Page last updated at 16:04 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Budget 2010: Pain in the pipeline

By Anne Redston
Professor of tax law, Kings College, London

Comedian John Cleese as a City Gent
High earners will now pay a new 50% tax rate

This was a set-piece performance by a chancellor playing to win the next election.

Help for first-time buyers, halving of business rates, retaining higher winter fuel allowances and more university places for students: these are all well-designed reliefs, likely to attract political support across the spectrum.

The chancellor was upfront about the tsunami of extra taxes which is about to hit higher earners.

He has already announced a 50% tax rate for those earning over £150,000, to take effect from this April, while those earning over £100,000 will lose their personal allowances.

There was also no backsliding in relation to the novel tax on pension contributions, despite the difficulties there will be in calculating and collecting it.

The rich are bearing the brunt of the pain, and today's announcement of a new 5% stamp duty band was but a further sting in the tail.

Middle Britain

In this speech, ordinary workers on average earnings were conspicuous by their absence.

This is the fiscal equivalent of a giant billboard warning potential tax dodgers, 'Don't even think about it'

There is a good reason for this: they, too, will be hurt by the tax changes and the chancellor could not deny this, so he just kept quiet.

Freezing the tax bands, in an environment where prices are increasing by around 3% or more, is an effective tax rise.

But it is one which will not be felt immediately, and certainly not this side of Budget Day.

More painful still will be the 1% rise in National Insurance, which will affect all those earning more than £20,000.

Again, this does not take effect until long after the election.

Evasion and avoidance

There is, once again, a focus on those who are not paying "their fair share".

Anne Redston
Taxes are going up for more than just the rich, says Anne Redston

This is not a coincidence.

As taxes rise, temptations increase - the risk/reward equation shifts in favour of planning, scamming or hiding offshore.

The government is pre-empting this shift by closing escape routes and blocking loopholes.

A good example of this targeted approach is the new double penalty on those who not only evade tax, but do so via an offshore jurisdiction which is not co-operating with HMRC: the normal maximum penalty of 100% of tax unpaid will become 200%.

This is the fiscal equivalent of a giant billboard warning potential tax dodgers, "Don't even think about it."

The Budget also contains a panoply of specific anti-avoidance measures, preventing clever schemes which the taxman already knows about, and increased obligations on tax planners to give advance notice of new schemes - allowing HMRC to block them quickly.

For those who are prepared to come clean now, before they are caught out, there are specially tailored "disclosure" arrangements.

Information published with the Budget shows that recent arrangement with Liechtenstein is scheduled to bring in almost £1bn.

A new "confess and pay-up" scheme is also being considered for manual workers, targeting those who give discounts for cash, no questions asked.

Give it away

With all these high taxes, the wealthy may decide that their money could be better used by those in need, rather than giving it to the government in taxes.

The small print of the Budget provides an incentive to do this.

Although tax relief is currently only available on gifts to UK charities, this will soon be extended to other eligible organisations in the EU.

So for those who want to pay less tax can reduce their income by gifting it to charities, both here and abroad.

The pain of future tax rises has been cloaked in clever, targeted tax breaks.

This does not hide the fact that there is fiscal pain in the pipeline for most of us.

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. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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