In Focus: Tax  

What's the thinking behind tax day?

This article is part of
Tax day: all the devilish details

What's the thinking behind tax day?

Spend some time on social media and you will fast come to think that every day is a celebration or commemoration of some sort. But for the financial and tax planning community, March 23 this year was, among other things, 'tax day'.

In his Budget on March 3, chancellor Rishi Sunak did not usher in an overhaul of taxation, despite many commentators predicting at the time he would update inheritance tax and change capital gains tax.

In these particular cases, speculation was rife not least because the Office for Tax Simplification has already conducted significant reviews of these policies. In the event, the chancellor did not think its proposed changes appropriate to fold into the Budget.

Instead, tax day focused on other, less heralded initiatives. A 17-page summary published on March 23 signposted the UK towards more than 30 different updates, consultations and documents published as part of the government's 10-year plan to tidy up the UK tax code.

In his introductory remarks, the financial secretary to the Treasury explained why these were not announced on March 3.

Jesse Norman MP wrote: "By announcing these measures and consultations separately from the Budget, we are seeking to create greater visibility and transparency for Parliamentarians, tax professionals and other stakeholders.

"We hope that increased scrutiny of tax measures will increase the overall quality of tax policy and legislation, on which millions of taxpayers ultimately rely."

Political manoeuvres

But what is behind the reason for creating this specific 'tax day', given it followed hot on the heels of the Budget itself? True to form, politics seems to be the main factor, according to financial commentators.

Andrew Dixon, head of wealth planning for Kleinwort Hambros, commented: "Positioning the UK economy for growth, while reducing the deficit, remains a delicate tightrope for the government to walk.

His prediction was that tax day might prove "an astute political manoeuvre by the chancellor – rather than headline-grabbing hikes or the introduction of a wealth tax, introducing a series of freezes or “stealth” taxes will be used to plug the hole in public funding."

"Stealth taxes are easy to position to the public than an explicit tax rise as the impact isn’t immediate, or for those who are hit immediately, it is generally a small impact which, incrementally and overtime, provides a larger cumulative impact for the Treasury."

In the event, no such revenue-raising opportunities were outlined. But this is not the end of the matter, says Dixon.

“There is no appetite for austerity, and with a different mix of voters I am not sure the government would want to pursue the same policies under the Cameron/Osborne tenure. With this mind, we expect higher taxes in this decade compared to the last."

George Bull, senior tax partner at RSM, comments: "The government decided that only announcements which have fiscal implications that need to be captured in the economic and fiscal outlook published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, and measures which will be legislated in the Finance Bill, would be made on Budget day in the normal way.