Budget 2020: A damp squib?

Oct 01, 2019
With Budget 2020 fast approaching, what – if anything – could be on the table from a tax perspective?

By Peter Vale & Oliver O'Connor

At the time of writing, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure & Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, had already flagged that we can expect little by way of tax cuts in the upcoming Budget.

So, from a tax perspective, are we looking at a damp squib or could there be a mix of tax cuts and increases that net to zero? And if so, who are the winners and losers likely to be?

Income tax

In the authors’ view, we will see some modest tax cuts next month benefiting primarily lower and middle income earners, with higher earners likely to see some of this cut back – perhaps via a restriction in tax credits. Depending on the scale of the adjustment for higher earners, this could mean they see a net decrease in take-home pay with all other taxpayers seeing a modest increase. So, in summary, we don’t expect to see much either way in terms of income tax adjustments, with lower and middle income earners likely to be the main beneficiaries of any cuts.

We also don’t expect to see any longer term statement committing to a reduction in our high marginal tax rates of 52% and 55% for employees and self-employed respectively. Nor should we expect to see a broadening of the tax base; indeed, successive budgets have taken more and more people out of the tax net. The concept of broadening the tax base was a recommendation of the Commission on Taxation report almost 10 years ago, but it has not been embraced by governments since. While the idea of more people paying a little has merits, it is unlikely to be a vote winner.

Pensions and investments

On the investment side, we are all aware that deposit rates are derisory at present and unlikely to increase any time soon. We are also very keenly aware (as is the Government) that there is a potential pensions time-bomb in the coming decades. The auto-enrolment regime, planned for the early 2020s, is a step towards ensuring that people are more sufficiently funded from a pension perspective and thus, not as dependant on State support in their later years. To this end, it is crucial that the current pension rules are not adjusted (downwards) but rather, that all are maintained at a minimum. A possible concession, which would be of long-term benefit to all, would be to increase the net relevant earnings from the current €115,000 to even €125,000.


Entrepreneurs would ideally like to be given an increase in the Entrepreneur Relief from €1,000,000 to a more substantial figure. As importantly, they would like to know that there is a roadmap over the coming three to five years to bring this relief more in line with our near neighbours, which is 10 times greater than our current level. We pride ourselves in being the best small country in which to do business, enabling this crucial economic grouping to thrive and create yet more economic prosperity for the country as a whole.

Corporate tax

We know for certain that new transfer pricing legislation will be introduced in October. The new provisions will implement 2017 OECD guidelines into Irish law and also make certain other changes. While the nature of the other changes is still uncertain, it is very likely that transfer pricing will be extended to non-trading transactions, in particular where tax is being avoided. Certain grandfathering provisions for arrangements in place in 2010 will be removed while it is also possible that transfer pricing will be extended in some form to SMEs.

Ireland is also obliged under EU law to bring in anti-hybrid legislation on 1 January 2020, which broadly prevents deductions for payments that are not taxed elsewhere. A further change required under EU law is to restrict tax relief for interest to 30% of a company’s EBITA. At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether this legislation will be in place at 1 January 2020. It should be noted that there will be a de minimis limit (expected to be roughly €3 million), group provisions and certain other carve-outs from the scope of the new legislation.

Other changes

We don’t expect to see significant changes in the VAT space. There isn’t the fiscal space to provide a VAT reduction to a specific sector (similar to the lower rate previously provided to the hospitality sector), while our headline rate is already relatively high and hence not likely to be used as a revenue-raising measure. It would be positive to see some targeted tax reliefs introduced in the Budget, despite the negative press that some of these reliefs have received in the past. However, sensible tailored reliefs have a role. Improvements to some of the existing reliefs should also be considered.

Overall, it is possible that this Budget will be seen as a damp squib. But the devil will be in the detail and there is an opportunity to make changes that will bolster key sectors of our economy.

Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner at Grant Thornton.

Oliver O’Connor FCA is Partner, Private Client and Wealth Management at Grant Thornton.