In Focus: Tax  

Tax day: What does the future hold for IHT?

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

However, according to Andrew Dixon, head of wealth planning for Kleinwort Hambros, IHT planning is always about "striking a balance between ensuring you have enough for your lifetime while passing on surplus wealth as efficiently as possible.

"The rules may change, but the aim will remain the same."

Pensions and IHT

Existing ways to mitigate IHT liabilities include considering the pension pot, as Dixon explains: “Pensions have a unique place in the UK savings and investment landscape and tend to be loved and loathed in equal measure.

"From a planner’s perspective, they provide a dream solution: a fund which can be used for your lifetime but transferred, on death, without IHT.

“The removal of a death benefits charge on pensions has meant many individuals can manage the drawings on their pensions to exploit the unique treatment of pensions, which do now form a key part of a client’s IHT planning. 

"Should pension death benefits become unattractive, clients would need to revisit the previous plans they have made to ensure they remain appropriate."

He calls the changes made to the death benefit charge a "deliberate attempt by [former chancellor] George Osborne to appeal to the middle classes".

But while the government did not make any of the anticipated announcements this week, the odds of major changes to pensionst taxation in future remain finely balanced. 

Dixon says: "We can conclude the cost of pensions tax relief is seen as a burden within the Treasury and benefits skewed towards the wealthy.

"However, changing the system would undoubtedly result in confusion and cost for employers/employees alike, not least members of final salary schemes such as NHS doctors. Interestingly, no one ever talks about the pensions tax relief as a net figure.

"While you receive tax relief going in tax is usually paid on the way out in future years."

What pensions changes were there?

Tax Day documents did outline some pensions tax technical updates. For example, the government has said it has identified several aspects of the pension tax framework that "do not work as intended in all situations and need updating to deal properly" with age discrimination cases.

For example, the current framework does not straightforwardly permit individuals to ask their pension scheme to settle annual allowance charges from previous tax years by reducing their future pension benefits ('scheme pays').

The government will therefore make technical updates to pension tax rules to remove such anomalies.

It is also going to review reviewing the appropriate taxation framework for superfunds, that is to say consolidation vehicles for defined benefit pension schemes. 

But given the absence of tinkering to pensions tax relief, the pension, as with gifts and trusts, remains a valuable tool for IHT planning purposes.