James Coney  

Tax reform proposals need to be more joined up

James Coney

James Coney

Someone inside the Treasury has really got a bee in their bonnet about disguised remuneration. 

But we are not talking about dodgy loan schemes or money shunted through tax havens: we are talking about ordinary, plain, old capital gains.

In particular, some bigwig in Whitehall has got it in for income masquerading as a gain.

Maybe some mandarin needed their boiler fixing and discovered the plumber was not only making more than them, but also that they were paying a lower marginal rate of tax.

Or perhaps there is a new couple down the tennis club raking it in from dividends when one of them blatantly does no work for the company.

Whatever it is, the vibe that some people are manipulating capital gains is permeating right through the Treasury and out of the mouths of even those as far up the food chain as the chancellor.

It started with the announcement of the first government Covid-19 bailout scheme, when Rishi Sunak let slip that he thinks that some workers are not paying as much towards the tax base as others.

It then ran through to the second bailout, where self-employed directors were excluded.

The final nail was the report from the Office for Tax Simplification, which made it abundantly clear that many people were taking dividends as income in order to reduce their tax bill.

This was all part of an 11-point plan by the OTS to overhaul capital gains tax, with the end result that anyone cashing in a gain over anything more than £4,000 a year was likely to pay much more.

I want you to think about this as you also consider a double-pronged tax raid – through cuts to relief and increases in stamp duty – that buy-to-let investors have already faced.

Now they too would be caught by this new CGT overhaul.

I am going to skirt round the whys and wherefores of being self-employed and the benefit or not that they bring to the economy, and focus for a second on these kind of tax overhauls.

As a principle, I have no problem with aligning capital gains rates with income tax or indeed the notion that buy-to-let investors are a different type of investor to those in commercial property and so should not get the same reliefs.

Some taxes, CGT and those on buy-to-let investors, are ripe for reform. 

But reform is only ever good if it is done as part of a whole, and both of these [proposals] are piecemeal and dangerous when judged in isolation. 

The question should not be are people who realise capital gains or make buy-to-let investments paying enough tax, but rather how should we tax these two groups?

If there is avoidance then we need to develop a tax system that catches this, but outside this, we should find a regime that encourages investment.