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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 March, 2004, 15:27 GMT
Budget Q&A: What it means to you
The chancellor was characteristically sanguine about the health of the UK economy, but what does it all mean to you? BBC News Online unpicks his Budget measures and tells you what it means, from the size of your pay packet to the cost of a pint.

Gordon Brown
Are you affected by the chancellor's measures?

Will my pay packet be smaller?

The chancellor has announced tax rates are staying the same, but tax bands will rise in line with price inflation.

However, this has been seen as a stealth tax by some because incomes tend to increase more quickly than prices. Therefore an increasing number of people will be caught within the higher-rate tax band.

All personal income tax allowances and age-related allowances for the tax year 2004/5 were announced in the pre-Budget report.

The basic personal allowance for people aged under 65 will be increased in line with inflation to 4,745 for 2004/05.

There was some good news for self-assessment taxpayers.

As widely anticipated, shorter tax returns will be introduced for more than 400,000 taxpayers from April.

What about booze and fags?

If you are a smoker you will be hit by another increase in duty - but much less than expected.

Cigarettes are going up by 8p a packet.

'SIN' TAXES
Cigarettes: Up 8p a packet
Beer: Up 1p a pint
Wine: Up 4p a bottle

There is good news for spirits drinkers once again. For the seventh Budget in a row the chancellor has frozen duty on spirits.

Duties on cider and sparkling wine will also stay the same.

Beer and wine drinkers also got off lightly. The chancellor is adding another penny on the price of a pint and 4p on a bottle of wine - the same rates by which they went up last year.

I'm a first-time buyer. Is there anything here for me?

There's nothing immediate here for people struggling to get a foothold on the property ladder.

Many first-time buyers were hoping the chancellor would raise the level at which stamp duty becomes payable.

STAMP DUTY RATES
Up to 60k: 0%
60,001 to 250,000: 1%
250,001 to 500,000: 3%
Over 500,000: 4%

Instead, he has frozen stamp duty rates for the second year in a row.

"Given the speed at which house prices are rising more people will be dragged into the highest rates. In effect, freezing the rate while prices are rising is a classic stealth tax," said Anne Redston, tax partner at Ernst & Young.

The chancellor has asked the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to consult on the affordability of housing, opening up a national debate on the issue.

The move follows the publication of a Treasury-sponsored report by economist Kate Barker. It concluded Britain needed up to 140,000 extra new homes a year if housing supply was to keep apace with demand.

What if I am thinking of investing in property?

You will soon have another opportunity open to you.

The chancellor has given the green light to a collective buy-to-let investment scheme, known as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS).

These allow small investors with modest means to invest in diversified property portfolios, and will be more tax efficient than traditional property investing.

The trusts were a key recommendation of the Barker review, and they are already operating in a number of countries, such as the United States, France, Australia and Japan.

In turn, the government hopes that investor cash will be used to boost the provision of private rented accommodation, easing the UK's housing shortage.

What about inheritance tax?

There was no reprieve for families concerned about how rising property values have created an inheritance tax liability on their estates.

The chancellor has only increased the current inheritance tax threshold of 255,000 fractionally.

From 6 April, the first 263,000 of an estate will be exempt from inheritance tax, levied at 40%.

I've got children. Do I get any extra help?

Yes, as long as you are on a low income and qualify for the Child Tax Credit - a benefit for families with children.

The Treasury announced in the pre-Budget report that as many as 3.7 million families and 7.2 million children will benefit from the increase, which will boost the amount people can get by as much as 3.50 a week, or 180 a year per child.

I'm a pensioner. Will I get any additional money?

Pensioners who have been lobbying for much higher state pensions will be disappointed.

The chancellor has once again ruled out linking the rise in the state pension to earnings growth, which ensures the state pension keeps apace with wages.

PENSION GUIDE
Full basic state pension will rise to 79.60 for single pensioners and to 127.25
Guaranteed element of the Pension Credit will rise to 105.45 for a single person and 160.95 for a couple

Instead, the full state pension will rise in line with inflation to 79.60 for single pensioners and to 127.25 for a couple from April 2005.

The poorest pensioners should qualify for the Pension Credit, a top-up benefit for pensioners on low incomes.

Those who qualify will be guaranteed 105.45 if they are single, while couples will get 160.95.

What about my private or company pension?

High earners who have or are likely to build up more than 1.5m pension savings during their lifetime will have to study their options carefully.

LIFETIME LIMITS
2006: 1.5m
2007: 1.6m
2008: 1.65m
2009: 1.75m
2010: 1.8m

But for most people the new regime being introduced by the chancellor is good news.

This is because the government is getting rid of a series of complex pension tax regimes - and introducing a single limit.

It should make saving for a pension easier and more flexible than ever before.

From April 2006, the first year of the scheme, the maximum amount you can have in your pension pot without suffering penalties will be set at 1.5m and will rise to 1.8m in 2010.

Has the chancellor done a u-turn on council tax?

Not likely.

However, pensioners over 70 years old will get a 100 payment.

This will be paid in addition to the winter fuel allowance.

Has the chancellor hit motorists again?

Vehicle Excise Duty paid by every motorist is being frozen, and a 1.9p a litre rise in unleaded petrol and a similar rise on diesel will be delayed until September.

This will add about 30 a year to a motorist's annual fuel bill.

As expected, Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) will rise, by 2.4p a litre.

But the biggest hit was imposed on company van drivers.

Company van drivers who only use their vans for work purposes, and for travelling to and from work, will have no tax at all.

Those who use their vans for other purposes, such as picking up their children from school, will see their tax bill increase from 2007.

Instead of a taxable benefit of 500, this will shoot up to 3,000 with an extra 500 if the employer provides free fuel.

For a higher-rate taxpayer their bill would go up from 200 to 1,400.

I run my own small business. Will I be affected?

As expected, the chancellor has introduced sweeping changes to incorporated businesses from 1 April 2004.

Many small businesses have rushed to incorporate over the last two years because the chancellor introduced a zero rate of corporation tax on profits up to 10,000 for limited companies in the 2002 Budget.

Higher-rate taxpayers

The chancellor threatened a new tax regime for small "owner-managed" companies in the pre-Budget report, because he felt some of them were not paying the right amount of tax.

He is introducing a new 19% rate of tax on dividends paid from small businesses to individual shareholders. A small business is any company with profits up to 300,000.

Ms Redston said the move would lead to a rush of companies distributing their profits before 1 April in order to avoid the new tax.

There was speculation that this new tax regime would sweep away controversial tax rules IR35 and S660A (husband and wife tax) but this hasn't happened. Small businesses will simply have an additional new tax regime to those they already have to face.

However, there is a hint in the Budget documents that today's change is not the last word. The government has promised a "strategic" review of the dividing line between employment and self-employment.





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