Autumn Statement 2016 – Headlines

2016-autumn-statement-image1The Autumn Statement 2016 – headlines

Chancellor, Philip Hammond has delivered his first and last Autumn Statement. He announced that there will be a switch to an autumn budget and spring statement, and the spring statement will no longer be a major fiscal event but a response to economic forecasts which are produced twice a year by the OBR.

Our experts were glued to the coverage and some of the initial headlines from this lunchtime are detailed below.

Turning the budget on its head
The Chancellor surprised everyone by announcing that this was his last Autumn Statement, but before we had time to wonder what had prompted him to hand in his resignation so soon after his appointment, he went on to assure us that the reason was that he was abolishing the Autumn Statement.  As everyone drew breath again, he then announced that the Spring 2017 budget would be the last Spring budget, but that 2017 would also see the first Autumn Budget, and that there would then be a Spring statement in 2018.

Depending on your personality, you might by now be giving a Gallic Shrug and muttering ‘plus ça change…’, or ranting to anyone that will listen about change for the sake of change and the waste of taxpayers’ money.  However, there is a logic.  Since the introduction of the Autumn statement, changes to the tax system have been passing under our bemused gaze along an endless conveyor, rather like dishes in a sushi restaurant. Some legislation has taken effect from the date of the Autumn statement, some from the start of the tax year and still more from the date of Royal Assent to the Finance Act. On top of this, some legislation hastily passed has had to be amended within a couple of years to rectify unintended consequences.

If the new system works as it is meant to, we will have a budget in the Autumn time which will set out proposals for legislation that can be properly discussed, reviewed and even drafted in time to apply to the new tax year starting the following April. The function of the Spring statement, Mr Hammond has assured us, will be to respond to the forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility. He did emphasize that if urgent changes were required, this was not being ruled out….but you can’t have everything.

Changes announced to Salary sacrifice
Following the recent consultation, the announcement to changes to salary sacrificed arrangements did not come as a surprise. A salary sacrifice arrangement allows an employee to give-up some of their salary in return for a specified non-cash benefit in kind. This could provide savings to both the employer and the employee if the benefit was either not taxable, or taxed at a lower rate than the equivalent amount of salary.

With effect from April 2017, most salary sacrifice arrangements will be subject to the same tax as the ‘sacrificed’ income.  There are specific exemptions from these new rules for pensions, childcare, ultra-low emission cars and cycle to work schemes.  In addition, all arrangements that were in place before April 2017 will be protected for up to a year and arrangements relating to cars, accommodation or school fees will be protected for up to four years.

A U-turn on Employee shareholder status
A new employment status was introduced in 1 September 2013, that of Employee shareholder.  The idea was that in return for giving up certain employment rights, employee shareholders would receive free shares worth at least £2,000 in their employer’s parent company. The first £2,000 of these would be free of the normal tax on employment related securities, and the gain on a subsequent disposal of up to £50,000 worth of these shares would be free of capital gains tax.

HMRC guidance issued on the introduction of employee shareholder status indicated an employee shareholder would have a stake in their employing company and that this might lead to greater responsibility, improving their productivity and going the extra mile to ensure that it does well.  Today the Chancellor announced that the tax advantages linked to Employee Shareholder status were being abolished in response to evidence that it is being primarily used for tax-planning purposes by high-earning individuals.  Shares received under an arrangement made before 1 December 2016 will not be affected.

The cost of employment
Mr Hammond was keen to remind the opposite benches that it was the Conservatives who had introduced the National Living Wage. From April 2017, this will increase from the current rate of £7.20 per hour to £7.50 per hour. This applies to employees aged 25 and over.

There are also increases to the National minimum wage for 21-24 year olds which rises to £7.05 per hour, 18-20 years olds which rises to £5.60 per hour and 16-17 year olds which rises to £4.05 per hour. Apprentice wages will also rise to £3.50 per hour.

Money has been pledged to help small businesses understand the rules and to tackle employers who break the law by failing to pay the minimum required.

From April 2017 employee and employer national insurance thresholds will be aligned at £157 per week.  This will cost businesses a maximum of £7.18 per employee annually, but will have no direct impact on the employee’s pay packet.

Budgetary measures with mass appeal
All Chancellors whilst trying to balance the books must surely have one eye on measures that are likely to be universally popular.  On this occasion, Mr Hammond was keen to remind us of some of his predecessor’s promises that are likely to bring a warm glow to all of us.

Personal allowances – The personal allowance will rise to £11,500 in April 2017, and the Chancellor reiterated the government’s promise to raise it to £12,500 before the end of this Parliament (2020/21). After that he announced that it would rise in line with inflation.  He also reiterated the promise to raise the higher rate threshold to £50,000 within the lifetime of the Parliament.

Fuel duty – The annual rise in fuel duty has been cancelled again, which the Chancellor says will save the average car driver £130 a year, and the average van driver £350 per year.

Childcare – After a long delay, the promised tax-free childcare is now promised to commence in early 2017. This scheme involves an individual paying money into a childcare account, which will be topped up by HMRC at a rate of £2 for every £8 paid in. The maximum saving will be £2,000 per child per annum.

Please pop back tomorrow morning when we will have had a chance to study the announcements further, and will have produced an informative easy-to-read booklet for you to download.