OpinionNov 23 2015

What to expect from the Autumn Statement

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What to expect from the Autumn Statement

Previously, chancellor George Osborne has missed no opportunity to score political points and undercut the opposition’s proposals in his financial statements.

This time around, however, the Labour Party have largely kept their powder dry and tactically offered little to the economic debate which the chancellor can score off.

One of the key issues will, of course, be tax credits.

With the government being pushed back by the House of Lords, Mr Osborne faces the task of having to soften his approach while still adhering to the Conservative’s low welfare, high wage mantra.

By not netting the £4.4bn windfall the tax credits cuts would have brought, the chancellor will have substantially less to play with in his Autumn Statement and those who were hoping for some surprise tax giveaways may be disappointed.

We have already been told by Conservative MPs that planned changes to pensions tax relief, which could see them taxed like Isas in the future, will be delayed until 2016.

On the other hand, we may see the initial results of the government’s consultation on deeds of variation.

These are often used by families to direct assets in a different way following someone’s death and sometimes used to reduce the inheritance tax on the deceased’s estate.

The chancellor announced a review of this area following the revelation that Ed Miliband had used deeds of variation to alter his father’s will.

July’s Budget also brought in a host of policies which advisers and accountants have been waiting for further clarity on, and fingers are firmly crossed for the Autumn Statement to begin that process.

Changes to the non-dom rules are a case in point. The government confirmed at the end of September that the remittance basis would be removed and those non-doms living in the UK for 15 out of 20 years would pay the same tax as everyone else from 2017.

A further consultation on how this process will be managed is currently ongoing but, with non-doms so often used as a political football, we can only hope that the statement will bring some clarity.

Announced alongside the non-dom rules were changes to the inheritance tax system for properties held in offshore structures.

The Autumn Statement may provide the much needed technical guidance for those looking to extract their properties and who may be facing a high capital gains tax bill.

Tackling tax planning mechanisms (deemed avoidance) has been key to the ‘balancing the books’ narrative which has coloured the government’s tax policy.

Having announced that, following huge investment, government taskforces have netted over £100m in the last year and the ‘tax gap’ has fallen to 6.4 per cent, we can expect the Autumn Statement to hammer home the anti-avoidance message.

Dividend tax reforms were ostensibly introduced to discourage superfluous incorporation, but questions around how the £5,000 allowance works alongside other allowances, and whether there will be a tapered introduction, may see Mr Osborne offer some clarity on Wednesday (25 November).

Likewise, offshore trusts may catch the eye of the chancellor again, particularly with HMRC’s test-case against Glasgow Rangers [football club] thrusting Employee Benefit Trusts back into the spotlight.

Needless to say, any reforms appended with the phrase “by midnight tonight” pose a risk to financial planners. Regarding those changes we know are coming down the track, it is always worth acting, rather than waiting for the chancellor to move the goalposts.

James Hender is head of private wealth at accountancy firm Saffery Champness.