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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:16 GMT
Small print surprises in Budget
Analysis
By Anne Redston
Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation

Anne Redston
Tax expert Anne Redston

Fears that Gordon Brown would plug his tax gap by squeezing middle-income families even harder were not realised.

However, there are a few surprises in the small print - and a missed opportunity to simplify the tax system.

Hidden tax increases

Income tax thresholds have been increased by inflation - but because earnings are rising faster than this, more people become higher rate taxpayers every year, without the chancellor having to do anything spectacular.

This is a hidden tax increase for middle-income Britain.

Children

For low income households with children he announced an increase to the child tax credit - up 14% over three years.

For better-off households there was a very small increase to the tax-free childcare voucher, up from 50 per employee per week to 55.

However, many low-income families have also been encouraged to take child-care vouchers, and for many of these, the voucher is actually costing them money rather than saving it.

This is because of the way the childcare credits and the vouchers interact.

This is a disaster waiting to happen - when families realise that this apparent tax relief on vouchers is nothing of the sort.

The chancellor could have solved this problem but has ignored it instead.

The additional contribution to the Child Trust Fund of a further 250 or 500 when a child reaches the age of 7 was widely expected.

The irony here is that these trust funds, which are aimed at children of low-income families, are more likely to be used as tax shelters for the children of well-off parents, who can afford to add to the funds.

Either the right hand of government doesn't know what the left is doing, or else the Treasury has just torpedoed the DTI's Home Computer Initiative

There is an unpleasant surprise for those families who have set up accumulation and maintenance trusts for their offspring: the rules on these have now been tightened to restrict the tax reliefs to trusts for orphans and the disabled.

Employers

There is a real shock in this budget for businesses who lend computers to employees. From 6 April, new loans will attract a tax charge of up to 200 per employee, plus national insurance.

This comes hard on the heels of an active Department of Trade Industry (DTI) campaign to encourage employers to provide these computers.

Either the right hand of government doesn't know what the left is doing, or else the Treasury have just torpedoed the DTI's Home Computer Initiative.

Either way, it is a nasty surprise for employees and employers.

Income tax deadlines

You will face another surprise in 2008, in the shape of tighter deadlines for filing self-assessment tax returns.

The government's Carter review of HM Revenue & Customs' online services has recommended that all paper self-assessment returns must be received by the end of September - instead of 31 January as is currently the case.

The government now says it has accepted this recommendation - as well as one which changes the deadline for online filings.

If you file online, you will have another two months till the end of November. This, too, is more demanding than the current January deadline.

Pension funds

The Inheritance Tax (IHT) treatment of sums left in pension funds after age 75 is not a surprise.

Neither is the exemption from IHT if this money is transferred to a spouse or to charity.

But the budget documents also suggest that the transfer is not, in fact, a full transfer of ownership.

Let us say that a husband dies and leaves his pension fund to his widow.

As long as she uses all of the pension monies, then everything is OK. But if any remains, the documents seem to indicate that they remain in the husband's estate. This seems unworkable and bureaucratic.

Composite companies

Buried in the small print are the first salvoes of an attack on composite or umbrella companies.

These companies are widely used to supply individual contractors to big companies in the UK.

HM Revenue & Customs is concerned that these companies are avoiding - or evading - income tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs), and has announced that it is consulting on new rules to prevent this.

Overall This is not a memorable budget - there are no radical changes or significant improvements.

Complexity and bureaucratic burdens remain.

While taxpayers will be glad that there have been no massive tax increases, they deserve a simpler, less burdensome tax system - and sadly this Budget is a step in the opposite direction.



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