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.”
Of course, the deadline for online tax returns is upon us and so, to show us all that they’re a bit of fun and not just dead-eyed bean-administrators, HM Revenue and Customs have gone and released their annual list of the 10 worst excuses that folk have given for filing or paying their tax return late.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
1. My pet dog ate my tax return… and all the reminders.
2. I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a postbox or get an internet signal.
3. I fell in with the wrong crowd.
4. I’ve been travelling the world, trying to escape from a foreign intelligence agency.
5. Barack Obama is in charge of my finances.
6. I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.
7. A work colleague borrowed my tax return, to photocopy it, and didn’t give it back.
8. I live in a camper van in a supermarket car park.
9. My girlfriend’s pregnant.
10. I was in Australia.
We quite like the idea of palming everything off on Barack Obama. ‘Why are you covered in baked beans?’ ‘Obama was feeding me.’ ‘I thought I’d told you not to get so appallingly drunk…’ ‘Barack Obama was out. And I had to look after some fox cubs while I was there’.
What will you be doing over the festive season? Getting online for those early sale bargains? Pricing up how much you can flog those unwanted gifts for on eBay? If all else fails, actually talking to your relatives? Well, an estimated 23,000 of you will be doing something far less boring instead. You’ll be submitting your tax return.
Last year 23,059 people submitted their self-assessment returns between Christmas and Boxing Day. Admittedly, most of those returns were submitted on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, but there were still over 1,500 people with naff all better to do on Christmas Day than to complete their tax returns.
Of course, if you are sent a return form, or notification to complete a return, then you need to complete it, and around 9 million workers need to submit a self-assessment tax return. The paper deadline for submitting your return was 31 October, so your only option now is to use the online system.
But perhaps these folks aren’t just boring. Perhaps they are just so busy, holiday season is the only time they have to complete their returns. If so, they’d better hope they don’t need to call to ask anything about their return form, as chances are, they’d get cut off and be unable to speak to anyone. Or have to find an extra 40 minutes to wait on hold, according to Which!!! reports on the matter.
If you do still need to file your return for the 2013/14 tax year, you can still file online up to the 31 January deadline, and if you make a mistake, you can amend your return online before that date as well. You also don’t have to complete it all in one go- a bit like Christmas dinner you can do some of it on the day and save the fiddly bits for a curry later in the week as the system automatically saves your progress
The tax helpline has been criticised in a new report by the watchdog of consumers, saying that there had been little improvement in the service since they met up in July with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which served them a scathing review of their lengthy waiting times and shoddiness in answering phone calls, which were costing customers £136 million a year.
The service will be in heavy demand in the next two months, as thousands will be completing their self-assessment tax returns before January 31st.
HMRC’s chief executive Lin Homer, reckons that they had been improving the service in recent months.
However, Which!!!’s report details that 29% of calls made by their members, were cut off by an automated answering system carping on about the lines being busy.
Where there were 71 instances of callers not being cut off, they were then put on hold for an average of 18 minutes, with one caller being held hostage for 41 minutes. PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: “Customers of Government services should be able to contact those services easily and cheaply.”
So the Chancellor gave us his Autumn Statement yesterday, updating us on the sorry state of the economy, while adding enough sweeteners to make us feel like it’s not all so bad. We made our predictions earlier in the week, and we’re feeling pretty smug. Here are the highlights of Autumn Statement 2014:
Under the previously existing system, stamp duty is calculated as a percentage of the whole property price – but this goes up in sharp steps at specified points, rather than being a smooth curve upwards. The rates were 1% for properties bought for more than £125,000, 3% for homes bought for more than £250,000, 4% at over £500,000, 5% at over £1m, and 7% at over £2m.
As explained in our predictions for the Autumn Statement, this system means that the difference in Stamp Duty between buying a property for £249,999 and paying £250,001 would be a massive £5,000 – up from £2,500 to £7,500.
The new system, announced by the Chancellor yesterday and taking effect from midnight on 4th December, smooths out those steps and fiddles with the rates as follows:
No stamp duty will be paid on the first £125,000 of a property
2% will be paid on the portion up to £250,000
5% is paid for the portion up to £925,000
10% is paid on the portion up to £1.5m
12% is paid on anything above that
This means that anyone buying a property for less than £937,500 will be better off, which works out at approximately 98% of house sales. However, if you are in the process of buying a property, and exchanged contracts before 4th December, you can choose whether to use the old or new rules, and HMRC have produced a handy calculator to help you see which is the most expensive option. The average family home buyer in the UK (at £275,000) will save £4,500 under the new rules.
Of course, it’s a fool’s errand to try and please all of the people all of the time, and in addition to the 2% of seriously expensive property buyers, there are a great many disgruntled buyers out there. All those who completed on a property in the last week/fortnight/month who are now feeling considerably out of pocket and decidedly hard done by.
Personal Tax Rates and Allowances
We predicted there would be no change to the previously announced figures of £10,500 personal allowance and £42,285 higher rate starting point from 6 April 2015. We were almost right, the rates have been changed, but only by a token £100 each. Still something is better than nothing, and basic rate taxpayers will now pocket an extra £20 on top from next April.
A few things have been announced surrounding inheritances. Firstly inheritance tax will be cut for families of aid workers who die in course of their work. Which seems pretty decent.
Also, ISAs can now be passed on to spouses tax-free. Previously an ISA would lose all its tax benefits on the death of the holder, but now they can be inherited as a tax-free vehicle. The investment limit for ISAs is also set to go up from the recently-inflated £15,000 to £15,240 in April 2015.
And, after all the speculation and fiddling with annuities, confirmation that the current 55% death tax on pensions pots that are passed on to loved ones will be abolished for those dying before the age of 75.
Alongside an anticipated freeze in fuel duty, Air Passenger Duty will be scrapped for under-12s from 1 May next year and for under-16s the following year. This might go some way to easing those currently having kittens over the proposed scrapping of APD entirely in Scotland once those tax powers are devolved to Holyrood, along with groundbreaking ability to do what it likes with Scottish income tax rates (but not allowances). Northern Ireland is to (potentially) get autonomy over its corporate tax rates and Wales will be able to set their own business rates.
New anti-avoidance measures include a £90,000 charge for non-doms resident in the UK for 17 of the past 20 years, and a new 25% tax charge on multinational companies shifting profits out of the UK, which is predicted to be a big earner. But then the Chancellor probably would say that.
Finally, postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 will be available to Masters students, but only if they are under 30. If you are older than 30 you should clearly Get A Job.
So what do you think of the Chancellor’s early Christmas presents? Are you filled with the joys of Christmas or muttering Bah Humbug into your solitary mince pie?
British Chief Executive Mark Fox said the giant chain’s UK operations are likely to be profitable within three years, however until Starbucks returns to profit, corporation tax is not applicable.
Fox reckons it’s nothing unusual, but did find it odd that the chain had yet to make a profit from the average £3.50 a coffee.
Tax avoidance is nothing new with Starbucks, when it emerged two years ago that it had only paid £8.6 million in corporation tax, despite a £3 billion in the bank since it first infested the UK in 1998. Back then it was accused of funnelling profits through the Netherlands because lower tax. They’re still under investigation for that.
Fox has admitted to the Evening Standard that Starbucks had been damaged by the tax row, but insisted that Starbucks’ tax affairs were very, very ordinary. He said: “It happens across the sector and therefore it didn’t bother me at all.”
“There was nothing abnormal about the way Starbucks is run in the UK. What is abnormal is that we haven’t been making a profit,” adding: “I look at the business now with eight quarters of growth, I don’t see a damaged brand, I see a brand that is starting to regain its mojo.”
So, after Black Friday last week and Cyber Monday today, you could be forgiven for thinking all fun and excitement was over for another three and a half weeks or so. That’s just not true. On Wednesday 3rd Dec at 12.30pm (after PMQs) Chancellor George Osborne will deliver his Autumn (Winter) Statement, and it’s bound to be full of Christmas cheer.
Under the last Government, this statement used to be called a Pre Budget Report, and it often contained new tax measures that everyone accountants got excited about. However, the true point of the Autumn statement is to provide us, the electorate, with an update on the country’s economic progress, which must be given to us at least twice a year, the other time being normally during the Budget.
This year’s Autumn statement will include new fiscal forecasts, described by some as “bleak” from the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Collapsing revenues from oil sales, stamp duty and income tax mean the Chancellor is likely to have to admit his deficit-reducing recovery plans are, well, not going to plan.
Borrowing is also expected to be revised upwards by the OBR, with the cumulative deficit expected to reach nearly £280bn by the end of the decade – £75bn more than expected. The Government has already had to borrow £3.7bn more in the first seven months of this year. The slowing housing market is also likely to mean the anticipated £12.7bn predicted income from stamp duty takings will be lower- which will cause the Chancellor a problem, as he has already notionally spent the cash.
But people are generally most interested in how the facts and figures are going to affect them personally. In addition to news about NHS funding and infrastructure (like a new tunnel under Stonehenge), we can make some educated guesses as to the interesting content of the statement. Note that, as the last Autumn Statement before a general election, there are unlikely to be any nasty surprises, but given the incontrovertible economic position, neither can the Chancellor be too generous.
Details of new Pensioner Bonds from NS&I are likely to be doled out, as well as announcing new postgraduate student loans, similar to those currently available for undergraduates, presumably to give all those unemployed graduates something useful to do.
Although it’s possible that the Chancellor will consider crowd-pleasing uplifts to tax rates and personal allowances, it’s probably not going to happen. Far better to save such things for party manifestos , where such promises can get ‘overlooked’ while you get down to the serious business of governing (£1m inheritance tax allowance promise eh Mr Cameron?).
It has been previously announced income tax will be raised from £10,000 to £10,500 from April 2015 at which point the threshold at which taxpayers start to pay the 40% higher rate will increase by 1% from £41,865 to £42,285, something that has not happened in recent years. This means that, in 2015/16, basic rate taxpayers will be £100 better off and higher rate taxpayers up by £184.
But one giveaway that might be coming, especially in the light of a drooping housing market, could be a reform to stamp duty. At present, buyers in England and Wales face a massive hike in tax burden if they pay just £1 above the stamp duty threshold. For example, buying a property at £249,999 means a tax bill of £2,500, but buying a property just a couple of quid more expensive means a tax bill of more than £7,500.
The Building Societies Association has urged the chancellor to make the payment more progressive, so that you pay the higher rate only on the amount above the threshold. This would be an ‘easy’ giveaway for the Chancellor, according to the ACCA.
As ever, the exact content of the Autumn Statement will have to remain a mystery until Wednesday when we will see what advent treats are coming our way.
The government has to upgrade living standards for Britain’s hard working families with £7bn of tax cuts and childcare subsidies, otherwise they will rescind the right to bang on about ‘hard working families’, according to the CBI.
The group reckon that some fairly radical ideas need to be dreamt up and implemented, as families and low-income workers are forever at the wrong end of the crap-stick, financially.
It is calling for changes to national insurance, an extension of free childcare and extended maternity pay as measures that would make an immediate difference.
In a new report called A Better Off Britain, John Cridland, the director general, said: “The financial crisis and the slow recovery have hit people’s finances hard. Living standards will gradually improve as the economy does. But growth on its own will not be the miracle cure.”
The CBI is also calling for a gradual increase in the threshold at which employees pay national insurance to £10,500 – bringing it line with the income tax personal allowance – over the next parliament.
It is estimated that this would bring in an extra £363 a year. While not staggering, it’s better than nothing.
The CBI is also calling for an extension of the 15 hours a week of free childcare for three and four-year-olds to all one and two-year-olds, saving the average family with a one-year-old £3,430 a year. As well as recommending statutory maternity pay be extended from nine to 12 months, closing the gap between when maternity pay ends and financial assistance for childcare kicks in.
Cridland went on to say that despite the expense to the Treasury – about £7bn over the next parliament – the measures did not amount to the government abandoning its deficit reduction plans.
“Tackling the deficit is an absolute priority, but I don’t think it’s an either/or debate. We need to be more ambitious about the ways we tackle the deficit. Deficit reduction doesn’t have to be cut and slash.”
The average couple with two children saw their real income fall by £2,132 a year between 2009-10 and 2012-13 according to the CBI. Inflation has outpaced wage growth for much of the period since 2008.
He also hit out at large companies who refuse to pay the minimum wage: “The National Minimum Wage is about ability to pay. The Living Wage is what people need to earn. Should companies pay the Living Wage if they are able to? Yes. I would encourage them to. Can it ever be more than an encouragement? No.”
They have privately admitted that, even after sending out millions of notices for overpaid and underpaid income tax last year, the whole thing still doesn’t add up, so they’re doing what they do best and sending out a load of letters again.
They probably say: ‘Can you work this out for us? We’re at a loss here.’
Fact is, the tax office is now having to recalculate everything all over again and has stopped any further repayments until they sort this mess out. Assuming of course, that they manage to get to the bottom of their ineptitude.
You may recall that, last summer, they confessed that they had collected the wrong amount of tax from 5.5 million people, even though they introduced a “real time information” programme which is supposed to get rid of errors. Those affected by the cock-up were sent letters and, on average, issued a £300 refund.
Sadly for the HMRC, a leaked email showed that they’re still messing everything up with staff advised to tell those querying their tax bills “not to repay any underpayment”. Those who have already got a cheque have been told not to cash them. Obviously, if you have one, you should absolutely try and cash it. This isn’t your error.
The email said: “We are urgently investigating these cases and will look to resolve the matter in the next six to eight weeks. We currently do not know the scale of the issue but some large employers are involved, so several thousand of employees may be affected.”
The thing is, this error could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds and one mole in the ministry said: “HMRC refuses to admit the system doesn’t work, and it’s scandalous that there is no politician holding them to account as the whole programme of welfare reform could be put at risk because of this.”
Slow hand clap for all concerned.
The EC is all set to launch a probe into allegations that Luxembourg, where Amazon’s European headquarters are based, enabled the internet retail behemoth to benefit from state subsidies, illegally.
According to the Financial Times:
“Investigators believe Luxembourg gave Amazon favourable terms in a 2003 tax ruling, which caps its tax exposure to the Grand Duchy and helps limit its overall bill to less than 1 per cent of the retailer’s European income, according to people briefed on the case.”
This comes after the EC going after Apple for their ‘sweetheart tax’ deal.
In both cases, the commission could well ask Luxembourg to recover any taxes that they consider unpaid and the probes are set to be spread much wider after the EC was provided with “information on a number of cases”.
The EU’s rules on state aid prohibit governments from giving selective advantages to individual companies.
Thousands of drivers haven’t been able to renew their car tax online, after the DVLA sank under the huge amounts of traffic. The high volume of people accessing the site was predictable and as clear as the nose on your face, however, it looks like the DVLA weren’t prepared.
According to reports, some people have spent up to 13 hours online trying to sort their car tax out. At some point, they should’ve stepped away from their computer, but there you go. Some people are crackers.
The DVLA said the site had seen “an unprecedented volume of traffic”. Feel free to make your own ‘DVLA unable to deal with traffic’ puns.
Our pals at the DVLA said that an extra 30,000 people had visited the site and apologised for the farcical situation and said that, if you are desperate to get your tax sorted, you should go to the Post Office instead. Of course, with Post Offices being closed all over the country over the years, you might have to drive there as well.
The AA aren’t happy either. They reckon that this new system could see some cars being taxed twice. Nice little earner for the government that, eh? You see, someone buying a car will no longer be able to benefit from an unused period on a tax disc, which means there’ll be a lot of crossover with two drivers paying tax on a vehicle at the same time.
“Someone driving a car that costs £500 a year to tax would lose £41 if they sold it at the beginning of the month,” said Edmund King, the AA’s president. Likewise a buyer purchasing a car mid month would have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty for the entire month.”
The new move will allow thousands of pensioners to leave more money to their families, or cat homes.
Next April, coincidentally a month before the election, the Chancellor will scrap the “punitive” 55% on drawdown pension funds due when the holder dies.
More than 400,000 have drawdown pensions, which are invested in the stock market. When they retire, they draw an annual income.
Drawdown pensions are seen as more attractive than annuities, which lock people into a fixed annual income.
The move is to be announced at the Tory Party conference this week, which is jizzing all over Birmingham.
It is hoped that elderly people will take more advantage of these measures, which is pretty much designed with driving them to vote Conservative at the next election. George Osborne blahed out that these moves will help those who “worked and saved all their lives will be able to pass on their hard-earned pensions to their families tax free”.
That bloody ‘hard-earned’
Currently pension pots are taxed at 55% when someone aged 75 or over dies. But they are taxed at the marginal rate in the case of those who die aged under 75. In future, when someone older than 75 dies, their relations will have to pay income tax at only the marginal rate — normally 20%. No tax will apply to the relations of people who die aged under 75.
Him again: “Freedom for people’s pensions, a pension tax abolished, passing on your pension tax free. Not a promise for the next Conservative government, but put in place by Conservatives in Government now.”
The pubs will taking part in national Tax Equality Day, which highlights how everyone would benefit from a VAT reduction in the hospitality industry.
It’s been part of an ongoing palaver between the company and the Government over their tax battles.
More than 900 Wetherspoon pubs are taking part in the campaign.
The company paid out £275.1m in VAT last year, which took their total tax bill to £600.2m, which is 43% of the company’s sales.
On average, each Wetherspoon pub pays £12,700 a week in tax.
UK supermarkets pay no VAT on food, whereas pubs pay 20%. The company said this economic disadvantage has contributed to the closure of many thousands of pubs.
You can see their point.
While this may be a political point by the pub chain, you don’t need to be interested in this jostling. Basically, head to your local Wetherspoons this Wednesday and enjoy a cut-price piss-up. Hurrah!