WellTax Blog

New Labour Government Potential Tax Strategy: what to expect

Overview

As Labour took office, there was minimal discussion of tax reform in their manifesto. However, the only significant promise was to maintain stability in the corporation tax rate, when arguably, a reduction might be needed to boost confidence and investment in the UK. Despite promises that income tax, national insurance, and VAT will not rise, this does not mean personal taxes will remain unchanged. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) highlighted that the new government has two choices to manage public debt: cut spending or raise taxes. Labour’s spending plans suggest an inclination towards the latter.

Wealth Taxes and Capital Gains Tax

Labour’s manifesto announced plans to raise approximately £8.5 billion in taxes, primarily through increased tax compliance and closing non-dom loopholes. This amount pales compared to the nearly £1 trillion collected annually by HMRC, indicating that more substantial tax rises are likely. Wealth taxes, including potential reforms to capital gains tax (CGT) and inheritance tax, are expected to be on the agenda.

Capital Gains Tax

The manifesto is silent on CGT, but an increase in the headline rates to align them with income tax rates is anticipated. Currently, the rates are 20% (28% for residential property), and aligning them with income tax rates (20%, 40%, and 45%) suggests a need for immediate planning. There is also speculation about reintroducing taper relief or indexation relief to reduce the effective rate on long-term gains, encouraging long-term investment.

Wealth managers are already seeing clients rebasing their portfolios, selling assets now to crystallize gains at 20%, protecting them from potential higher future rates. Entrepreneurs with large allowable tax losses are using these to offset gains, anticipating changes in CGT rules.

Pensions

Labour may target pensions, recalling the 1997 tax raid on company pension schemes by former Chancellor Gordon Brown. Today’s Labour Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has several possible avenues, including introducing a flat rate of tax relief on pension contributions, ending the advantage higher and additional rate taxpayers enjoy. Despite the uproar over the Conservative’s abolition of the Lifetime Allowance (LTA) for pensions, Labour announced they would not reintroduce the LTA, suggesting more significant reforms ahead.

Potential measures include imposing inheritance tax (IHT) on uncrystallised pension funds or subjecting large uncrystallised pension funds to income tax and CGT on investment income and gains. These measures would discourage warehousing wealth in pension funds, currently enjoying tax exemptions on income and gains and outside of one’s estate for IHT.

Non-Domiciled Individuals (Non-Doms)

Labour intends to close non-dom loopholes and continue with the Foreign Income & Gains (FIG) regime from 2025-26. They are likely to remove the transitional measure of the 50% reduction in tax on foreign income in 2025-26. The broader imposition of IHT on UK resident non-doms could cause an exodus of non-doms from the UK, discouraging others from coming. The current favourable IHT treatment might be scrapped, but the pragmatic approach would be to impose FIG rules for income tax and CGT while retaining the special IHT regime for non-doms regarding their non-UK assets.

Inheritance Tax (IHT)

Reforming IHT by widening the tax base through restricting reliefs and reducing the rate might reduce the non-dom exodus. Lowering the IHT rate below 40% could make it more palatable, reduce the need for planning, and enhance international competitiveness. Labour could remove the CGT exemption on death, meaning beneficiaries would pay tax on gains accrued before inheriting assets. This approach would create administrative challenges and potential double taxation issues.

Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs)

A reduction in the contribution limit for ISAs, currently £20,000, might be considered. At the moment, ISA saving accounts allow interest to be tax-free. However, Labour unravelling these tax wrappers entirely would likely be seen as overstepping.

Restructuring Investment Portfolios

Advisers recommend restructuring investment portfolios to mitigate potential tax hikes. Selling shares within general investment accounts and repurchasing them within ISAs, utilizing the spouse’s annual allowance, is a common strategy. Holding assets in a lower-income tax band spouse’s name could be attractive, provided trust issues are managed.

The fear of a future CGT increase is pressuring smaller buy-to-let landlords, many of whom are opting to sell up. Larger landlords, who hold rental properties within corporate structures, might accelerate planned exit strategies, impacting government growth targets.

Pensions as Wealth Transfer Vehicles

The wealthy often use pensions as intergenerational wealth transfer vehicles. Ending favourable IHT treatment of defined contribution pensions might become a target. Advisors suggest withdrawing tax-free cash sooner rather than later, considering the maximum tax-free lump sum capped at £268,275.

Inheritance Strategy

Advisers encourage “giving while living” to reduce IHT bills and start the seven-year clock on potentially exempt transfers. Setting up family investment companies and using offshore bond portfolios are popular strategies to manage future IHT liabilities.

School Fees

Labour plans to apply VAT to private school fees, raising £7.5 billion across the parliament. Parents are considering advance payment schemes to pre-empt VAT introduction, though these may face challenges from HM Revenue & Customs.

Conclusion

As Labour navigates its first term, potential tax reforms targeting wealth, pensions, and non-doms are on the horizon. Individuals and advisers must stay vigilant, planning for possible changes to mitigate financial impacts and leverage available opportunities.

Click here to stay informed and proactive, we can help taxpayers navigate the potential challenges and opportunities presented by Labour’s tax reform agenda.

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