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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
A budget for better or worse?
Analysis
By Anne Redston
Visiting professor, King's College London

This PBR's big give-away is the new inheritance tax (IHT) reliefs for married couples and civil partners.

Anne Redston
Tax expert Anne Redston

But hidden in the small print is a warning that couples and other family members who work together in a business will pay more tax on their combined earnings.

There are also radical tax increases for many overseas workers, while long-distance commuters may find they are soon to be treated as UK resident for tax purposes.

Inheritance tax reform

First the good news. Married couples and civil partners who planned to leave everything to their spouses used to have an IHT tax-free personal allowance of 300,000.

They will now benefit from a doubling of the allowance.

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This is excellent news, especially for those whose main asset is a house. Imagine that Fred died in 2006 with a half share of a house worth 800,000, which he left to his wife.

This was not subject to IHT because there is an exemption for all transfers to spouses. But as a result he doesn't use any of his own 300,000 personal allowance.

Then his wife Mary dies in 2007, leaving the whole house to her children. Her IHT allowance of 300,000 is set against this, so her children pay tax of 200,000 (800,000 - 300,000 x 40%).

Today the Chancellor announced that these rules will change, not only for all spouses who die on or after today, but also for all widows and widowers. This means that Mary will be given the benefit of her husband's unused 300,000 allowance.

The tax bill of 200,000 has reduced to 80,000 (800,000 - 600,000 x 40%) - and if the tax of 600,000 has been paid already, it will be handed back.

Small family businesses

But now comes the bad news. Couples who worked together and share the profits of the business, either by way of dividends or as profit withdrawn from a partnership, are to be targeted by new anti-avoidance rules.

The details of this are awaited, but documents already published show that in 2008/9 about 260m is expected to be raised from small businesses.

What is already clear is that the new rules are likely to apply not only to married couples, but to family members working together. It may thus have a disproportionately burdensome consequences for some ethnic minority business such as small corner shops.

Of more concern even than the extra tax is the burden likely to imposed on small businesses. They will need to work out whether or not the tax applies, and if so, to what extent.

So the red tape may cost even more than the tax itself.

Simplification and capital gains

These new rules can be contrasted with the very positive proposal that businesses who pay employees partly in benefits, such as company cars, can simplify the way in which they pay the tax.

In the future, they may be able to put these benefits through the payroll, which could be much simpler than the current process. All businesses will be hit by the change to capital gains tax. Most of them would have benefited from the 10% rate of tax when they sold their business; now the same transaction will incur a rate of 18%. The silver lining, however, is that the new regime will be much simpler and easier to understand.

Workers from abroad

People who come here from abroad, and regard the overseas country as their home, are known in legal jargon as "non-domiciled" or "non-doms".

Such people can currently avoid tax on assets held overseas.

When the Labour Party came to power in 1997 the new government argued that this was unfair and said it would make changes - but they have been silent on this issue for the past decade.

The government ridiculed the Tories' recent suggestion that such people should pay a 25,000 fixed rate in exchange for the right not to be taxed on other overseas income and gains.

But the small print of the PBR shows that from 2008, anyone who has lived here for seven out of the past 10 years will now have to pay 30,000 a year if they want to retain the benefit of the relief.

This means that an individual who was here as a student in 1998 for three years, went home to work from 2001 to 2004, and was then sent back to the UK by his employer, will fall within these rules from 2008. If he wants to stay within the old rules it will cost him 30,000 a year.

An interesting change to the rules affects people resident in the UK but with an Irish domicile. They were previously prevented from using the non-dom rules. They will now be able to do so - providing they pay the same fixed charge. This may be very good news for rich people of Irish origin whose wealth is overseas (not necessarily in Ireland).

Finally, a long-established tax avoidance scam called "source ceasing" - which allowed non-doms to rebadge income as capital and so avoid being caught by the UK tax rules - has finally been stopped after having been around for decades.

Dropping in

Other changes target long-range commuters.

Cheap flights and the internet have together allowed people to move abroad but still work in the UK.

Many of these have claimed that they are not resident because they are outside the UK for many days a year. They were helped by the fact that days on which they arrive and depart are not counted as being days in the UK at all.

This will now change. Many of those who thought they were outside the clutches of the UK tax regime are in for a nasty shock. Some of these will be well known multi-millionaires living in Monaco, but it will also catch other less high-profile individuals.

Taxes up

Despite the headline reliefs for married couples, this is a tax-raising budget with a major impact on family business and individuals with overseas interests.

The reform to the residence and domicile rules alone is expected to bring in between 500m and 800m a year; the changes to capital gains tax between 750m and 900m.

Overall, despite the generous IHT changes, by 2010-11 the overall tax take will go up by more than 1.4n a year.

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