Facing an almost empty House of Commons yesterday lunch-time (television viewing numbers yet to be announced!), the Chancellor presented his long-awaited second full Budget.
The challenge the chancellor faced was double edged: begin to recoup the £407bn state bill for tackling the pandemic (comparable to the two world wars), without choking the economy just as the cogs might begin to turn.
The headline was the only apparent increase in tax rates, being the raise of the Corporation Tax rate from 19% to 25% for companies with profits over £250,000, with effect from 1 April 2023. The 19% rate is retained for trading and (most) property investment companies with profits up to £50,000 – but even for those companies, once profits exceed £50,000, a tapered rate will be introduced until profits reach the £250,000 limit. To avoid avoidance, profits between group companies under common control are proportionately reduced, akin to the mechanisms prior to Budget 2015.
The effect will mainly hit larger companies, but the change will also discourage the incorporation of profitable sole trades or partnerships. No reduction of the dividend tax rates to reflect the additional underlying Corporation Tax is afforded, meaning that the effective overall rate of tax on profits earned in a company and extracted by way of dividend could now be as high as 54.5% in some circumstances, though more commonly 49.4% (for a higher-rate taxpayer).
Other taxes were increased by stealth – that is to say, in an indirect manner. Allowances and tax bands have been increasing over the past several years to reflect inflation, however yesterday the Chancellor gleamed when he announced the removal of indexation and fixing of allowances, tax bands, or both for the next five years. This applies to the following, with the effect of dragging taxpayers to higher tax brackets as they get richer – more commonly known as “fiscal drag”:
- Income Tax personal allowance
- Income Tax Basic and Higher Rate bands
- NIC upper earnings and upper profits limits
- Pension Lifetime Allowance
- Inheritance Tax Nil Rate Band
- Capital Gains Tax annual exempt amount
Other rules did lend themselves to favouring trading businesses, be they companies or individuals:
- The rules on setting trading losses against general income are loosened, with the carry-back period extended to three years (from the current one year). The legislation has not been published, but for companies, the relief applies to losses of accounting periods ending between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2022. For individuals, the relief applies to losses of the tax years 2020/21 and 2021/22, with the £2m loss cap applying ‘per individual’ not ‘per business’ – this may be especially relevant to partnerships or LLPs.
- Capital expenditure incurred by a company (note, only a company) is incentivised – companies can now claim “super deduction” capital allowances of 130% of expenditure on plant and machinery that would ordinarily be relieved at 18% per annum (and 50% on plant that would otherwise be relieved at 6% per annum). The relief applies to expenditure incurred from 1 April 2021 (but not if the expenditure was already contracted before 3 March 2021). Scrupulous small business owners will note that this saving represents only 30% on capital expenditure that is already being relieved at 100% under the Annual investment allowance, subject to the annual cap.
The wider economy
- Mr Sunak maintained the exemption from stamp duty land tax (SDLT) on the first £500,000 of residential property value to 30 June 2021. This will be replaced by a £250,000 exemption until 30 September 2021. As a reminder, the 2% surcharge for non-resident purchasers of residential property in England or Northern Ireland applies from 1 April 2021, meaning that foreign buyers may end up paying an additional 5% SDLT if they also own another home anywhere in the world.
- In a further strain to avoid pulling the rug from under the housing market, Mr Sunak also confirmed the introduction of a mortgage guarantee scheme with deposits of just 5%, slogan-ned ‘Turning “generation rent” into “generation buy”‘.
- The coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) will be extended in full until 30 June 2021 and will be phased out by September 2021, with employers required to contribute from July 2021.
- The self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) will be extended at its current level with a fourth grant covering the period February to April. A fifth grant will cover the period May to September, but this will be at a lower level for those who have seen less than a 30% drop in turnover. The Chancellor’s team may be beady-eyed with income and profits reported in Tax Returns, with the announced creation of an HMRC ‘taskforce’ to crack down on those defrauding support schemes introduced to combat the economic impact of Covid-19.
- The business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will be extended until June, with a 75% discount thereafter. Various restart grants will be made available to retail and hospitality, to be administered by local councils.
- Lower VAT rate for hospitality firms is to be maintained at the 5% rate until September.
- Eight new English freeports have been announced across the UK, with the aim of encouraging commerce and inwards investment using generous and wide-reaching tax breaks.
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