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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 15:13 GMT
What does the pre-Budget report mean for you?
A child learning to walk
Paid maternity leave will be extended to nine months

While economists debate whether the chancellor's "golden rule" is still intact, many people will be more interested in what the pre-Budget report means in practice - from council tax and childcare to petrol prices and pensions.

I am a parent. Is there any help for my family?

Yes, the chancellor says he wants to ensure that every child has the "best start in life" and he has unveiled a range of measures which may help those juggling work and home commitments.

QUICK GUIDE

The Department of Trade & Industry is to consult on extending flexible working rights, introduced in April 2003, to parents of older children.

There are also significant changes planned to help new parents.

Paid maternity leave will be transferable to fathers, giving parents greater flexibility.

And maternity leave will in 2007 be extended to nine months from six, with a further extension to one year promised before the end of the next parliament.

I'm struggling with childcare. Is there any help?

Yes, particularly if you are in a low-income family.

The chancellor says he is offering an extra 600m to support childcare by 2007/08.

The government is to offer funding to allow schools to open from 8am to 6pm to help most parents find good childcare and manage work responsibilities.

It also increased its targets for Children's Centres, which offer advice and support in disadvantaged areas, from 600 centres to 3,500 by 2010.

For families on low incomes he has increased the percentage of childcare costs which can be reclaimed under the tax credit rules to 80% from 70%.

In addition, from April 2005, all employer-supported childcare - not just childcare in work-based nurseries - will qualify for National Insurance (NI) and income tax relief, capped at 50 a week.

The Daycare Trust, a childcare charity, says this will be worth about 1,000 a year to a higher rate taxpayer and about 900 to a lower rate taxpayer.

I'm a saver. Is there anything in it for me?

There is good news here for supporters of Individual Savings Accounts (Isas).

The chancellor has agreed to consult on extending the existing 7,000 tax-free Isa limit for another five years, to 2009.

The chancellor has also announced the second payment on its savings scheme, the Child Trust Fund.

The government originally promised 250, rising to 500 for low income families, to babies born since September 2002.

The chancellor has now announced an additional payment of 250, rising to 500 for low income families, to children on their seventh birthday.

It is hoped the money, which cannot be accessed until the child is 18 years old, will help towards university costs or for a deposit on a home.

The government is also extending its Savings Gateway project, a savings scheme for low-income families, to a wider range of people.

What about my council tax?

It is likely that council tax rises will be pegged back, because an extra 1bn has been made available to support local government services.

Money will be reallocated from some central government departments.

Council tax has become a growing political issue, provoking outrage among many people - particularly pensioners - who say it is unfair and unaffordable.

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

Older pensioners have been promised additional help in the form of bigger winter fuel payments - but it is not as good as it looks.

Pensioners over 70 will receive an additional 50 payment, giving a total of 250. And pensioners aged over 80 will receive a total of 350.

But this is less than they received this year - when they received an additional 100 payment.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern England, said: "The one-off payment is half the amount given last year - many older people will feel that the chancellor is giving with one hand and taking away with the other."

Pensioners who qualify for the Pension Credit, a state top-up pension, have been promised that the credit will be increased by more than inflation.

Has the chancellor hit motorists again?

The proposed rises in Vehicle Excise Duty and a 1.92p rise in fuel duty have been delayed again.

The chancellor has had a bumper year for petrol taxes, as various factors have combined to push oil prices to levels not seen for more than 20 years.

Rises have now been on ice since Budget 2004.

I run a small business. Are there more changes?

Not yet.

As widely mooted, the government has published a discussion document highlighting the tax savings which can be obtained by using a company, rather than operating as a sole trader, or as an employee.

However, it does not make recommendations for change but invites comments.

Anne Redston, tax partner at Ernst & Young, welcomed this approach.

"A sensible discussion is infinitely preferable to a shoot -from-the-hip tax policy for small businesses."

I'm concerned about a new tax avoidance crackdown. What's the latest?

The government wants to stamp out tax avoidance by employers in the way they pay their staff.

The crackdown is on companies that circumvent the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) and National Insurance system to avoid tax.

The government has gradually stamped out obvious schemes, but has lost patience.

All schemes discovered in the future by the government will be retrospectively closed down with effect from 2 December 2004.

"This is more dramatic than expected," Ms Redston told BBC News.

"It is more than a threat. This aims to strangle all PAYE avoidance schemes at their inception."




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