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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 16:37 GMT
An off-peak bus to the ballot box
By Anne Redston
Chartered Institute of Taxation and partner at Ernst & Young

Anne Redston
Ms Redston welcomes a commitment to cut red tape
Chancellor Gordon Brown ended his long Budget speech by promising that all pensioners in the UK would have free bus travel.

The small print makes this promise slightly less exciting. Free bus travel will only be available for local off-peak journeys in England, according to paragraph 5.65.

Searching through the small print uncovered a few other points he forgot to mention.

Same-sex couples who register as a civil partnership will obtain the same tax rights as married couples from 5 December.

Even those families who can claim most tax credits have to deal with a complex and confusing system
Anne Redston

This is a major change, as it will allow civil partners to transfer assets, such as a buy-to-let property or a share portfolio, between themselves without incurring a big tax bill.

There could be a sting in the tail. If John owns a flat in London and Peter has a house in Brighton, at the moment both can be sold free of capital gains tax.

However, under civil partnership rules they will have to elect one of the properties to be their main residence and the other will be subject to tax on sale.

Single mothers

Families on low incomes are another big and more explicit winner from this year's Budget.

As promised in December's pre-Budget, they will get an extra 1bn.

Britain's regulatory regime has gone too far
Anne Redston

Most of this will be in the form of extra help for childcare costs.

The chancellor says that families on 25,000 are paying a tax rate of only 6% - but this does not apply to families where the husband or wife stays at home to look after the children.

Even those families who can claim most tax credits have to deal with a complex and confusing system based on estimates.

The resulting overpayments have left many families with unexpected and large debts, which they had no idea they were incurring.

It is time for the whole regime - which institutionalises overpayments by requesting estimates for future income - to be examined.

Grey vote

Apart from bus passes, pensioners also gained an increase in means-tested Pension Credit and handouts to help them with their council tax.

The chancellor believes they should be satisfied with this, but pensioners have made it clear that they want an earnings-linked pension and an end to means-testing.

The chancellor's fascination with tax credits in their various forms runs directly counter to the government's commitment to cut red tape.

Business bureaucracy

However, one area where reforms to bureaucracy are promised is small business.

Small businesses will welcome liberation from a plethora of different regulatory regimes and inspections.

On the tax side, all businesses will be pleased that the government has finally announced the date when they will no longer be responsible for administering tax credits - a headache for many businesses.

Perhaps the chancellor's recent visit to China has made him aware of the energy driving that economy forward, untrammelled by the red tape which confronts British businesses.

There is a difference between protection for vulnerable workers and the nanny state - Britain's regulatory regime has gone too far and risks damaging its international competitiveness.




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