The above is my pathetic attempt to join the ranks of those unknown headline writers who produced such classics as:
“Super Cally go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious”
“Missing dog breeder: new lead”
“Forest sunk by Japanese sub”
Not to that standard, but it will have to do!
The clearest signal yet as to the content of Wednesday’s budget was given by the Chancellor yesterday, when he told Andrew Marr that he will be introducing “aggressive” new anti-avoidance measures to combat the use of offshore companies to avoid stamp duty land tax on expensive residential property; the top rate is now 5% on such property valued at £1 million plus.
For those of you who would like to get your stamp duty land tax planning in before Wendesday (good luck!), the avoidance is based on the fact that shares attract stamp duty at 0.5%, or a mere tenth of the top rate of stamp duty land tax. Many of the other tax problems that such a strategy might give rise to can be mitigated where an LLP structure is used, allowing, for instance, the benefit of main residence exemption for capital gains tax to be obtained.
It thus appears that there will be targeted anti-avoidance legislation to block this announced on Wednesday; it is noticeable in this respect that the Chancellor said “People have had their warning. They need to pay stamp duty on the homes they live in”, which does suggest that residential property is the focus of the forthcoming law change.
This is interesting, because the use of offshore companies is not the only, nor indeed necessarily the most efficient, stamp duty land tax mitigation strategy on the market. Whether there will also be legislation to deal with other planning using, for instance, subsale relief, remains to be seen on Wednesday.
The Chancellor also dampened speculation about an abolition or reduction in the 50% income tax rate by saying this would be a “Budget for working people”, saying “My priority is to help low and middle earners. That is where the bulk of the effort in the Budget is going to be.” It also seems clear that the Liberal Democrat element of the coalition would demand some kind of ‘quid pro quo’ for such a change, perhaps in the form of a wealth tax, which Mr Osborne may feel is not a political price worth paying in this context.
It would be nice to think that the Budget might feature some satisfactory resolution to the unholy mess that is the government’s feed-in tariff policy for solar PV installations, as well as other measures aimed at improving the country’s environmental performance, in addition to the actions necessary to bring the economy closer to the straight and narrow.
I do sometimes feel that politicians deliberately ‘float’ potentially controversial Budget ideas by way of apparent ‘leaks’ in the weeks leading up to the big day, in order to judge public reaction to possibly divisive proposals. It would of course be nice to think that the management of the public finances was much too important for that, and that Chancellors would always do what is right for the country rather than what is electorally popular, wouldn’t it ……….?