It’s a Budget – But Not As We Know It

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, delivered his Spring budget yesterday. But as most of the big changes have been moved to the Autumn, this was a “steady as you go” statement in essence.

However there were some significant changes for private investors. The biggest is that the tax free allowance on dividends has been reduced from £5,000 to £2,000. So if you rely on dividend income, say in retirement, this will cost you substantially more – over £1,000 extra in tax in some cases if you pay higher rates of income tax.

The Chancellor seems to have decided to attack the growing number of “self employed” and those who are paying themselves via limited companies. Hence the change to dividend income. Hence also Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance being raised but the impact of other changes are actually quite complex. Irrespective the Chancellor has decided that the current high differentiation between taxes (and benefits) between employed and self-employed “undermines the fairness of the tax system” even though the latter get fewer benefits. One surely cannot argue with that although he has been accused of breaking a Conservative manifesto promise not to raise taxes.

There are of course some simple steps to avoid higher taxes on dividends. If you don’t need the cash for spending money, then move your high dividend paying investments into an ISA or SIPP. The ISA allowance will increase to £20,000 from April this year as previously announced so enabling you to shelter substantial amounts from the taxman, particularly if you are married and hence can put in twice as much. In addition you might consider investing in Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) where dividends are tax free. These have become more popular of late because of the limits on pension contributions and the recognition that they have generated good returns in recent years from the best companies, although the availability of new subscriptions to them is now low.

The Chancellor has taken some steps to increase productivity in the UK which is a hot Government theme at present – see the last ShareSoc Informer Newsletter for more discussion on that. So there is money for research into hot technology areas, investment in 5G networks, improvements to the road network (£690m), and £500m to improve technical training (for “T-Levels”).

How is the economy doing generally? Economic growth is now good after the failure of the Brexit decision to dent it as expected. But the Government is still planning to run a deficit so overall Government debt will still rise this year to a new record of over £1.6 trillion. Indeed with some attacks on tax avoidance, overall tax raised will rise under this budget to the highest proportion of GDP since the 1980s. Will this prove a drag on the UK economy and businesses in general? We have yet to see. The Government is also considering how it can raise taxes on on-line retailers who often avoid business rates and will try to close a loophole whereby sales are made VAT-free by being made from overseas.

Thinking of moving overseas for your retirement? The Chancellor is imposing a tax charge of 25% on pension transfers to qualifying schemes (Qrops) from the new tax year with some exceptions. This is to try and frustrate the move of pensions to more favourable tax regimes which has apparently been subject to abuse of late.

But as rather expected, the Government is making a lot of money from pensions being cashed in under the new freedoms to do so devised by former Chancellor George Osborne. The latest estimate has doubled to £1.6 billion!

Or considering what to do after your time as Chancellor ends? Just take note that former Mr Osborne is going to be earning £650,000 per year as an advisor to Blackrock for working four days per month. It was disclosed in the register of MPs interests on budget day.

Roger Lawson