With the general election imminent, it’s hard not to see the most recent budget as strongly political. A number of tax incentives were announced, mainly to benefit the largest groups of taxpayers, but paid for by rises affecting the wealthy.
There were no further announcements on income tax, National Insurance or VAT. Although, as previously announced, a 50 per cent top rate of income tax will be introduced from 6 April 2010 on incomes of more than £150,000. On the same date, a reduction in personal allowances will start on incomes of more than £100,000. Finally, a 1 per cent increase in National Insurance is due to take effect from 6 April 2011.
First-time buyers escape stamp duty
The stamp duty threshold will be raised for first-time buyers from £125,000 to £250,000. As the threshold was raised at midnight last night, almost all affected buyers who have not yet exchanged will benefit. The stamp duty rise will take effect for the next two years, and could result in tax savings of up to £2,500, compared with the previous threshold.
Wealthier homeowners will fund the rise. There will be a permanent increase in stamp duty from 4 per cent to 5 per cent on house purchases over £1m.
Tip: Where possible, consider negotiating the asking price to below the threshold by negotiating extras such as curtains or garden furniture in a separate deal.
Good news for SMEs
From October, there will be a business rates cut. This will result in an exemption for properties with a rateable value of less then £6,000 and an increase in small business rates relief for properties with a value between £6,001 and £11,999.
The annual investment allowance will be doubled to £100,000. The relief – which allows a 100 per cent tax deduction for new capital expenditure – will be welcome by small and medium-sized businesses in particular.
The lifetime limit for entrepreneur’s relief will be doubled, with the effect that the first £2m (previously the first £1m) of gains will be taxed at an effective rate of 10 per cent. Contrary to wide predictions, Capital Gains Tax did not rise with the Budget, but will remain at its historically low level of 18 per cent.
Tip: It continues to be a good time for businesses to invest in growth. The difference between the top rate on income tax at 50 per cent and Capital Gains Tax rate at 18 per cent provides a clear incentive for investment in business expansion.
The Chancellor announced a 15 per cent increase in the number of government contracts that will be awarded to SMEs.
The two state-subsidised banks, RBS and Lloyds, will lend a further £94bn, of which at least half will be to small and medium-sized firms.
The Chancellor will set up an investment bank with £2 billion of equity to invest in low carbon industries such as wind farms.
The planned hike in petrol duty by 3 pence will be staggered, so that there will be a 1 pence rise in April, a further 1 pence rise in October and the final 1 pence rise in January 2011.
Good news for savers
As announced in the pre-budget report, the ISA limit will be raised from £7,200 to £10,200 from 6 April. The Chancellor also announced in this Budget that the limit will rise in future years in line with inflation.
Tip: If you have not yet used your ISA allowance there are just a few days before the end of the tax year to use the allowance before it is lost.
The wealthiest targeted
The one-off 50 per cent tax on bank bonuses has raised more than £2bn – double the amount forecast. Further attempts to increase tax revenue from higher income groups were also announced.
The inheritance tax thresholds will be frozen for four years at £325,000. If there is inflation, this will amount to a real term reduction in the threshold.
There will a crackdown on tax avoidance through agreements made with Dominica, Grenada and Belize.
Tax credits rise
Families with one and two-year-olds will receive an additional £4 per week in child tax credit from 2012. The number of hours needed to qualify for working tax credit will be cut for the over 60s.
Tip: Consider making a protective claim for tax credits. Your tax credits claim is based on the prior year unless there is an increase in your income of more than £25,000. Alternatively, you can claim for your assessment to be made on your current income level. Careful planning can ensure you derive the maximum benefit from the system.
The tax system is constantly changing and it is important to review your investment plans, cashflow forecasts and wealth management in the light of new rules and regulations.
Raphael Coman, founder of south London-based Coman & Co, is a chartered certified accountant with many years' experience gained at leading, national accounting firms. He specialises in taxation and small business accounting and offers personal tax advice to business owners, managers and contractors.