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Budget Overview - UK Budget

By Editorial
April 3, 2012

In this feature, we detail some of the key measures announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in the 2012 UK Budget affecting business and individual taxpayers.

Ironically, for a government that is committed to the idea of tax simplification, this was far from a simple budget, and scores of minor measures, many of which are designed to claw back revenue lost from some of Osborne's more eye-catching announcements, pepper the various budget documents. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed by tax experts and business advisors; while the general thrust of Osborne's budget, which placed heavy emphasis on stimulating private sector growth and increasing the competitiveness of UK PLC has been welcomed, the subsequent Finance Bill weighs in at a hefty 686 pages and is said to be the largest finance bill in history. As Francesca Lagerberg, Head of Tax at business and financial adviser Grant Thornton UK observed: "As the Office of Tax Simplification battles to streamline the already complex landscape, the government has issued an eye-watering three volumes of legislative bloating as the primary rules grow and grow. Their task was tough before; it's now becoming near impossible".

A finance minister will rarely receive universal adulation following his or her budget speech, and it is the very nature of politics that you can't please all of the people all of the time. Osborne's job is also complicated by the fact that he must listen to the views of his left-of-centre colleagues in a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals that, increasingly, is not seeing eye-to-eye on key issues of economic policy. Therefore, Osborne seemed to take praise and criticism in equal measures for his most controversial announcement - that of reducing the top rate of personal income tax to 45% from 50%.

Introduced at the fag-end of the previous Labour administration and applied to income above GBP150,000 per year from April 2010, this tax was seen by the business community and free marketeers as a totem of the UK's un-competitiveness, the catalyst for a 'brain drain' that was driving away to more welcoming shores the sort of talented professionals and wealth creators that could contribute to the nation's economic recovery. On the other hand, most Lib-Dems and a wide swathe of the population felt that cutting 'rich taxes' was a particularly odious move in the middle of an economic crisis with the low-paid and the 'squeezed middle' struggling to make ends meet, especially when set against changes to tax allowances for pensioners (the so-called 'Granny tax'). Whatever the rights and wrongs of the move, the plain fact is, however, that very little in extra revenue, if any, was collected from the 50% tax bracket; indeed, figures suggest that income tax receipts actually fell as the rich deployed their 'armies of accountants', as Lib-Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg put it, to avoid paying the tax.

Most observers predicted ahead of the Budget that Osborne wouldn't have the nerve to cut the 50% rate, at least not this year; but cut he did, with the following message to parliament and the wider world as he did so: "no Chancellor can justify a tax rate that damages our economy and raises next to nothing. It is as simple as that". He didn't even cave in to Lib Dem demands for a 'mansion tax' on residential property worth GBP2m or more as a quid pro quo for cutting the 50% rate, as was expected. The rich didn't get away entirely scot-free however: the Osborne version of the 'mansion tax' was announced in the form of a substantial hike in stamp duty on high-value residential property purchases while a loophole (or, in a new addition to the tax avoidance lexicon, an 'envelope') was closed to stop wealthy foreigners buying their Mayfair town houses through offshore companies to avoid stamp duty - again measures which seemed to earn him both praise and criticism.

Osborne also threw another major tax sop towards business with the announcement that the schedule of corporation tax cuts would be accelerated. This did not seem to earn him the same widespread derision that cutting the 50% tax rate did - no mainstream political party these days can be seen to be too anti-business in a global economy - and he quite predictably received fulsome praise for this measure from organizations like the Confederation British Industry, which welcomed the fact that the UK would soon have one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the G-20. Businesses, however, are just as interested in what lies beneath the surface of a country's tax regime (if not more so), and several other less-publicised changes were announced to the corporate income tax systems, and were generally well-received. These, and some of the key personal income tax announcements, are summarised below:

Corporate Tax Measures

Corporate Tax Cut

The government had originally intended to reduce the headline rate to 23% by 2014, but Osborne will now accelerate the process, and deepen the cut. At present, the rate stands at 26%, following a surprise 2% cut in last year's Budget. Osborne has now repeated the 2% reduction, taking the rate to 24% instead of the 25% planned for April. Two further cuts are planned over the next two years, with the end result being a 22% corporate tax rate by 2014. The small business tax rate is to remain at 20%.

Patent Box

Under the proposed patent box scheme, companies will be allowed to elect to apply a 10% corporation tax rate to a proportion of profits attributable to patents and certain other qualifying intellectual property from 1 April 2013. In the first year this proportion will be 60% and will increase annually to 100% from April 2017.

R&D Tax Credits

The government proposes to introduce an Above the Line (ATL) Research and Development (R&D) credit, under which the credit will instead be calculated directly as a percentage of the company's R&D spend, making the R&D tax credit available to loss-making companies. Budget 2012 announced that the minimum rate for the ATL credit would be 9.1% before tax. However, final rates for the ATL credit, including for the payable part of the credit, will be decided following consultation, which runs until June 29, 2012.

Controlled Foreign Companies Regime

The government has confirmed its intention to take forward its proposed CFC reforms, which are intended to simplify the existing system and thereby make the UK more attractive to multinationals from a tax perspective. The new CFC rules are intended to be more closely targeted at profits that are artificially diverted from the UK and a 'gateway' test has been developed which seeks to identify such profits. The February 2012 version of the draft legislation included refinements to the gateway test and in particular set out a number of scenarios where a CFC's business profits, other than financial and insurance profits, will be outside the scope of the CFC charge. These include: CFCs that have no assets or risks that are managed to a significant extent in the UK; CFCs that have capability to operate commercially without any such UK-managed assets and risks; and CFCs not involved in certain arrangements designed to avoid tax.

Another key part of the proposals is the introduction of a finance company partial exemption which will provide for a CFC charge on only one-quarter of the profits from financing of overseas group companies, and a full exemption for such profits in certain limited circumstances.

Bank Levy

As announced in the Autumn Statement 2011, Finance Bill 2012 sets the full rate of the Bank Levy at 0.088% with effect from 1 January 2012. The government has also announced that legislation will be included in Finance Bill 2012 to set the full rate of the Bank Levy from 1 January 2013 at 0.105%. These changes are designed to ensure that the Bank Levy raises at least GBP2.5bn each year, as well as taking account of the benefit to the banking sector from the additional reductions in corporation tax.

Enterprise Zones

As also announced in the Autumn Statement 2011, legislation is introduced in Finance Bill 2012 to provide 100% first-year allowances for trading companies investing in plant or machinery for use primarily in designated assisted areas within Enterprise Zones, situated in areas of high unemployment.

Taxation of Insurance Companies

As announced at Budget 2011, legislation will be introduced in Finance Bill 2012 to establish a new regime for the taxation of life insurance companies and Friendly Societies with effect from 1 January 2013.

Value-Added Tax

A consultation has been released on proposed changes to the VAT regime to iron out a number of anomalies in the treatment of certain goods, especially in the area of food (a proposal since dubbed the 'pasty tax'). The main classifications of goods and services for VAT purposes have remained largely unchanged since the tax was introduced in 1973, meaning that while some items are zero-rated, other closely-related items are now taxed at the standard rate, or vice-versa.

Stamp Duty Land Tax

Legislation is introduced in Finance Bill 2012 to charge SDLT at 7% of the chargeable consideration where this is more than GBP2m. The measure takes effect for transactions where the effective date (normally the date of completion) is on or after 22 March 2012.

Additionally, the government intends to apply a 15% rate of SDLT for residential properties over GBP2m purchased by certain non-natural persons (the so-called 'enveloping' of high value property through company structures).

Tax simplification for Small Business

Following the Office of Tax Simplification review of small business taxation, the government will consult on introducing a voluntary cash basis for unincorporated businesses up to the VAT registration threshold (currently GBP73,000), with a view to introducing legislation in Finance Bill 2013. It will also consult on a simplified expenses system for business use of cars, motorcycles and home. Finally, the government will also consult on proposals to introduce a disincorporation relief. The consultation will look at the potential demand for such a relief as well as the practicalities of how it would work.

Tax Relief for the Creative Sector

The government will introduce corporation tax reliefs for the production of culturally British video games, television animation programmes and high-end television productions. Consultation on the design will take place over the summer. Legislation will be in Finance Bill 2013 and will take effect from 1 April 2013, subject to State aid approval.

General Anti-Abuse Rule

The government announced that it intends to accept the recommendation of the Aaronson report for the introduction of a narrowly-focussed General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR). A consultation document will be released later this year, with the intention of introducing the new rule next year. It will apply to income tax, capital gains tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax, National Insurance Contributions and SDLT. The GAAR will apply from April 1, 2013.

Personal Tax Measures

Income Tax Rates

Income tax rates will be unchanged for the tax year 2012-13. For 2013-14, the main rates of income tax will be the 20% basic rate, the 40% higher rate and the 45% additional rate (down from 50% currently).

Personal Allowances

As announced at Budget 2011, the income tax allowance for those aged under 65 will increase by GBP630 in cash terms to GBP8,105 in 2012-13. There will be a corresponding GBP630 cash decrease in the basic rate limit (the rate at which the 40% rate kicks in), taking it to GBP34,370. The higher rate threshold, which equals the sum of the personal allowance and the basic rate limit, will therefore remain unchanged in 2012-13 at GBP42,475. From 2013-14, the age-related personal allowances will not be increased and their availability will be restricted (aka the 'Granny tax'); currently the tax allowance for those aged between 65 and 74 is GBP9,490, and for those aged 75 and over GBP9,640; the allowance for a married couple aged 75 or over from April 5, 2009, is GBP6,965. The changes mean that the age-related personal allowances will not be increased and their availability will be restricted to people born on or before: 5 April 1948 for the allowance worth GBP10,500; and 5 April 1938 for the allowance worth GBP10,660. People born on or after 6 April 1948 will be entitled to the personal allowance of GBP9,205 for 2013-14.

Non-Dom Tax Measures

Following consultation in summer 2011, legislation will be introduced in Finance Bill 2012 to make changes to the taxation of non-domiciled individuals to: allow such individuals to bring their overseas income and gains to the UK tax-free in order to make a commercial investment in a qualifying business; increase the existing GBP30,000 annual charge to GBP50,000 for those resident in the UK in 12 or more of the last 14 tax years; and reduce the complexity of some aspects of the existing remittance basis rules. These changes will be introduced with effect from 6 April 2012.

Statutory Residence Test

The government has confirmed that the introduction of a statutory residence test, designed to clarify the definitions of residence and non-residence in the UK for tax purposes and enshrine them into law, will be delayed by one year until 1 April, 2013 to allow further consultation to take place.

Enterprise Investment Scheme/Venture Capital Trust Changes

As announced in Budget 2011, legislation will be introduced in Finance Bill 2012 to make simplifications to the EIS and to VCT schemes. This will remove some restrictions on qualifying shares and types of investor and, following consultation, will remove the GBP1m limit on investment by a VCT in a single company (except for companies in a partnership or joint venture). It will also remove the GBP500 minimum subscription for EIS.


Tags: accounting | business | small business | United Kingdom | budget | economics



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