In addition to the review of Inheritance Tax previously covered, the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) are also undertaking a review of ways to simplify the taxation of income from interest on savings and dividends. Although 95% of the population pay no tax on such income as they have relatively little, the complexities of calculating the tax due on those with higher levels are mind boggling. Here’s a couple of quotations from the OTS Report (see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/simplifying-the-taxation-of-savings-income ) which explain why:
Many of the issues have arisen because of a series of changes, each working well enough taken by itself but which together create significant complexity that is not easily resolved
The starting rate for savings (SRS), personal savings allowance (PSA), dividend allowance and other allowances and features of the tax system mean that most people pay no tax on their savings, but the interactions between the rates and allowances is sufficiently complex at the margins that HMRC’s self-assessment computer software has sometimes failed to get it right. It is proving to be very difficult to create an algorithm that calculates the tax correctly in all circumstances and HMRC does not expect to bring the complete calculation online until 2018-19.
For those with complex tax affairs, or significant levels of dividend income who are probably some of the readers of this blog, this is not a trivial problem. Even the large firm of accountants who do my personal tax returns seem to be having problems with the software they use of late. I would certainly hate to try and do my own tax returns now.
One of the past “simplifications” which has been very damaging to stock market investors was the introduction of a “dividend allowance” of £2,000 to replace the dividend tax credit system. Although investors can put money into an ISA where dividends are not taxed (and could be paid out), there are severe limits on the amounts that can be invested in an ISA. That limit is £20,000 in the current tax year but has been much lower in the past and may get reduced again. For those shareholdings not in an ISA or SIPP, the removal of the dividend tax credit system means that the Government is collecting tax twice on the same company profits. Once when corporation tax is paid by the company and again when dividends are paid to investors out of those profits. This is surely iniquitous even with the current relatively low level of corporation tax. This change was allegedly made to prevent small incorporated businesses from avoiding income tax by paying profits out via dividends instead of via salaries subject to PAYE, but there were other simple rule changes that could have prevented that.
What does the OTS propose to do to simplify the calculation of savings tax? They wish to introduce a “personal tax roadmap” incorporating a plan for consolidation of the savings income tax rates and allowance. Also they wish to improve guidance because it is clear that people have difficulty in understanding the existing system. More flexibility in ISAs might also be considered to allow partial transfers of money and simplify the rules.
One specific threat in the document is this: “A more radical option would be to end the differential tax rates for dividend income. If all taxable income was taxed at the same rates, it would not matter how the personal allowance was used. Making this change would have the effect of increasing the amount of tax due from those who receive amounts of dividend income above the allowance. It would also impact on the taxation of profit extracted as a salary or as a dividend, from family owned companies.”
Investors receiving substantial dividends directly have already suffered a major tax increase from the removal of the tax credit system (the £2,000 tax free allowance is trivial in comparison with the income likely receivable by a portfolio large enough to fund a retirement for example). The new suggestion that dividends should be taxed the same as earned income would be another damaging imposition (the former are currently taxed at somewhat lower rates, although Trust rates are higher – another anomaly that is difficult to explain).
You can send your own comments to the OTS via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
As I said in the Inheritance Tax Review you might suggest to them that the present arrangements seem to generate work for tax accountants while baffling the general public. Like IHT, income tax is certainly a tax that requires simplification. A more fundamental review is surely required. However it’s worth bearing in mind that individuals have often planned their financial affairs based on existing tax rules. Abrupt changes to tax rules and allowance should be avoided, but that’s all we have had for the past few years, driven by political imperatives. The result has been the unintended consequence of a very complex tax system that few people understand and which makes tax calculations only possible by experts.
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )