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What can we expect from the Budget?

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15 March 2012

It seems that the only thing we can predict with absolutely certainty is that it is going to be a difficult Budget for the Chancellor, George Osborne.  On the one hand he has to continue with the spending cuts to try and ensure that the country retains its AAA credit rating.  On the other hand economic growth hasn’t really kicked in as yet and needs encouragement.  Concerns of a double dip recession never seem far away.

The government would like to stimulate growth through business expansion rather than consumer spending but it has very limited options available.  As the Chancellor put it, "the days of unfunded giveaways are over – and they're not coming back in this Budget".

There seems to be less leakage from the red box this year than in the past, but my views on the top topics are as follows:

  • Raise the personal allowance. We know the intention is for the personal allowance to reach £10,000 by the end of this parliament.   We also know it is due to be £8,105 in the next tax year but I think he will announce the acceleration of the remaining increase to start from April 2013.  This would take many out of the tax net and significantly reduce the tax paid by lower earners.
  • 50% tax rate. Opinion is definitely divided on this one.  The statistics will probably show that the actual tax reaped at this level is much less than expected due to avoidance arrangements.  Despite this I don’t think the rate will be abolished due to political expediency.
  • National Insurance. Despite rumours don’t expect any changes to National Insurance.
  • Tax relief on pensions. This is always the subject of speculation before every budget, perhaps driven by the pensions industry to scare people into making contributions.  This year, however, there seems to me to be more bite in the threat.  My prediction is that 50% relief will go but that 40% tax relief will remain.
  • Reduce corporation tax. This would really show businesses that the government is on side but with the rates already due to fall to 23% over time I don’t think the Chancellor will go any further.
  • General anti-avoidance rule (GAAR). Tax avoidance is a hot political topic and my view is that much of the current hype on the subject is a prelude to the introduction of a GAAR based on a recent independent report by the barrister, Graham Aaronson QC.
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) loopholes. SDLT avoidance is another hot topic and there is likely to be another attempt to stamp it out particularly on expensive properties owned by foreign companies.  
  • Raise the income limit triggering the loss of child benefit. At the moment it is proposed that from April 2013 where one member of a family is a higher rate taxpayer the family will lose their child benefit. Understandably this has caused an outcry because families with both husband and wife earning £40,000 each will be able to retain their child benefit whereas families where just one person earns £45,000 will lose their benefit. It is fully expected that the rules will change, but if they become more complicated it will be more expensive to implement and administer the benefit.  My view is that the government will simply increase the limit to £50,000.
  • Mansion tax.  The Liberal Democrats have long been advocates of a tax on the most valuable homes in the country but there are practical difficulties in paying income tax on wealth tied up in assets. The key fact, however, is the Conservative manifesto commitment not to revalue homes for council tax so I don’t expect any form of mansion tax.

Whatever is announced on Budget Day you can follow it on the Hazlewoods website from 12.30pm on Wednesday 21 March and the following days to see how any tax announcements will affect you.