BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 16:43 GMT
A saints and sinners budget
By Anne Redston
Visiting Professor of tax law at Kings College, London

Anne Redston
This is a saints and sinners budget.

There were small give-aways for the good guys: parents, the elderly, charities, savers and the environment.

But sinners were hit hard, with extra taxes on alcohol, cars and tobacco.

The increased winter fuel allowance is a welcome and straightforward change.

Other give-aways are less straightforward.

The small increase in a child tax credits, of just over 1 a week, will start from 2009, but this was to have taken place in 2010 anyway.

A similar increase to the child tax credit of 50 a year above inflation will be limited to those couples or single parents earning up to 18,000 a year.

This will further complicate an already impenetrable tax credit system.

More for savers

As already announced, the basic rate of income tax will reduce from 22% to 20% from 6 April.

The Gateway will be an extremely valuable benefit for those entitled to participate

This is good news for many taxpayers, but bad for charities, who recover less money under the gift aid rules.

However the chancellor said that charities can continue to reclaim at 22%, but only for three years.

He thus provided a sticking plaster solution, but this is none the less welcome.

The chancellor also confirmed the small increase to the overall Individual Savings Account (ISA) limit, up from 7,000 to 7,200.

And the change to the cash ISA limit is confirmed too - this will now be 3,600 from April 2008: nothing new there.

More interesting was the Savings Gateway, which will be extended nationwide from 2010.

Under this scheme the government tops up the savings of the least affluent savers, possibly on a pound for pound basis.

The Gateway will thus be an extremely valuable benefit for those entitled to participate.

Drinking and driving

The biggest winner was the environment.

The chancellor announced changes to encourage less polluting cars, plus the threat of a plastic bag tax if supermarkets don't put their shops in order.

The proceeds of this bag tax will go to environmental charities: a rare example of a tax which will not go in to the general government spending pot.

Sinners, however, are suffering.

The budget announced high increases on alcohol - although there is a built-in delay, so drinkers can spend the next few days stripping bare the supermarket shelves.

And car users will pay higher Vehicle Excise Duty if they buy a new high-polluting car.

But again there is a built in delay: the new rules will not come in until 2009, so there is likely to be brisk business in gas-guzzling limousines this year.

Hidden complexity

In his speech the chancellor repeated the theological virtues of simplicity, fairness, and stability, but most budgets contain complicated changes which add further uncertainty to the tax system.

The hugely burdensome new tax regime for family businesses will not come in as planned next month

In the very small print, too, is a warning for contractors working through what are known as "umbrella companies".

These individuals currently benefit from tax free travel expenses; these reliefs may however be withdrawn in the future.

This time businesses have to cope with a new capital allowances regime, which has fundamentally changed an ancient part of the tax system.

It was, however, good news that the hugely burdensome new tax regime for family businesses, announced following the government's defeat in the Arctic Systems case last summer, will not come in as planned next month, but has been deferred for a year.

I hope that, in his next Budget, the chancellor abandons these unworkable income-shifting proposals.

If enacted they will require all those working in family businesses to justify the rewards they take from the business, based on their work and the capital they have introduced, and other factors.

But the delay will allow more time for consultation, and is thus very welcome.


There have also been small but helpful changes to the new regime for non-doms.

These are people who come from overseas and who do not regard the UK as their permanent home.

Although the main structure of the new non-dom regime remains intact, there are a few welcome improvements, including a doubling of the amount of money held overseas which can be ignored under these rules, from 1,000 to 2,000.

The rebranding of the 30,000 cost of remaining non-dom as a tax, rather than a voluntary levy, will also allow the payment to fall within the scope of double-tax relief rules and is thus fairer and more proportionate.

So what should you do now? If you are an angel, look forward to cleaner air; if you are a sinner, go shopping!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific