· 8 min read · Features

Budget 2010 round-up: what the experts say

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Industry experts give their views on the Chancellor's Budget announcements regarding unemployment, the 50p tax rate on high earners, retirement and the aging workforce, public sector spending cuts, pensions and company cars.

Unemployment

Ellie Gamble, senior tax manager at Grant Thornton, said: "While any measure to tackle the problem of unemployment among the under-25s is to be welcomed, the money to pay for the extension of the Young Person's Guarantee of work, work experience or training for under-25s who have been unemployed for more than six months to March 2012 is only an under-spend of the existing budget allocation. It's not new funding.

"The unemployment rate for those aged 18-24 is 17.5% as compared to a figure of 7.8% in the general population. The student population has also increased to over two million. However, being a student only defers the date when the young person is looking for a job.

"The problem of youth unemployment is not going to disappear and forms one of the greatest challenges to the incoming administration, of whatever political persuasion. A closer inspection to ensure that the scheme is properly targeted and fully fit for purpose is warranted if this 21st-century phenomenon is to be solved, rather than left to solve itself," concludes Gamble.

Tax on high earners

Lynda Whitney, pensions consultant at Hewitt Associates, said: "The Government is pressing ahead with the attack on high earners in line with its original, complex proposals, and has paid scant regard to the many voices proposing more workable arrangements.  The consultation raised important questions regarding, for example, issues for people whose redundancy packages push them above £130,000.  The chancellor appears to have ignored these concerns.

"There is a real danger that the legislation may be rushed through Parliament before the General Election  - and therefore without proper scrutiny. This is only likely to compound the difficulties for individuals and schemes in working with legislation that in its nature is already extremely complex.

"Darling appears to have focused on closing loopholes, rather than responding to the genuine concerns of the pensions industry that some middle income earners could be caught out inadvertently."

Matt Ellis, lead partner of the employment taxes group at Deloitte, added: "Aside from measures already announced - the introduction of the 50% tax rate from 6 April, restriction of higher rate tax relief on pension contributions and 1% increases in National Insurance (NI) from April 2011 - today's Budget announced a raft of measures to counter planning designed to mitigate some of these changes.  As a result, the options available for employers to deliver tax-efficient remuneration to their employees could narrow considerably in the future. 

"In his Budget statement, the chancellor signalled specific focus in three key areas - ‘geared growth' share arrangements, employee benefit trusts and alternative pension structures.  Consultation on these areas will take place during the summer of 2010 with new legislation expected in April 2011. 

"Unsurprisingly, if the tax costs for employment go up, employers are keener to find ways to mitigate them.  The chancellor clearly believes this is what is happening and today's announcement shows that it will be harder and harder for employers to implement tax-efficient remuneration arrangements in the future."

And Sean Drury, international mobility partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said: "From next month, the UK will rank second only to Italy in the G20 countries in terms of tax unattractiveness for a high earner, but tax is not the only factor taken into account when deciding where to live and work - infrastructure and overall quality of life also play an important part. That said, the impact of the new rate on international mobility could accelerate when pay packets are first hit next month, particularly with other territories making efforts in the past 12 months to entice talented and highly-paid people with highly-attractive tax incentives."

Retirement and older workers

The chancellor's announcement that the Government is considering scrapping the default retirement age suggests nothing has yet been ruled in or out but demographic pressures make reform look likely, according to Towers Watson.  
 
In October 2009, the Government asked for evidence on the impact of either removing employers' ability to operate a default retirement age of 65 or of increasing this age, having earlier announced that a review of these laws would be brought forward to 2010 from 2011. Today, the chancellor has confirmed that both options will be included in a formal consultation document to be published shortly.  
 
John Ball, head of defined benefit pension consulting at Towers Watson, said: "The number of people in their late 60s is expected to rise by more than 600,000 in the space of five years because the post-war baby boomers are just starting to turn 65. The state of the public finances means that politicians cannot solve their pension woes by giving them more money. Making it easier for them to continue working therefore appears inevitable, though it's not yet clear if this will be through the ‘massive public policy change' that ministers were talking about earlier this year.  
 
"It can take a long time for people to adjust their expectations of when they will retire and later working will often be through necessity rather than choice."

Rachel Krys, campaign director at the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), added: "We are delighted the Government has finally come to its senses and realised it is time to do something concrete and positive about the antiquated default retirement age, and strengthen the position of the employee.
 
"However, it's been a long time coming.  The Employer's Forum on Age (EFA) has been campaigning against the forced retirement of workers for many years because it is fundamentally discriminatory.  It is based on the assumption that age affects someone's ability to do their job, and unlike other characteristics like race or gender, age can be used arbitrarily to fire people.  The time has come to take age discrimination as seriously as race or sex discrimination.
 
"In addition, it is vital to address the fact that people are living longer, many pensions have failed due to the recent economic crisis and we cannot afford to fund over 20 years of retirement.
 
"Removal of the default retirement age is the only answer; 65 should be just another birthday and we look forward to working with the Government to achieve this."  

Cuts to the public sector

Alan Downey, UK head of public sector at KPMG, commented on the Budget announcement of pension and salary cuts as well as staff movement in the public sector. He said: "The measures included in the fine print of the Budget as well as the details on efficiency gains that have been identified are disappointing.

"For example, we are told that the NHS will save £3.5 billion ‘through raising staff productivity by systematically spreading best practice'. That amounts to little more than a repetition of the assertion that savings will be made.  Nor is it clear that cash will be released by the proposed efficiency improvements.

"The Government plans to set up new strategic property vehicles to manage assets and property more effectively, with the aim of saving £1.5 billion in running costs and raising £2 billion in sale proceeds by 2013-14.

"There will be a review of arm's length bodies, with the aim of saving £500 million a year by 2012-13.

"These sums are a drop in the ocean compared with the swingeing cuts in public expenditure that the chancellor admits will be needed from 2011 onwards.  It is now clear that we will enter the election without any useful information about the really big cuts that are in store."

But Mercer has welcomed more civil service jobs being relocated out of London and the South East. Chris Johnson, UK head of Mercer's Human Capital business, said: "This will stimulate local economies and bring civil servants closer to the people they serve. However, the Government must also grasp the nettle of regional pay. Unless it does so, the danger is that the arrival of these jobs will distort local labour markets as happened in Newport. The Government needs to move away from national pay structures to ones that are more regionalised and better reflect the local economies."

Pensions

The Government rejected requests to change the way it should implement pension tax relief restrictions. The announcements from last year's Budget and Pre-Budget Report will be retained.

Susie Hillier, a director in the private clients practice at Deloitte, said: "The industry plea to reduce the annual or lifetime allowance was rejected as it was felt it would hit the lower earners and still permit high income individuals to continue to benefit from a higher rate of tax relief than other pension savers.

"From 2011/12 relief will be tapered down from 50% to 20% as gross income increases from £150,000 to £180,000. The stepped taper will be 1% of relief for every £1,000 of gross income. Individuals on incomes over £180,000 will receive 20% - the same as a basic rate taxpayer. For money-purchase schemes this will be relatively easy to calculate. For defined-benefit schemes the proposal is that age-related factors will be used that incorporate the impact of an individual's age and the pension scheme normal retirement age. Pension schemes will need to confirm to scheme members the deemed value of benefit each year.

"The restrictions will primarily be captured through self-assessment although for individuals attracting a charge of more than £15,000 there may be the option of electing that their pension scheme pays the recovery charge on their behalf in return for reducing their pension pot or accrued pension benefit.  Only in the circumstance that the pension scheme is unable to pay the charge on an individual's behalf will the individuals will be allowed to spread payments over three years, with interest charged on the deferred element.

"The core changes will be captured in the Finance Bill 2010 with some issues still open to consultation.

"This is a missed opportunity to simplify the original announcements that have caused significant confusion for individuals and the industry. Taxation implications for high earners of final-salary schemes will be complicated and, as a whole, may discourage formal pension saving."

Company cars

Clive Forsythe, director of sales and marketing at Masterlease, said: "There was speculation that the chancellor could reverse the increase in fuel prices from 1 April. However, it was largely expected that he would stand by his initial decision.
 
"The fact that the chancellor has decided to go ahead with the increase will ultimately protect revenue streams and help Britain take steps towards making up its deficit, while spreading the increase over a 10-month period will give businesses a little extra time to recover from the recession.
 
"Spreading the increase will lessen the impact on voters, and this makes it a good decision politically. It will also give the chancellor the opportunity to review the staged increase in October and January in line with oil prices and economic recovery.
 
"There has been much discussion of tax stabilisers being introduced in order to combat the fluctuations in oil/ fuel prices and, come October or January, this may be the route that the chancellor decides to take. However, while the Government slows the increase in fuel duty, this may not be necessary.
 
"As it stands, the planned increase of 1 pence due in April 2014 means that the Exchequer has an increased revenue planned in, but will give Britain financial respite in the medium term.

 

"Following the announcement in the Pre-Budget report of support packages for zero-carbon vehicles, today's Budget extends this support to cover ultra-low carbon vehicles (sub 75g CO2 per km), halving the percentage of the list price that is subject to company car tax for the next five years.
 
"While this announcement demonstrates the chancellor's dedication to green vehicles and may well provide benefits to businesses in due course, it will have limited initial impact, as there are no vehicles on our quoting system that fit the criteria. As such, this decision will have no immediate impact on company cars and the taxes that businesses pay on them."

Paul Hollick, general manager sales development at Alphabet, said: "So close to a General Election, this was never going to be a Budget to take any chances.  The £100 million for pothole repairs is a welcome gesture, as fleets are beginning to feel the effects of last winter's severe damage through the cost of repairs and the prospect of higher insurance premiums. The test will be whether the funding speeds up the rate of repairs, which seem to be falling further and further behind.
 
"In other respects, the Budget was very predictable. Staggering the fuel duty increase will bring some relief but the effect could easily be swamped by rising oil prices due to the weak pound and the return of pricing power to OPEC. We are also seeing more of the effects of the Government's strategy of trailing future tax increases well ahead of time, in that next month will bring in the first-year VED rates and higher BIK on cars and fuel.
 
"These tax rises now seem to be just about raising more revenue. We would like to see a more constructive, coordinated approach to using tax to drive changes in behaviour as the Government did with the CO2 bands on BIK a few years ago, only this time aimed at private motorists as well as fleet drivers. But that's something for the next chancellor to look at."