.  The allowance applies where a residence is passed on death to a direct descendant.  The RNRB increased from £100,000 to £125,000 in April 2018 and will rise to £175,000 in tax-year 2020/21 when it will continue to rise in line with the Consumer Price Index.  One thing though, the RNRB cannot exceed the value of the home passed onto children and grandchildren.

The RNRB is different to the existing nil-rate band which applies to everyone and will remain at £325,000 until tax-year 2020/21.  Married couples and civil partners may transfer their assets to one another tax-free and the surviving partner can use both allowances.  This means that couples can pass on up to £650,000 in tax-year 2018/19. However, if the estate includes their home and is to be passed onto their children and/or grandchildren, they can pass on £900,000 when both RNRB allowances of £125,000 are included.  By tax-year 2020/21, they will be able to pass on up-to £1mn in assets tax-free.  Furthermore, the RNRB is available to anyone who has downsized, (or rightsized as we like to refer it as!) or ceased to own a home on or after 8thJuly 2015.

Some complications

Because the RNRB only applies to direct descendants, it does not apply to individuals with no children or to individuals who would like to leave their home to others not regarded as direct descendants.

Another complication is the tapered reduction in the RNRB at a rate of £1 for every £2 by which an estate’s value exceeds £2mn.  However, assets given away in the 7 years before death will not be included in the value of the estate when calculating the tapered reduction – this potentially encourages death bed tax planning to ensure one’s estate falls below £2mn!

Worth also adding that buy-to-let properties do not qualify if they have not been a residence of yours.

Final Thoughts

Despite the RNRB being welcomed by clients and their advisers, the number of individuals with an IHT liability continues to increase.

Estate planning is a key area where Wells Gibson can add value and is a core part of our Wealth Planning service – in fact, there are a wide range of effective IHT planning techniques at our disposal and these include gifting allowances, Potentially Exempt Transfers or PETs, trusts and Business Property Relief-qualifying investments.

As always, if you have questions and would like to discuss IHT further please contact us.

Is the tax tail of EIS and VCT investment wagging the investment dog?

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Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) represent tax-advantaged opportunities to invest equity capital into very small and often very early stage, or even start-up, privately held businesses.  The words ‘equity’, ‘privately held’, ‘small’ and ‘early stage’ immediately point out some of the risks.

There is a certain human appeal towards investing in the next potential Google or similar tech start-up or to own a share of a biotech firm commercialising some aspect of research for the good of mankind.  Intuitively, one knows that this is a risky, dice-rolling business and that for every winner there are bound to be some losers and some also-rans.  However, the tax breaks afforded by HM Government, for these schemes, risk clouding the due diligence that these investments duly deserve.

It is a mistake to think that these tax breaks are noble in nature.  Their purpose is to encourage the supply of capital to these companies in the hope that they will employ more people, who will pay income tax, make NI contributions (individual and company) and pay VAT on goods bought with their wages – and that they will generate higher corporate earnings on which corporation tax can be charged.  The tax breaks are provided to improve the risk-return relationship that potential investors in these companies face.

EIS was launched in 1993-1994, as an evolution of the Business Expansion Scheme that went before it.  Since it began, it has raised billions of pounds for thousands of small companies.  In fact, according to the EIS Association, the official trade body for the Enterprise Investment Scheme, in May 2018, HMRC released the first of its estimates in respect of the number of companies raising funds and the amounts raised through EIS for 2016-17:  3,470 companies raised a total of £1.8mn of funds under the EIS scheme in 2016/17.  Remember this is an estimate and judging by previous years, we can expect these numbers to increase.

The VCT scheme was first introduced in 1995.  VCTs are similar to investment trusts, raising capital by the sale of shares in the trust, which is then invested into qualifying trading companies.

Researchpoints out that around three quarters of advisers recommend EIS investments and a great majority of these advisers stated that tax benefits were one of the main reasons why they recommend EIS to clients. These findings are surprising and even alarming to us.  The tax tail seems to be wagging the investment dog, particularly because a majority believe these investments should be considered before other more mainstream tax breaks (e.g. ISA and pension) have been fully utilised.

Furthermore, it seems a high percentage of private investors who regard themselves as sophisticated or experienced hold EIS investments and an even greater percentage had considered them.  When choosing an investment, a high percentage stated that the expected level of return was one of the most important criteria.  This alarms us.  Even self-selected ‘sophisticated’ investors would appear to be taking far higher risks than they are aware of, not least the risk of real disappointment that returns are poor (or their capital is lost entirely, before the tax breaks they receive).

The fees on EIS and VCT funds are, as one might expect, high in comparison to passive or systematic mutual funds.  Annual management charges in the region of 2% to 3% and around 3.5% in terms of total costs strip out considerable upside, and that is before any form of performance fee is deducted.  Don’t forget that there are often arrangement fees representing around 2% of each transaction.  In the end, investors only receive returns net of costs.  When costs are high as they are in this case, intermediaries take an unjustified share of the upside.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The risks of EIS and VCT investments are varied and considerable as they both invest in very small unquoted companies.  It is our belief that many investors do not have a clear insight into the risk they are taking on.  These range from the risk of failure, to owning minority stakes in illiquid private businesses and the risk of changes in the tax regime that may affect the attractiveness of the tax breaks on offer.

The conclusion that we arrive at is that we would not recommend EIS and VCT investments in the event that a client’s other tax reliefs (e.g. pension, ISA, CGT) have not yet been fully utilised.  When it comes to investing, diversification, keeping costs low and only taking risks supported by evidence is what matters, yet EIS and VCT products don’t tick these boxes!

These high-risk, tax planning products should only be considered and recommended in very client specific circumstances where all other avenues have been explored, and only for those clients who meet stringent net worth and investor sophistication criteria.

Is the tax tail wagging the investment dog in the UK?  From what we can see the answer is yes.

2018 Autumn budget and pension tax change speculation

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With the summer holidays drawing to a close, the inevitable round of speculation about pension tax relief changes in the Autumn Budget has begun.

Media reports suggest that Chancellor Philip Hammond has his eyes on cuts to higher rate tax relief on pension contributions when he presents his Budget statement to the House of Commons in November.  The Chancellor has a challenging Budget ahead, with a desperate need to find extra funding for the NHS, the £20bn already pledged by the Prime Minister.

According to an unnamed senior government minister, Hammond believes higher rate tax relief on pensions represents ‘one of the last remaining pots of gold we can raid’.  This suggestion will worry higher rate taxpayers who currently enjoy this generous tax relief on their pension contributions.

As things stand, basic rate relief is added to the pension pot, with the ability for higher rate taxpayers to reclaim the difference between basic and higher rates of income tax through self-assessment.  However, the unnamed government source is also reported to have said Hammond is only likely to target those who can afford to contribute tens of thousands of pounds to their pension pots each year.

Pension tax relief is always under threat in the Budget, if media reports leading up to the big day are to be believed.  The last major round of speculation was a couple of years ago, when then Chancellor George Osborne had his eye on £1.5bn of tax savings by changing pension tax relief to a flat-rate.

Lending weight to the speculation on this occasion is a Treasury Committee report, published last month, which concluded existing pension tax relief was neither an effective or well-targeted way of encouraging people to save into pensions.  Despite recommending the Treasury considered making fundamental reform to pension tax relief, the report recommended that the current system could be improved through further, incremental changes to tax relief.  According to the report, ‘Household finances: income, saving and debt’:

“The government should consider replacing the lifetime allowance with a lower annual allowance, introducing a flat rate of relief, and promoting understanding of tax relief as a bonus or additional contribution.”

Cutting the pension annual allowance is an option on the table for Hammond.  The annual allowance is a limit on how much you can contribute to your pension each year, while still receiving tax relief.  It currently stands at £40,000 but is tapered down to as low as £10,000 for higher earners with earnings exceeding £210,000 a year.  For those who have taken taxable income flexibly from their pensions, a Money Purchase Annual Allowance (MPAA) of £4,000 applies instead of the £40,000 figure.  In any case, your earnings in the tax year need to be sufficient to justify the size of the pension contribution, with opportunities to bring forward any unused annual allowance from the previous three tax years – unless that is, the MPAA applies to you.  This ability to carry forward unused annual allowance could also be attacked in the Autumn Budget, changing to a ‘use it or lose it’ approach, similar to use of Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowances in each tax year.

Should the Chancellor decide to cut the annual allowance in his Autumn Budget, to a yet unknown figure, he might give back the abolition of the lifetime allowance as a concession.  The lifetime allowance is a limit on the total value of pension benefits you can draw from all pension schemes, either as lump sums or retirement income, without it triggering an extra tax charge.  Since April 2018, the lifetime allowance has been set at £1,030,000 and is due to increase at the start of each tax year, in line with price inflation.  A relatively low number of people are caught by the lifetime allowance, and many of those who will be, are entitled to a higher lifetime allowance figure by virtue of applying for ‘protection’ certificates when it was historically set at a higher level.  For some of those individuals with lifetime allowance protection certificates in place, this entitlement to a higher lifetime allowance came at a cost, that is, not being able to make any future pension contributions, or losing that protection and seeing more of their pension benefits being subjected to a future tax charge.

Abolishing the lifetime allowance entirely would be a popular move for those fortunate to have this level of pension benefits, even if it came with a corresponding reduction in the annual allowance.

Another possibility is the Chancellor will scrap the current system of pension tax relief, replacing it with a flat-rate tax relief.  Earlier this year, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) put forward the case for a flat-rate of pension tax relief at 30%, specifically as a way to help the self-employed.  They estimated this reform would leave three-quarters of savers better off, including those earning low incomes and the self-employed.  It would also save the Treasury a great deal of money each year in tax reliefs.

Of course, the one pension perk where conspiracy theories circulate ahead of each Budget is pension tax-free cash.  Since tax-free cash was renamed the ‘pension commencement lump sum’, it has seemed fair game for the Treasury to place a cap on how much lump sum can be taken tax-free, or simply subject all cash withdrawals from pensions to income tax charges.  This form of attack on pensions seems far less likely than a cut in the annual allowance or even the introduction of flat-rate pension tax relief.

Other potential opportunities being considered for the Budget will undoubtedly include cutting tax breaks on smaller company investing, which could spell bad news for higher-risk, tax planning products such as Venture Capital Trusts and Enterprise Investment Schemes.

If you find yourself potentially worse off should the annual allowance be cut, ability to carry forward unused annual allowance removed, or pension tax relief changed to a flat-rate, then taking some action ahead of the Budget could make sense.

Talk to Wells Gibson about your options, and we can help you understand the impact of any of these changes on your own long-term financial planning and in particular, your desired lifestyle and goals.

The Chancellor’s first Spring Statement:

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Mr Hammond made clear some while ago that he wanted his Spring Statement to be a short financial briefing rather than a mini-Budget, complete with rabbit-out-of-hat announcements.  Although his speech on Tuesday ran to 25 minutes, rather than the 15-20 that had been promised, the Chancellor stuck to a no-frills script.

There were no new tax measures and no spending changes.  The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) trimmed its projections for government borrowing, but Mr Hammond simply banked the savings for his Autumn Budget.  Spending will be subject to a detailed review in 2019.

While the Chancellor appeared to say little, his statement was followed by the publication of a range of documents covering areas including:

o      Entrepreneur’s Relief:

–       A consultation paper was published on how to give entrepreneurs’ relief in circumstances where it would otherwise be lost because of a new share issue.

o      VAT Threshold:

–       The government issued a call for evidence on restructuring the VAT registration threshold to offer more incentives for small businesses to grow.  There is some evidence that businesses deliberately limit growth to avoid crossing the existing £85,000 threshold (which has been frozen for the next two years).

o      Tax and the Digital Economy:

–       There were several papers examining taxation issues surrounding the digital economy, including VAT and income tax leakage through internet trading platforms.

o      Self-Funded Work-Related Training:

–       A consultation paper was published examining how to extend the existing tax relief framework to self-funded, work-related training by employees and the self-employed.

Many of these documents will eventually result in legislation, but that does not mean no tax changes in the interim.  The impact of last November’s Budget (and some earlier measures) will soon be felt with the start of the new tax-year.

The Scottish Draft Budget 2018/19

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A “fairer and more progressive” tax system?

Last week saw the eagerly awaited Scottish draft Budget which followed draft proposals from the Scottish Government for reforming the structure of income tax.  As the SNP does not have a majority, the Budget only represents draft proposals and these may change before becoming law.

Derek Mackay, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, claimed that around 70% of Scottish taxpayers in Scotland earning less than £33,000 will not pay more income tax in 2018/19 than in 2017/18, but time will only tell if the revised income tax framework will “make Scotland’s tax system fairer and more progressive”.

Unfortunately, Mr Mackay has complicated the tax structure by creating two new rates of tax – a starter rate at 19% and an intermediate rate at 21% and has added 1% to the current 40% higher and the 45% additional rates.

The proposed new income tax bands above any available personal allowance for 2018/19 are as follows:

Taxable Income

Band Name

Tax Rate

0 – 2,000 Starter 19
2,001 – 12,150 Basic 20
12,151 – 32,423 Intermediate 21
32,424 – 150,000* Higher 41
Over £150,000 Top 46

* Those earning more than £100,000 will see their personal allowance reduced by £1 for every £2 earned over £100,000.

The above new structure will mean:

  • The Scottish basic-rate band will run from the personal allowance of £11,850 set by Westminster to £24,000 of income;
  • The 41% higher-rate threshold for 2018/19 will be £44,273, which compares to a 40% higher-rate threshold and £46,350 for the rest of the UK; and
  • The basic-rate remains at 20%, however, there will be a band of intermediate-rate taxpayers who will be able to reclaim an extra 1% tax-relief on their pension contributions.

Land and Building Transaction Tax

After last month’s Westminster Budget, a widely expected change to help first time buyers was made to Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT).  Mr Mackay increased the nil rate slice of LBTT by £30,000 to £175,000, giving first time buyers a maximum saving of £600 from 2018/19.