It's IHT, but not as we know it

18th February 2020

Benjamin Franklin is credited as first stating: "... in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

And since the introduction of Inheritance Tax (IHT) in the 1980s, we’ve all known that estates valued above certain thresholds would be subject to a 40% tax charge.

Well, this could be about to change…….

An all-party Parliamentary group (APPG) of MPs has recommended radical changes to inheritance tax, with proposals to cut the current "unfair" rate of 40% down to 10% for estates caught by IHT.

The motivation behind this move is a bid to stamp out avoidance from the ultra-wealthy and ease the burden on the growing number of middle-class families being caught in the tax net.

Clearly, the philosophy is that if you make the tax rate low enough, those who are financially able to adjust their financial affairs to avoid tax will not be bothered to do so. 

John Stevenson MP, chairman of the APPG said: "Our bold proposals for reform seek to address this unfairness by simplifying the system and ensuring that the higher value estates that currently take advantage of so many reliefs and exemptions actually pay some IHT."

Recommendations

Amongst the recommendations are the following:

  • replacing the IHT regime with a flat-rate gift tax payable on both lifetime and death transfers.
  • A main tax rate of 10%, with a 20% rate applying on an estate value over £2m.
  • Spouse and charity exemptions would remain.
  • The current Nil Rate Band (NRB), £325,000, would be retained.
  • All other reliefs and exemptions would be abolished. This means that crucial reliefs such as Business Property Relief would no longer apply. Regular gifts of surplus income exemption would also go.
  • An annual lifetime gifting allowance of £30,000 per person would be introduced.
  • The CGT tax-free death uplift would be abolished, but assets could be passed on death on a “no gain no loss” basis and only subjected to CGT on a subsequent disposal. 
  • Transfers into trusts would be taxed in the same way as a gift to an individual (i.e. at 10%). Trusts would not have a NRB. 
  • The concept of domicile may be abolished and replaced with a test that references years of UK residence/location of assets. 
  • Gifts with reservation of benefit would be abolished. 
  • Pension funds would potentially be added to the value of an individual’s estate for IHT purposes and a 10% (or 20% depending on size) charge imposed. 
  • The current IHT reduction to 36% where funds have been left to charity would be abolished.    

Given the involvement of all major parties on this report, which follows proposals from the Office of Tax Simplification, these changes are looking to be more than mere rumours.

However, with such perceived sweeping tax cuts potentially causing a political storm it remains to be seen whether our newly elected government will be bold enough to move forward with this.

While only 5% of UK estates are liable for IHT, the rising price of houses, particularly in southern England, means that more families are becoming liable for the tax.

There are many exemptions, however, which create confusion for those tasked with managing their relatives' estates.

One major benefit of a reform such as this is that it would give us a simplified regime. Any move towards this in the forthcoming Budget would be welcomed.

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