Budget 2014: So what do we know?

Tony Hancock, morose comedian. Tony Hancock, who took a morose look at matters fiscal in The Income Tax Demand

The Chancellor George Osborne delivers his next Budget on Wednesday 19 March.

Traditionally it is a day of big announcements and political grandstanding to boost the government's position and not just to manage the state's finances.

Usually, there is something unexpected and eye-catching among the flurry of tax changes and revised spending policies.

But some accountants think that this year's Budget could be relatively quiet because the chancellor may wish to save his ammunition for next year's Budget, just before the next general election scheduled for May 2015.

"We are going to see a number of big promises thrown forward to 2015 - but no grand gestures," says George Bull, a senior tax partner at accountants Baker Tilly.

We already know about some changes scheduled for the 2014-15 tax year, because they have been announced already, or are being consulted on before the detail is settled.

Personal taxes

The personal income tax allowance is going up in April from £9,440 to £10,000 and is also scheduled to rise by the increase in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) from 2015-16 onwards.

In addition, the ceiling for paying the 20% basic rate of income tax will fall again (as it has done for the past few years) - from £32,010 of taxable income to £31,865.

But taken together, the overall threshold for paying the 40% higher tax rate - the combined effect of the annual allowance and the basic rate band - actually increases by 1% this April, from £41,450 of income (£9,440 plus £32,010) to £41,865 (£10,000 plus £31,865).

Back in the 2012 Autumn Statement, the chancellor said this higher-rate threshold would also rise by 1% in 2015-16.

More 40% taxpayers

Japanese abacus

It is worth noting that this process of "fiscal drag" over the past few years has meant that the width of the basic rate income tax band has shrunk.

That has pushed more people into the scope of the higher rate where they pay 40% income tax on the top slice of their incomes.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that compared with the state of play when the coalition government took office four years ago, the higher-rate threshold has dropped by £4,910, creating an extra 1.1 million higher-rate taxpayers in the process.

There are now 4.4 million higher-rate taxpayers, and a further 313,000 who pay the 45% additional tax rate on top.

The Financial Times has estimated that if the higher-rate threshold had kept pace with the growth of wages over the past 36 years it would now kick in at an annual income of £75,700.

Everyone below that would still be paying tax at just 20%.

The government points out that by this April, the cumulative effect of its repeated increases in the personal allowance will be to have removed 2.7 million low-paid people from the income tax system altogether.

Meanwhile, the Budget may contain details of the government's plan to let people submit inheritance tax forms online.

National insurance contributions (NIC)

The rates and thresholds for the coming financial year have already been announced.

The primary threshold for employees will rise from £7,755 to £7,956 while the upper earnings limit goes up from £41,450 to £41,865.

A new NIC employment allowance of £2,000 begins in April. This will remove the first £2,000 from the NI bill for every business and charity.

VAT (value added tax)

Amazon Kindle

The Budget should enact important changes to the payment of VAT on internet purchases and downloads.

Buyers, for instance of e-books, will now have to pay the VAT rate of their home country, not that of a retailer such as Amazon.

It charges just 3% VAT, the rate in its home territory - Luxembourg.

From 1 January 2015 it will have to charge UK purchasers the 20% British VAT rate - and then hand that money over to the UK government.

It will mean higher charges for some UK internet shoppers who use a foreign service, and it will raise about £300m more each year for the Treasury.

This is an EU-wide change affecting all 28 member countries and will remove the price advantage of some internet retailers based outside the UK.

Savings

The annual allowances for paying into an Isa (individual savings account) will go up in April.

They will rise from £11,520 to £11,880 for a stocks and shares Isa; from £5,760 to £5,940 for a cash Isa; and from £3,720 to £3,840 for a junior Isa.

Pensions

Cash in hand

The total amount you can contribute to your pension scheme with tax relief each year is being cut from £50,000 to £40,000.

And the tax-free lifetime allowance for the value of your pension pot is being cut from £1.5m to £1.25m.

In the last Autumn Statement it was proposed that, from October 2015, some pensioners and those due to reach state pension age before 6 April 2016 should have the right to pay extra national insurance contributions to boost their forthcoming single-tier state pensions from 2016.

The legislation should be spelled out in this Budget.

Business taxes

The corporation tax rate is being cut from 23% to 21% and will go down again to 20% in April next year. This applies to companies whose profits are more than £1.5m.

Business rates will be cut next month, and a relief for small companies has been extended to April 2015.

Property taxes

London skyline

The Budget should start a formal consultation on the government's plan (announced in the 2013 Autumn Statement) to impose capital gains tax (CGT) on non-UK residents who own and sell a home in the UK.

This tax is scheduled to start in April 2015 and could affect hundreds of thousands of UK citizens who have moved abroad but still own a home in the UK.

Also, from 2014 the ability of a property owner to still avoid paying CGT when selling their main home, even if they stopped living in it up to three years ago, will be restricted.

From this April, that exemption period from CGT will be cut in half, to just 18 months.

Alcohol and tobacco duties

These will rise by 2% more than inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

Benefits

Most working-age benefits will rise by CPI or 1%, which ever is lower, next month and in April 2015. It has been announced that public sector pay will rise by 1% this year.

And what about 2015?

HM Treasury

Some other tax changes are already in the pipeline for the 2015-16 tax year.

Employers' national insurance contributions for most under-21s will be abolished, except those earning more than the upper earnings limit.

One person in a married couple or a civil partnership will be able to transfer up to £1,000 of their personal tax allowance to their partner, saving them tax of up to £200 a year in the process. This will not be on offer to couples where the recipient is a higher or additional-rate taxpayer.

Fuel duties are going to remain frozen until September 2015.

The government's policy of tax-free childcare vouchers will begin in September 2015.

Sources: HMRC, Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Deloitte, Baker Tilley

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  50.  
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  51.  
    06:00: Good morning Tom Espiner Business reporter

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