Most people will have been at least mildly pleased with last week’s Budget, with a number of small giveaways that will generally have a positive effect on the pocket. One group of announcements that most will have filed under positive news were those relating to sin taxes on beer, cider and spirits, which have been cut by 1p and 2% respectively. But apparently we’re all wrong, with the duty cuts being described as “shameful” and “a total disgrace”.
The Alcohol Health Alliance, which is comprised of medical bodies, charities and alcohol health campaigners, has come out in strict disapproval of the cuts, and the freeze on wine duty, with Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, claiming the cuts were evidence that the chancellor had prioritised the interested of big business over public health.
“This decision is a slap in the face to our doctors, nurses and emergency services on the front line that are paying the price for this cut”, he said. “With over one million alcohol-related hospital attendances every year, our NHS simply cannot afford for alcohol to get cheaper.
“The government’s own figures show that alcohol-related harm costs the UK £21 billion every single year. With less than half of this recouped through current levels of taxation, to suggest lowering taxes even further is thoroughly shameful. These cuts also mean that cheap, strong alcohol that gets into the hands of our children will be even more affordable now,” he finished, not mincing his words.
Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies agreed, calling the decision to cut tax on cider and spirits at a time when the NHS is at “breaking point” a “total disgrace”.
So why did the Chancellor do it? Is he hoping to woo beer drinkers in advance of May’s election? Possibly. However, the subject of alcohol duties has been a subject of sustained campaigning by the trade, specifically the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) who welcomed the cuts to the “extremely high” rates of duty paid by UK drinkers. But as part of the Drop the Duty! Campaign, the arguments for a cut in alcohol duties are that cheaper prices will stimulate this area of the economy, and lead to greater prosperity and more jobs.
Independent analysis commissioned by the WSTA and carried out by Ernst Young showed that a 2% cut in duty would boost public finances by £1.5 billion. David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said the cuts send an “important signal on fair taxation” to the Scotch industry’s export markets; the SWA previously blamed the 5% decline of the UK market for Scotch whisky in 2014 on the country’s “excessive” levels of tax on spirits.
So what do you think? Will a penny saved in duty result in more alcohol-related NHS spending, or will it just mean our pockets are ever so slightly fuller after a night out?
In a little over an hour, and filled with cheap jokes and tired soundbites (“Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”), George Osborne has finally divested himself of his sixth Budget. While he promised no gimmicks or giveaways, there were a few nuggets, and a few surprises hidden away. So how will they affect your pocket?
First of all, the Chancellor announced the death of the tax return. For many people, including those with small businesses, the Chancellor reckons he’s going to scrap the return system for millions of people, replacing it with a new ‘digital account’ system that can be completed anytime. More details are awaited but this doesn’t sound at all like a technological car crash waiting to happen… Also, as widely predicted, the personal allowance will go up to £11,000, but not for a couple of years (2017/18). From April 2015, the tax-free amount will be £10,600 a year.
Other measures related to small business include changes to business rates and the news that Class 2 National Insurance contributions (currently £2.75 a week for the self employed) will be abolished during the next parliament. Assuming George is still in the chair, one supposes…
But the biggest news from the Budget is for savers. The ISA contribution limit, massively inflated last year, will go up to £15,240 in April, but under current rules, the contributions into ISAs are one-time only- so if you need to take some cash out for whatever reason, you cannot refill your ISA if you’ve used all your contribution, even where you have clearly taken the cash out of the ISA. Today, the Chancellor has announced a new ‘fully flexible’ ISA that will allow you to withdraw and reinvest in an ISA, provided the net amounts contributed do not exceed the limits.
And there’s even better news for first-time buyers. A new help-to-buy ISA will help people save up for a deposit for their first house, which will even benefit from Government contributions into the savings pot. For every £200 saved, the Government will put in £50, meaning for a £15,000 deposit, you will only need to save £12,000. The changes to pension rules previously announced will also be tweaked and added to, allowing 5 million existing pension holders to access an annuity without punitive tax charges, although they will need advice to ensure they aren’t ripped off by unscrupulous annuity buyers.
But the top news for savers is that the first £1,000 of interest earned (£500 for higher rate taxpayers) will now be totally tax free. This will take 95% of taxpayers out of tax on their savings, but this might be partly due to the fact that savers can’t earn much interest given the shockingly low rates.
Finally, duties on things you might spend your cash on- beer duty is down by 1p, and the duty on cider and spirits is down 2%. Wine duty and fuel duty is frozen.
George’s final Budget (of this parliament anyway, we can’t guarantee whether he’ll be here or not come May) will be delivered to the House tomorrow, and the grapevine is unusually light on rumours as to what surprises might pop out of that red box. However, the Chancellor himself has promised “no giveaways, no gimmicks” in this week’s Budget, but here are a few things we think we might see tomorrow, that might will improve your pocket’s prospects.
This time around, falling inflation and lower interest rates mean payments on the national debt will be reduced, which could give the Chancellor room to provide a tax break for middle-income families- the OBR is widely expected to announce a £6bn cut in government borrowing for 2015-16. However, George has to balance the extra wriggle room he has available, with whether he wants to save the juicy stuff for election manifestos instead…
What he could do is raise the personal income tax allowance to £11,000, a £500 increase on the previously announced £10,500 from this April. People earning below that amount every year wouldn’t have to pay any income tax at all, and everyone else would save a little bit on their annual tax bill.
Other potential changes affecting individuals could see an increase in the inheritance tax nil rate band- bearing in mind earlier promises to get it to £1 million by 2020, which would be good news for all those owning property in London and the South East. However, on the flip side, it has been suggested that the Chancellor might look to raise cash by announcing the withdrawal of private residence relief on houses worth more than £2 million. Under current rules, UK residents don’t pay capital gains tax when selling their home, but it could be limited to provide relief only on where proceeds are under £2m. This would also take the wind out of Labour’s mansion tax sails in an election campaign face off.
Finally, to help low-paid workers, George could raise the level at which National Insurance contributions kick in. This would help lower earners, as this has become a bigger issue for low earners than their income tax while the NI threshold remains so much further behind the income tax personal allowance.
HSBC’s tax scandal just won’t go away and now, Argentina are getting involved, saying that the banking group needs to give them $3.5bn (£2.32bn).
The country’s tax authorities are getting involved in a bit of financial argy bargy* and have issued the request after the Central Bank of Argentina briefly suspended HSBC Bank Argentina’s operations of transferring money and assets abroad for 30 days.
This follows Argentina’s decision in 2014 to charge HSBC with aiding 4,000+ clients to evade taxes with offshore asset trickery.
Of course, lawyers, HSBC Argentina are denying this and saying they’ve done nothing that goes against Argentinian laws. Being the world’s ‘local bank’, you’d hope they’d know about local laws.
Anyway, at a news conference, Argentina’s highest ranking tax official – Ricardo Echegaray – said that the country are prepared to go through criminal proceedings and noted that officials have been approached for information by British authorities. And there’s you think that Britain isn’t doing anything about tax evasion! (Only one prosecution thus far)
It has been a heavy week for HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver, who is having to give evidence on all this to MPs, with the Public Accounts Committee looking to get someone, anyone, to accept some accountability for all this. Of course, Gulliver has already said sorry about this tax business, but that won’t be enough.
*Bitterwallet is requested, by law, to mention the phrase ‘Argy Bargy’, as this article concerns something to do with Argentina.
Banks, accountants and businesses that help people evade tax are looking at giganto fines, according to George Osborne. The Chancellor is clearly responding to the HSBC scandal where their Swiss wing helped a load of bad sorts sidestep that pesky business of taxation.
Apparently, Gideon will be using the platform of a policy statement before the election to say that companies and organisations who are enabling tax-dodging will face the same penalties as those who benefit from dodging. Words being thrown around are “corporate failure” and the severe sounding “economic crime.”
People who fund political parties across the board will be hoping that he’s bluffing, eh?
Of course, this is a headache for Osborne, as he batted away questions about whether or not he’d talked about the HSBC scandal with Lord Green who just so happens to be a former HSBC chairman and was given the role of Trade Minister by the Government in 2011. Speaking about that, Osborne said: “Some very serious allegations have been made about HSBC Swiss and its role in knowingly advising people on tax evasion. Of course this is a matter that our criminal authorities, prosecuting authorities will want to look into.”
“We are currently in active discussion which I think will come to a fruitful end to get the French to allow us to pass some of this information to the Serious Fraud Office and other prosecuting authorities to address the concern… about the potential or alleged role of banks in this affair.”
HSBC are, as you’re more than aware, in the middle of a rather large tax avoidance scandal. Even though they said ‘sorry’, it hasn’t stopped a 17% fall in their annual profits.
Of course, the bank saw profits fall to £12.14bn, which is still a stupefying amount of money, but we can still laugh at them. They reckon that this drop reflects ”lower business disposal and reclassification gains and the negative effect, on both revenue and costs, of significant items including fines, settlements, UK customer redress and associated provisions”.
Did you catch all that? In English, what they’re saying is that a number of scandals is costing them money, including the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI). Basically, they’re sorting out their own mess as well as watching their share price falling by more than 5%.
And what’s even more ridiculous about all this? This news follows reports that HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver has himself enjoyed a Swiss bank account and the benefits that brings you. While he’s promising to reform the bank in the wake of all manner of allegations, this is rather embarrassing for him. It is worth pointing out, legally, that Gulliver denies doing anything wrong.
He said: “2014 was a challenging year in which we continued to work hard to improve business performance while managing the impact of a higher operating cost base. Profits disappointed, although a tough fourth quarter masked some of the progress made over the preceding three quarters.”
“Many of the challenging aspects of the fourth-quarter results were common to the industry as a whole.”
Are you tired of having to hold things in your hands and poke at devices with your beautiful, delicate fingers? Want to get online without all the hassle of moving your arms, but don’t fancy the idea of Google Glass (then again, no-one does)?
Well, you’re in luck! That’s because a research division of the U.S. military is working on a chip (roughly the size of 10p piece) which is put in your brain and works like a computer from there. If you want to access some dirty films online, you’d simply have to think about it.
That could be a problem if you spend all day thinking about dirty films and you’re in a meeting with human resources and all you can see is a load of sweaty limbs and bodily fluids. It all sounds like a science fiction film doesn’t it? And they never run smoothly.
This idea has been hatched up by the brilliant people at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) who basically get paid to come up with crazy ideas and then try and execute them. That said, some of the things they’re partly responsible for are a predecessor to the internet, so they’re not daft.
“The short term goal of the project is the development of a device about the size of two stacked nickels with a cost of goods on the order of $10 which would enable a simple visual display via a direct interface to the visual cortex with the visual fidelity of something like an early LED digital clock,” report Humanity+.
“The implications of this project are astounding.”
Thus far, the research has tried it out on a bunch of fish, so it is too early to say how this is going. Besides, to fish even use the internet? Would they even know where to find dirty films with the use of their brains? Either way, when Samsung start installing bloatware into your mind, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The heat is being turned up on HSBC as the authorities launch an investigation into the bank’s private bank in Switzerland over allegations of money laundering. This, you’ll know, follows the news that HSBC seem to have been turning a blind-eye to dodgy goings on where the bank have been helping blood diamond traders and gun-runners to evade taxes. Allegedly.
Prosecutors in Geneva have announced that they’re searching the premises of HSBC Private Bank. In a statement, they said: ”Following the recent revelations related to the HSBC Private Bank (Switzerland), the public prosecutor announces the opening of a criminal procedure against the bank … for aggravated money laundering.”
They also added that this probe was against HSBC themselves, but depending on their findings, they could well include individuals who have been ”suspected of committing or participating in acts of money laundering”.
The cache of leaked files given to the press makes a lot of bold claims that will be making a lot of people very nervous. There’s accusations that HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm helped out the wealthy from more than 200 countries to sidestep taxes, on accounts that totalled over £77bn. There’s some celebrities being implicated too, as well as arms dealers, dictators’ associates and other “outlaws”.
A statement from HSBC said: “We have co-operated continuously with the Swiss authorities since first becoming aware of the data theft in 2008 and we continue to co-operate.”
Tampons! The scourge of wimpy men the world over who feel a bit awkward for having to buy something that goes in a lady and gets some gunky blood on it. Of course, you don’t buy them soiled so you’d think they’d treat them like buying toilet roll, but no, it makes some blokes screw their faces up. The wusses.
Anyway, the weird attitude toward tampons is, bafflingly, still a thing in 2015, where they’re still a product that is deemed ‘a luxury’ for women and are taxed accordingly. Presumably, women are supposed to use bits of old rag or something, which would stink up the place and ensure that they couldn’t work properly or function as normal members of society.
With that, a petition is doing the rounds, with over 150,000 signatures aiming to ditch the tax on tampons.
There’s been a 5% tax on tampons for years now, because HMRC think that they’re a ‘non-essential, luxury’ item. As the petition points out, this is a bizarre decision that is costing consumers money, needlessly, given that tax-exempt things include cold sandwiches, ’edible sugar jellies’ and ‘crocodile meat’.
It is nigh-on impossible to argue against the fact that tampons are as close to an absolutely necessary product for millions of people, making this one of the most baffling consumer issues of the past 50-odd years.
The petition says: “Sanitary products control and manage menstruation. They are essential because without them, those who menstruate would have no way of pursuing a normal, flexible, public or private life and would be at risk of jeopardising their health. We should all feel free to enjoy a life of our choice: period or no period.”
“Essential items should not be taxed because tax implements a monetary discouragement that lessens a product’s accessibility and affordability. It is therefore damaging to stand by a tax that has restricted the public’s access to healthcare and constrained their ability to consume a vital range of products for decades.”
“We are here to remind HMRC that menstruating men and women exist and that public policy should reflect this. Tax allocations should expose the needs of society as a whole, and the needs of those who menstruate as well as those who don’t. Because we care about these people, this campaign was made in support of tax allocations representing them and reflecting something that is vital.”
Insert your own ‘Tax office rakes in blood money’ joke here.
The culture around banking has been a cesspool since the ’80s, when they were let off the lead to do pretty much whatever they wanted. Successive governments didn’t do anything about it either, letting them crack on… until they mucked everything up and loads of information came out about them which painted them in a bleak light.
Of course, the current government isn’t going to do anything about it either. And why would they? The whole rotten system can be fixed by simply saying ‘sorry’.
And that’s what HSBC have done and, with their apology, we can all sleep soundly, knowing that that simple phrase has transformed decades of awful behaviour in the world of finance.
You’ll know that HSBC have been doing all manner of dodgy tax business via their Swiss arm, helping clients to sidestep taxes – many of whom just so happen to be fundraisers for the Conservative Party.
Anyway, the bank was so very, very sorry that they took out a full-page advert in the Sunday papers, saying that the whole thing had been a painful experience and that standards in place today “were not universally in place” in years gone by. Fixing all the problems in banking, HSBC said: ”We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.”
Nice that all those shady dealings are now consigned to the past, eh? It really is a big relief to us all and, more importantly, it was so nice to see MPs across the board talking about the issue and not ignoring it at all.
That said, now we think of it, it would’ve been nicer if HSBC had said something along the lines of ‘this won’t happen again’, and maybe some assurances from politicians that they might want to put penalties or rules in place to ensure that huge amounts of money don’t vanish like this, and that massive institutions actually bolster the tax pot for the UK, so maybe we wouldn’t have to see so many cuts made to public services.
All that is by-the-by now, because HSBC have said sorry, which makes absolutely everything right and proper in the world. God bless every one of them.
Things haven’t been too bad for your pocket so far in 2015- with supermarket wars meaning they are almost paying you to buy milk, and fuel prices sliding back towards £1 a litre. Still, things can always get even better, and wouldn’t cheaper booze make this year worth celebrating even more?
Duty on wines, beer and spirits is normally a one-way street, with rates rising in successive Budgets, although in recent times, we have benefitted from duty freezes, meaning that prices haven’t gone up just to fill the Treasury coffers. However, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) want to go one step further, and have today met with Treasury officials to argue the case for a 2% reduction in tax on wines and spirits (they aren’t fussed about beer).
According to the WSTA, the UK wine and spirits industry is worth almost £45bn and delivers £14.5bn in tax revenue for the Treasury, as well as providing 600,000 jobs in the UK. The WSTA claims that a 2% reduction in tax on wine and spirits would generate a further £3 billion for the economy and £1.1bn in additional tax income. As well as making our favourite tipples just that little bit cheaper.
“Despite the fantastic contribution the UK wine and spirits industry makes to the Treasury, we have still faced a difficult climate in recent years,” commented Miles Beale, WSTA chief executive. “Sales and consumption in the UK has been in decline and the impact of seven years of the Alcohol Duty Escalator has taken its toll on producers and retailers, who have seen their margins squeeze and on consumers who have seen prices rise higher than inflation as a result.”
Of course, the mere fact of a submission does not guarantee, or even indicate that a cut in duty is on the cards for the Chancellor’s next Budget in March. However, this being election season, George could probably do with a couple of extra sweeteners to help persuade the electorate round to his way of thinking, so why not promise cheaper alcohol? Would it buy your vote?
It seems wonders will never cease. Earlier this month we reported that almost 900,000 people failed to deliver their 2013/14 Self Assessment Tax Return by 31 January, leading a happy payday for HMRC as each one of those will be issued with an automatic £100 penalty. However, HMRC itself now thinks that perhaps its penalty system is “too rigid” and has opened up a consultation on whether the penalty regime should be softened to be less harsh on occasional or small offenders.
It is, of course, not the first time that the penalties regime has been investigated- between 2005 and 2012 tax penalties across the board were reviewed and the most significant change for income tax paying individuals was that, from 2012, the £100 penalty was levied even where there was actually no tax outstanding. So even if you didn’t owe the taxman any money, you could end up owing money. The situation was exacerbated last year when the high earners child benefit charge came into effect, meaning those who hadn’t disclaimed their entitlement may have needed to complete a return for the first time.
Now, HMRC has issued a 26 page consultation document which outlines its thinking on the issue and details a number of possible amendments to the penalty regime. While HMRC stressed that the introduction of a £100 penalty regardless of the tax due did increase on-time compliance, it wants to be seen to be differentiating between coming down hard on “the honest majority” and instead wants to focus its sternest attentions on the “dishonest minority”. HMRC are also very clear that “penalties are not to be applied with the objective of raising revenues.”
What HMRC is considering are questions such as whether penalties should be applied for an “uncharacteristic failure by an otherwise compliant customer”, or for those who make “a simple mistake when entering a particular tax regime for the first time”.
Possible amendments to the system include the withdrawal of the £100 penalty if people are “ a day or two” late filing a return, although this would have to be combined with the prospect of a higher interest rate on late payment of tax to both prevent the deadline merely becoming two days later and also to be a heavier penalty on those who actually owe tax. Alternatively, HMRC are proposing a possible tax “driving licence” scheme, where you get penalty points for non-compliance, potentially across a number of taxes, with penalties rising in severity and amount with repeated failures to comply.
The consultation is open until 11 May, and anyone can respond, should they feel so inclined. The email address for responses is TAP@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk or these can be made by post to: Paul Miller, HMRC, Tax Administration Policy, Room 1C/06, 100 Parliament Street, London SW1A 2BQ.
While Team Bitterwallet sets up helplines for all of you who are emotionally unprepared for this betrayal, we’ll give you the low-down.
A huge cache of files have been leaked which show that HSBC helped their clients to sidestep taxes and hid millions of dollars. These files cover the period from 2005 to 2007, concerning 30,000 accounts and concealing around £78 billion.
At the time, HSBC was led by Lord Green, who was a trade minister and just so happens to sit in the House of Lords.
The shadow financial secretary to the treasury Cathy Jamieson said: “HMRC were made fully aware of these practices back in 2010. There are serious questions for the Chancellor to answer about why just one person out of over a thousand have been prosecuted in five years. And why the Government’s Swiss tax deal has been such an embarrassing flop, raising a fraction of the amounts initially boasted of by ministers. Tax avoidance and evasion harms every taxpayer in Britain, and undermines public services like the NHS.”
It is HSBC’s Swiss banking arm that indulged in this behaviour, helping rich people to not pay tax. Obtained through the collaboration of a number of media outlets, the reports show that HSBC’s Swiss private bank regularly allow their clients to withdraw bricks of cash while allowing wealthy people to avoid taxes all over European and were in cahoots with some conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities.
They also gave accounts to international criminals, corrupt businessmen and a load of other high-risk people.
This is the biggest banking leak in history and will see even more pressure being put on the banks who are already fantastically unpopular with everyone after a serious of scandals.
HSBC have said: “We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures.” There’ll be a special Panorama on the BBC about the whole thing tonight, with talk of blood-diamond criminals and the like.
As we move into February, there will be a dawning realisation for some that they completely failed to notice the 31 January tax return deadline. Not that there’s much excuse for missing it-it’s been around for a very long time now- but an estimated 890,000 will shortly be receiving a letter enclosing a lovely £100 fine for failing to file their online tax returns on time.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said that the number of offenders was greater than last year, but well below the 1.6 million recorded in 2010. Or bounty 2010 as the Treasury called it, but even so, 890,000 £100 fines is a nice reward for other people doing nothing.
According to HMRC estimates, if you have missed the deadline you are most likely to be a young man working in the communications industry, with those aged 18-20 living in London the worst culprits. The over 65s were, perhaps unsurprisingly, most likely to get their returns in early.
However, HMRC were also keen to point out that the number of people actually filed on time was also up, with a record 10.24 million people filing before the 31 January deadline, some 3.8m of those filed in January itself. Some of the increase may be to do with falling unemployment caused by people choosing to go self-employed, who would therefore definitely need to complete a return.
“This is another record-breaking year for self-assessment, with 210,000 more people filing their returns on time than last year,” said Ruth Owen, HMRC’s director general of personal tax, in an uncharacteristically chirpy manner.
However, if you are one of the dolts who is currently slapping a meaty palm to the forehead wondering how you could have been so daft as to miss the deadline, don’t start shrugging and moving on to more pressing matters. The £100 is just the start of your unnecessary financial woes. If you continue as a delinquent, further fines kick in after three, six and 12 months of non-compliance behaviour, and could cost you a further £1,500.
After the initial (and now probably unavoidable) £100 penalty, the subsequent fines are as follows:
after three months, additional daily penalties of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900
after six months, a further penalty of 5% of the tax due or £300, whichever is greater
after 12 months, another 5% or £300 charge, whichever is greater
Although it’s only January, all the political parties are upping their efforts with a view on the general election in a few short months’ time. Of course, part of the election campaign is to impress upon the electorate how much better any given party is than all the others, so what the coalition needs like a hole in the head is a national thinktank providing economic evidence of how much worse off the average UK household is as a result of the coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it’s a fairly sizeable £489 a year.
Of course, that is an average figure, and depending on your personal circumstances, you may have lost more than this, or ended up better off. However, the IFS has also identified broad groups who are likely to have been winners or losers under the coalition regime.
It may come as a surprise to a few, but low-income working-age households have been hit hardest, losing the most under the coalition as a percentage of their income. Also losing out are families with children, who fall within the lowest 10% of earners, who lost £1,223 on average. However, the richest 10% of households also lost £5,350 a year.
So where are the Tories and Lib Dems going to get their votes from? Middle and higher-income households of working age have escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the government’s austerity measures. Those falling into this bracket who don’t own children have actually gained financially from the changes, largely due to increases in the threshold for paying income tax, according to the IFS.
Overall, the poorest households lost around 4% of their incomes, followed closely behind by the next poorest tenth, losing around 3.5% of their income. The richest suffered a loss of 2.5%, a percentage that falls to zero for middle-income households.
Pensioners were “relatively unaffected” on average, as the “triple lock” on the state pension, whichmeant they have been relatively better protected against the economic downturn than those employed, was largely offset by a hike in VAT.
The hardest-hit region was greater London, where households lost an average £1,042, followed by south east England, the West Midlands and north west England.
James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “Whichever way you cut it, low-income households with children and the very richest households have lost out significantly from the changes as a percentage of their incomes.
“Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall.”