Tax

What to expect from Tory tax policy

Feb 10, 2020
As the new UK Government has been formed by the Conservative party with a significant majority, its policies will set the tax agenda for 2020 and the following four years. Claire McGuigan summarises the main proposals.

Business taxes

In Finance Act 2016, the rate for corporation tax for 2020/21 was set at 17%. As this rate is set in legislation, it is the rate (excluding the UK banking corporation tax surcharge of 8%) that companies must use for their deferred tax calculations. However, during the election campaign, the Conservative party pledged to maintain the rate at 19%. Therefore, once this change is enacted, businesses will need to revisit their deferred tax calculations.

The Chancellor is expected to stick to the existing plans to introduce restrictions to payable research and development (R&D) tax credits from April 2020 to reduce the scope for tax avoidance by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, the Conservatives have pledged to increase the value of the R&D expenditure credit (RDEC) for larger companies from 12% to 13% and review the project qualifying criteria to establish if it can be widened to include R&D on cloud computing and data. They also committed to increasing the relief available under the new structures and buildings allowance to 3% a year. Both of these changes are likely to take effect from 1 April 2020.

The Conservative party confirmed its commitment to introduce a Digital Services Tax (DST) from April 2020, although it is not clear if there will be enough time to finalise the necessary legislation by then. Also, at the time of writing, the OECD has asked the UK to postpone implementation of this tax to allow for a standard approach to be considered across all countries.

During the election campaign, all three main parties promised to review the impact that the IR35/off-payroll labour changes will have on private sector businesses. Given that these changes were longstanding Conservative party policy, it is unlikely that they will be abandoned entirely. However, delaying the changes until 2021 or committing to a ‘post-implementation review’ may feature in the Budget. Similarly, the outcome of the Loan Charge Review is expected. Again, for the Government to abandon this tax enforcement action seems unlikely, but the Chancellor may announce much more flexible payment terms for individuals facing the charge.

Finally, for business taxes, the Conservative party manifesto contained a promise not to raise the rate of VAT during the next parliament.

Brexit

The promise to “get Brexit done” was central to the Conservatives’ election campaign. With a transitional period operating until 1 January 2021, most operational laws and cross-border arrangements will remain in place until that date. During 2020, the new Government will aim to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU that will take effect from 1 January 2021. However, some uncertainty will continue: in the election campaign, the Prime Minister promised not to extend the transition period beyond 1 January 2021 so, theoretically, there may still be a ‘no-deal’ Brexit if a trade deal is not agreed. Alternatively, an extension to the transition period may be possible if a post-Brexit deal takes longer to agree.

Employer issues

Although the Conservative party committed to ending freedom of movement on Brexit day, under the transitional rules, EU citizens would be able to come to the UK to live and work without any formal application process. If those individuals wish to remain in the UK after 31 December 2020, they can apply for “temporary leave to remain” in the UK which, if granted, will allow them to continue living and working in the UK for 36 months from the date it is granted. From 2021 onwards, the Conservatives plan to introduce a points-based immigration system.

Despite the national insurance contributions (NIC) changes for individuals, the Conservatives pledged not to increase NIC for employers and, to help small employers, they also plan to increase the NIC employment allowance from £3,000 to £4,000.

Employers should prepare for a significant increase in the national minimum wage (NMW) from April 2020. The Conservative party has pledged to increase it in stages to £10.50 over five years – this equates to a 5% increase from April 2020 and each subsequent year of the parliament.

Personal taxes

During the election campaign, all the main parties proposed changes to capital gains tax, although the Conservative party proposals were the least radical.

The Conservative manifesto did pledge to “review and reform” entrepreneurs’ relief (ER). While it is perhaps unlikely that the valuable ER rules will be immediately repealed, there may be some interim changes to the rules announced in the Budget, pending the outcome of a more fundamental review during 2020/21.

The Conservatives intend to raise the annual NIC starting threshold for employees to £12,500 over the next parliament, with an immediate increase to £9,500 from April 2020. The rates of NIC will be frozen for the duration of the new parliament. The Prime Minister also made an election commitment not to increase income tax rates during the new parliament.

Past political controversy over pension tax relief perhaps influenced politicians not to make specific commitments on the topic during the election campaign. However, because of the impact the annual allowance charge is having on senior NHS clinicians, the Government has already announced temporary measures to ensure that where they take on additional hours, such individuals would not lose out overall. The ‘quick fix’ compensation arrangement announced during the election campaign is unlikely to be sustained for the long-term, and a review of the underlying rule is likely to be announced in the Budget as it can trigger tax charges for many workers in the public sector (and private sector).

On tax avoidance, they propose a new package of measures including doubling the maximum prison term to 14 years for individuals convicted of the most serious types of tax fraud and creating a new HMRC Anti-Tax Evasion Unit.  

We await the Government’s first budget, scheduled for 11 March 2020, with anticipation.

Claire McGuigan is Director, Corporate Tax, at BDO Northern Ireland.