On initial reading, the autumn statement contained fewer tax-related announcements than might have been expected. On closer reading there are several developments, actual and potential, affecting clients (and solicitors).
The changes to the level of pension contributions and the lifetime limit, admittedly delayed until 2014/2015, will affect some solicitors personally although many might wish that the performance of their pension funds was likely to approach even the lower lifetime limit of £1.25m. Also, the restriction in the higher-rate threshold to 1% will over time drag more lawyers into the higher-rate band.
In addition, there are several developments clients will need to know about. The reduction in corporation tax (21%, down from 22%) by April 2014 will be helpful for businesses paying tax but correspondingly will reduce the value of reliefs, such as interest and capital allowances. The time-limited tenfold increase in the Capital Allowances Annual Investment Allowance is designed to encourage early investment in plant and machinery, doubtless to stimulate the economy.
There are indications that the proposals for tax incentives for employees prepared to give up certain employment rights will be legislated in the Finance Act 2013. In addition to legal advice on any employment law implications of these proposals, both employers and employees will need tax advice on these rules when legislated, not least because except where employees only receive shares worth £2,000 there are indications that there may be an upfront income tax charge, potentially with PAYE/NIC implications.
There are indications that the UK rules providing incentives for various tax-advantaged employee share and share-option schemes will be simplified, although the details are yet to come. This is not the only change that may impact on employment lawyers next year. Also of interest buried away in the main autumn statement document is the announcement that the government will consult on the TUPE Regulations to ‘remove unnecessary burdens on business’.
The tax arrangements of multinational companies has been much commented on in the national media over the last few weeks, including suggestions of their ’moral duty’ to pay more tax. Whatever your personal views on companies (and other taxpayers) taking steps legitimately to reduce their tax bills, there are difficulties facing the chancellor trying to impose more tax on overseas multinationals.
This is reflected by the fact that there were no specific legislative proposals in this area although the extra HM Revenue & Customs resources devoted to transfer pricing may raise some additional tax. What will be interesting is what measures the OECD put forward in this area, particularly on the value to be attributed to intangibles. Also on the subject of avoidance clients who have long-standing tax disputes with HMRC may find their cases progress to court more quickly and solicitors will need to be able to advise their clients on the scope of (and limits to) HMRC’s powers and, where appropriate, to privilege.
A number of topics remain unaddressed, although that may change by 11 December when draft legislation for next year’s Finance Bill is published. Topics include whether there will be any changes to the 15% SDLT charge imposed on certain high value residential property transactions, the annual charge and proposals for capital gains tax on some disposals by non-residents of interests in such properties. The new rules on the statutory test for residence of individuals should be unveiled, and the outcome of various consultations on anti-avoidance legislation which is the subject of challenge by the European Commission should be revealed.
Finally, the proposed rules on the General Anti-Abuse Rule or GAAR will be unveiled which, together with the non-statutory guidance on its ambit, could either affect many commonplace transactions or, it is hoped, just deter those involved in the more "egregious" tax planning. So in a few days time the UK tax landscape could become much more interesting than Wednesday’s announcements suggested.
Gary Richards is chair of the Law Society’s Tax Law Committee and a tax partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner