Directors trying to dissolve their own companies to avoid paying debts and tax bills have seen a threefold increase in objections by creditors in the past two years
The number of objections to company strike offs at Companies House was 590,063 in 2022/23, more than double the figure just two years ago when there were 203,613 rejections in 2020/21. In the last year alone there has been a 30% increase to 452,209 in 2021/22, found analysis by Price Bailey.
This shows the spike in companies requesting dissolution when they have unpaid tax bills or bounce back loans issued during the pandemic, which means they are not eligible to stop trading.
The number of strike off applications has barely changed over the past year, and increased by just 18% over the last two years, from 280,086 in 2020/21 to 330,644 in 2022/23, indicating that a much higher proportion of strike off applications are from company directors with outstanding debts.
Directors should only apply to have their companies struck off the register if they have no outstanding liabilities, such as unpaid taxes owed to HMRC, Covid-related loans or money owed to staff or suppliers.
Directors who try to have their companies dissolved without settling their debts are risking severe penalties and criminal sanctions.
William Wilson, partner at Price Bailey, said: ‘These are essentially insolvencies by the back door. A company must be solvent with no outstanding debts for the voluntary strike off process to go smoothly.
‘The surge in creditors objecting to strike offs means that directors are trying to close their companies down and walk away from unpaid debts.
‘Directors are taking huge risks by going down this path. In many cases these companies will have received bounce back loans, which may have been misused to finance the day-to-day living of directors.
‘Directors could be personally liable for the bounce back loan if misconduct is proved. HMRC can also shift liability for tax debts onto directors if they don’t adhere to their legal responsibilities.’
The rising amount of fraud from bounce back loans means that company directors are likely to be scrutinised much more closely.
He added: ‘The government has been clamping down on misconduct by directors in receipt of bounce back loans, including against directors who dissolve companies without paying off the loans. If any evidence of fraud or misconduct emerges directors can be disqualified for up to 15 years or face a prison sentence.’
Price Bailey warned that directors who pay the objecting creditor and resume the strike off process would be guilty of making a preference payment if other creditors are unpaid, which would also be a serious breach of their legal responsibilities.
William added: ‘Directors who pay a creditor in preference to others may face sanctions for wrongful or fraudulent trading. Directors could then face personal liability for company debts, disqualification or even prosecution.’
A director whose attempt to dissolve their company has been blocked should undertake a formal insolvency process known as a creditors’ voluntary liquidation (CVL). During a CVL an insolvency practitioner will be appointed. Any assets in the company will be liquidated and distributed to outstanding creditors on a proportional basis and remaining debts written off.
Wilson added: ‘A CVL will likely be the best option for most of these companies. It ensures that creditors are dealt with equitably, legal obligations fully met and, crucially, directors cannot be held personally liable for any debts for which they have not provided personal guarantees.’
There has been a sharp annual rise in the number of company insolvencies in September 2023 to 1,967, 17% higher than the same month last year
The worst hit sectors were construction, manufacturing and retail industries, reflecting the impact of higher interest rates and a sharp drop in residential house building.
In total, 395 construction related businesses went bust, followed by 380 catering and hospitality businesses and 352 companies involved in the motor trade, including repairs and forecourts.
However, the total number of business collapses was down 15.2% on August’s total of 2,319.
The company insolvencies consisted of 255 compulsory liquidations, 1,576 creditors’ voluntary liquidations (CVLs), 125 administrations and 11 company voluntary arrangements (CVAs).
Nicky Fisher, president of R3, the UK’s insolvency and restructuring trade body, said: ‘September 2023’s corporate insolvency figures are the highest we’ve seen for this month in four years as a combination of economic issues, director fatigue and the post-Covid insolvency lag see more firms turn to corporate insolvency processes to resolve their financial issues.
‘The fact that all forms of corporate insolvency process have risen year-on-year, with the exception of CVAs which have held steady, shows that businesses are struggling on all sides and from all ends of the supply chain.
‘It’s clear that the challenging trading climate is taking its toll on businesses. Firms are operating in a climate where people are cutting back their spending on non-essential items, while at the same time the costs of operating a business remain high – and will only increase as the weather gets colder and the cost of borrow and servicing existing debts get more expensive.
‘Our message to company directors is simple: if you’re worried about your business, seek advice. It’s a hard conversation to have, let alone start, but you’ll have more options open to you and more time to take a decision if you have it when your worries are new, rather than when they’ve spiralled.’
The latest GDP figures showed that the economy grew by 0.2% in August with warnings the UK could enter recession later this year. The insolvency figures highlighted weakness in construction and retail sectors.
Mark Supperstone, managing partner at ReSolve, said: ‘UK businesses are finding the current economic conditions challenging and it is expected that this is likely to continue in the near future with the construction, manufacturing and retail industries particularly struggling.
‘In regard to the construction industry, there is some alarm at the PMI figures released this week which signalled the largest drop-in housebuilding activity since April 2009 – aside from the pandemic shutdown.
‘However, there are green shoots emerging with the number of insolvencies being 15% lower in September compared to August as well as interest rates potentially looking like they might be set to stabilise. As we have seen over the years, construction is highly susceptible to market changes and is often ‘first in, first out’ of a downturn.’
Any buinsesses facing financial challenges should seek advice as soon as possible, warns Chris Tate, restructuring partner at Azets.
‘The current economic environment is likely to have an ongoing impact on profitability, so businesses owners must continue to look at their pricing structures, reduce overheads wherever possible, forecast well in advance and be alert to changing conditions in their market,’ Tate advised.
‘The best way to ensure a rescue solution rather than insolvency is to seek advice at the first sign of distress. With robust financial planning, a timely restructuring plan can help businesses safeguard against liquidation, protect jobs, and ensure long-term survival.’
The UK private rental sector has lost approximately 400,000 rental homes since 2016, as landlords face increasing costs and higher mortgage rates
According to a report by CBRE, changes to policy in the past decade have increased the amount of tax payable on both purchasing a buy-to-let property and its rental income, leaving many landlords leaving the market due to growing cost pressures.
This has resulted in the loss of approximately 400,000 rental homes in the past seven years, aligned with the additional rate of stamp duty for second properties, which increased the upfront cost of buying a rental property.
On top of this, the rise of the Bank of England’s base rate, which started in 2022 and has gone from 0.25% to 5.25%, has ultimately led to higher mortgage costs.
CBRE has warned that if the trend continues, the UK will lose almost 10% of its private rented households by the end of 2023.
Scott Cabot, head of residential research at CBRE, said: ‘Changes to policy in the past decade have increased the amount of tax payable on both purchasing a buy-to-let property and its rental income and ultimately have reduced the viability of a buy-to-let investment.
‘More recently this has been compounded by high inflation which has driven a rapid rise in interest rates and increased other costs associated with owning and managing a property.
‘Higher mortgage costs could mean that buy-to-let borrowers may start to struggle to meet banks’ lending criteria. As interest rates rise and mortgage rates increase, the rent needed to satisfy these conditions moves in tandem.’
Landlords who plan to incorporate their portfolios as limited companies, which can offer no charges on capital gains tax (CGT) or stamp duty land tax (SDLT) at the time of transfer, must beware of the strict eligibility rules and unintended consequences.
According to Rick Schofield, a tax expert at accountancy firm Azets, scores of portfolio landlords are incorporating their property portfolio through incorporation relief.
Owning property through a limited company offers a series of tax benefits, with profits and gains being subject to 19% corporation tax rather than income tax at up to 45% or CGT of 28%.
For example, a landlord with five rental properties at a total value of £1m, purchased for a total of £800,000, could save £56,000 on CGT alone.
In Q1 2023, over six in 10 landlords planning to buy a new rental property said they would do so within a limited company structure, according to research by Paragon Bank, a specialist buy-to-let lender.
This followed a 5% increase compared to Q4 last year and a year-on-year rise of 12% to make a return to the high reported in Q2 2022. Landlords who intend to buy as an individual has fallen by 5% since last year, now standing at 24%.
Schofield said: ‘The first thing a landlord should consider when thinking about incorporating is whether they need their rental income to live off. Individuals can’t benefit from incorporation relief, but in a limited company structure, the company pays tax.
‘If you then need the cash, you must take it by way of dividend and you pay tax again. Where a landlord is building a portfolio and doesn’t need the cash immediately, incorporating as a limited company makes absolute sense, but it isn’t straightforward and there are lots of ways to get it wrong.
‘To qualify for incorporation relief on CGT, the limited company needs to be a commercial business. This typically requires five or more properties that the landlord has owned for at least two years and can evidence managing agent hours and activities – for example, collecting rent, managing repairs, and vetting tenants.
‘SDLT is more complex and there is a divergence of opinion around eligibility. Usually, landlords need to incorporate as a limited liability partnership, which then needs to conduct the business for a period of time. This is a grey area, and while most stamp duty lawyers accept two years, landlords must seek appropriate tax advice’
Rising interest rates and frozen tax thresholds will push over one million taxpayers into paying tax on their savings this tax year
In the 2023-24 tax year it is estimated that over 2.7 million individuals will pay tax on cash interest, up by a million in a single year, revealed analysis of HMRC figures by investment platform AJ Bell. In 2020-21 only 800,000 people paid tax on savings.
This year’s predicted total includes nearly 1.4m basic rate taxpayers, a figure which has quadrupled in just four years.
The figures underline the case for increasing the threshold for taxing savings income. AJ Bell estimated that around one in 20 basic rate payers will be paying tax on cash interest, rising to one in six higher rate payers and around half of additional rate payers.
Individuals pay tax on interest they earn on cash savings that exceeds the personal savings allowance, which currently stands at £1,000 for basic rate taxpayers and £500 for higher rate taxpayers. Additional rate taxpayers get no exemption and pay tax on all cash interest they receive.
In total, taxpayers are expected to hand £6.6bn to the Treasury this year from tax on the interest they earn.
AJ Bell is calling on the Chancellor to end the freeze on the personal savings allowance, which has been set at the same level since 2016.
Doubling the personal savings allowance would ensure households are not taxed on cash savings up to £20,000, with the top easy access account now paying 5%. Although, with some savings accounts offering 6%, a basic rate taxpayer could hit the personal savings allowance with around £16,700 in savings, or £8,400 for a higher rate taxpayer.
AJ Bell head of personal finance, Laura Suter, said: ‘These figures highlight just how many taxpayers are facing a tax bill for their savings interest this year – a huge leap when compared to last year. The combination of higher interest rates and people having shunned ISA accounts in recent years means that the number paying tax on their savings has more than tripled in the past four years.
‘Rising rates and a frozen Personal Savings Allowance means some individuals are being taxed despite having relatively modest pots of cash set aside for a rainy day. To add insult to injury, because inflation is so high, they aren’t even making a real return on their money – yet they are still being taxed.
‘The tax threshold is also contradictory to government policy in other areas. Interest rates have risen, in part to encourage people to save money rather than spend it and reduce demand in the economy to bring down inflation. So it doesn’t make much sense to tax people at the same time.’
Tax bills are paid either through self assessment, or deducted from income through a tax code adjustment. Many will not be aware that they owe the tax until HMRC sends them a letter informing them about a change to their tax code which means the money will be deducted through PAYE earnings.
‘Until a brown letter lands on their doormat some people won’t even realise they owe tax on cash interest’ warned Suter. ‘Those filling out a self assessment tax return will declare any savings interest, and subsequent tax due.’
‘For those taxed under PAYE, HMRC will calculate any tax due based on information sent to them by banks and building societies. It means many taxpayers will find there is a deduction made from their payslip each month, often before they’ve even realised they owe any money to the taxman.’
Parents and unpaid carers are due to receive new employment rights which will grant them extra protection from redundancy while on parental or carer leave
Once in force, the Bill will ban companies from making women redundant from the moment they disclose their pregnancy until their child is 18 months old.
Under the Protection from Redundancy Act, pregnant women and new parents will be given an extension of existing redundancy protections, to help cover pregnancy and a period of time after parents return to work.
Currently, parents are only protected from redundancy while on maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave.
The Neonatal Care Act gives parents whose newborn baby is admitted to neonatal care up to 12 weeks’ paid leave, in addition to other leave entitlements such as maternity and paternity leave.
The length of leave will be based on how long their baby receives neonatal care and will apply if their baby receives neonatal care for more than seven continuous days before they reach 28 days old.
The Carers’ Leave Act will give working carers up to five days of unpaid carers leave per year.
The Act will ensure that the estimated two million employees currently juggling paid employment and caring responsibilities will be protected.
The legislation has been backed by trade unions including Unison and the TUC, alongside organisations such as the CBI.
Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, said: ‘What new parents often need most is job security, but pregnant women and new parents are too often first in line for redundancy. This new law adds greater workplace protections to the statute book.’
Following an inquiry in November 2017, the Work and Pensions Select Committee found that employment support for carers was limited, and that carers had to choose between taking a sick day or using a day’s annual leave.
Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: ‘This is a historic moment for unpaid carers and Carers UK’s decades-long campaign to improve working carers’ rights – we know many of them will be delighted by this new law.
‘This legislation sets us up for the future and we hope it will see employers give greater consideration to the needs of carers in their workforces.’
The government will need to introduce secondary legislation to implement these new entitlements on a date which is yet to be announced, with changes at the earliest being in 2024.
Business minister Kevin Hollinrake said: ‘We know how stressful it can be for parents caring for a new-born in neonatal care, or someone who is trying to juggle work with caring responsibilities, and these additional protections will ensure they get the support they need.’
More than 1.4 million taxpayers had to pay interest for late payments in the 2020-21 tax year after missing filing deadlines
There was a 15% increase in the number of people charged interest on overdue tax payments in 2020-21, compared to the pre-pandemic figure of 1.2m, showed a freedom of information (FOI) request by investment platform AJ Bell.
The FOI did not reveal how much money HMRC was raised from taxpayers who failed to pay their tax bills on time.
The increase came despite furlough and corporate dividend cuts meaning many would have owed HMRC less than normal for that year.
Around 270,000 people were hit with a penalty for missing the self assessment tax return deadline in 2020-21, down from 290,000 the year before. A further 110,000 had to pay a late filing penalty as well as interest charges.
In total, the tax authority raked in around £27m in overdue self-assessment tax payments, which sees an initial £100 penalty for those who fail to process their returns on time.
By the 2024-25 tax year, the number of people HMRC estimate to be paying dividend and capital gains tax (CGT) will increase by 2m, according to AJ Bell.
It indicates that hundreds of thousands more taxpayers could find themselves facing penalties for late tax payments if a similar proportion misses the deadlines.
The scale of these penalties as a result of missing the tax return deadline highlighted the large number of taxpayers struggling with the UK’s complex tax system, with the issue set to be exacerbated by frozen tax thresholds and cuts of dividend and CGT allowances.
Those who fail to process their self assessment tax returns by the deadline of 31 January each year face an initial £100 penalty from HMRC. If the return is filed more than three months late, a daily £10 penalty is charged.
However, the current standard £100 fine is due to be changed to a points-based system in 2026.
HMRC has confirmed that the penalty system will be reformed in a bid to curb abuse of the self-assessment system and support taxpayers who make occasional mistakes.
The planned penalty reforms for paying tax late will be based on the length of time the tax is outstanding but will only affect the 5% of non-compliant taxpayers. The earlier an overdue tax payment is made, the lower the penalty charge will be.
Laura Suter, head of personal finance at AJ Bell, said: ‘These figures lay bare just how hard the British public find completing their tax return and paying their tax bill.
‘As the government drags more people into paying tax via self assessment, we’ll see more and more taxpayers hit by these penalties. With the tax-free allowance on capital gains and dividend taxes being dramatically cut in the next year, more people will have to file a tax return for the first time.
‘On top of that, those who earn more than £100,000 must file a return, as well as those who have hit the child benefit high income charge and people who have other sources of income from their main job. Some people are going to struggle to complete the return, or not even realise they have to file one in the first place.’
Suter recommends that one way to avoid late filing is to set regular calendar reminders to prompt you to file on time.
‘Another alternative is to outsource it to a professional. It’s very possible to file a return yourself, especially if it’s just to report an investment gain, for example, but you might decide that delegating it to an accountant or tax specialist is worth the cost.’
The launch of a landlord database outlined in the Renters Reform Bill will give HMRC unparalleled access to information to launch tax investigations
The database could ‘provide HMRC with a gold mine of information with which to pursue landlords for unpaid tax’, warned BDO.
The Renters (Reform) Bill introduced into Parliament this week, proposes a private rented sector database with details of landlords and their properties let under residential tenancies.
The Bill does not clearly set out that HMRC will get full access to all information submitted as part of the registration process, unlike for the equivalent provisions for the Register of Overseas Entities. However, it is reasonable to assume that the tax authority will make use of the publicly accessible data for compliance activities.
HMRC is keen to ensure landlords declare their rental profits and gains on sale so they pay the tax they owe. It encourages those who have made mistakes to voluntarily correct their position by using the Let Property Campaign, part of HMRC’s digital disclosure service.
Further property data will also become available after the Land Registry implements the new information requirements in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which are also aimed at extending transparency of property ownership and transactions.
HMRC will combine any new data from the landlord database with information it can already access such as Land Registry records, the Register of Overseas Entities owning UK property and the data in HMRC’s own Connect database, which reportedly holds over 55 billion pieces of data.
Data analysis should help HMRC identify cases for investigation, with a view to charging tax, late payment interest and tax-geared penalties.
Dawn Register, head of tax dispute resolution at BDO said: ‘HMRC already holds significant information on taxpayers’ financial affairs. The introduction of a new private rented sector database will leave few places to hide for landlords who don’t comply.
‘Any landlords who don’t currently pay the right amount of tax would be well advised to bring their UK tax affairs up to date before the register is introduced.
‘In addition to providing peace of mind, making an unprompted disclosure should lead to lower tax-geared penalties for errors, compared to rectifying mistakes after HMRC gets in contact.
‘It will also help to mitigate late payment interest – which is currently at a 14-year high of 6.75% per annum and due to rise to 7% from 31 May.’
A dentist has lost a First Tier Tribunal (FTT) appeal against closure notices issued by HMRC which rejected claims for tax relief for payments to a remuneration trust
The appellant, Mark Northwood, appealed to the FTT against closure notices issued by HMRC on 1 December 2016 amending his income tax returns, for the tax years ending 5 April between 2010-2013.
The amendments resulted in additional income tax and national insurance contributions (NICs) totalling £999,755.81.
Northwood argued that making contributions to a remuneration trust had the effect of reducing the taxable profits from his self-employed dentistry business and as a result his liability for income tax and NICs.
However, HMRC disagreed and amended Northwood’s tax returns to remove the deduction. Northwood appealed to the FTT against HMRC’s amendments.
Northwood qualified as a dental surgeon in 1988 and has conducted his orthodontist practice for some years as a sole trader. In 2009, he entered into discussions with Foy Wealth Ltd and law firm Baxendale Walker about setting up a remuneration trust.
On 17 September 2009, Baxendale Walker provided Northwood with an engagement letter, which he signed six days later. In October, the firm issued Northwood with a report, which detailed establishing the remuneration trust.
The Mark Northwood Remuneration Trust Deed, dated 30 November 2009, described Northwood as ‘the founder’ and Bay Trust International Limited as the ‘original trustees’.
On 11 November 2009, Marhel Management Limited (MML) was incorporated and registered in the UK, with Northwood and his wife appointed as directors and shareholders.
Loans were made totalling £525,000 by MML to Northwood during the tax year ending 5 April 2010 between January to March 2010.
The initial contribution to the trust of £450,000 was on the basis that £150,000 would be transferred to the trust and then loaned to Northwood, who then used the money to contribute a further £150,000.
This process was repeated so the trust would receive £150,000 in cash and £300,000 in the form of a promise to repay existing debts for the amount loaned.
Loans for subsequent years were £335,000 in the year ended 31 March 2011, £75,000 in March 2012, and £470,000 in March 2013.
Northwood’s financial statements for each of the accounting periods under the appeal were compiled in accordance with UK GAAP accounting rules.
In his appeal, Northwood argued that the contributions to the remuneration trust met GAAP rules under s34 Income Tax Act 2005 (ITTOIA 2005).
Section 34 ITTOIA states that ‘the profits of a trade must be calculated under GAAP, subject to any adjustment required or authorised by law in calculating profits for income tax purposes’.
Northwood argued that the contributions were correct, and that the payments formed a ‘valid expense’ of the business and were also deductible for tax purposes.
The issue between the parties was whether contributions to the remuneration trust, together with any associated fees, were deductible in calculating Northwood’s taxable profits.
Northwood stated that during the relevant period, his leased business required commitment to a new lease in four years or to find different premises, but concerns were raised during discussions with Foy that owning business premises provided a ‘potential vulnerability’ if clients, employees or others made a legal claim against him.
Foy then introduced him to a remuneration trust structure as a way of achieving his aim of owning his practice premises while overcoming some of the concerns.
The remuneration trust was partly set up as a vehicle for ‘building up a pot of money’ that would allow Northwood to invest in the business premises, which would be used as a way to give incentives to suppliers.
HMRC argued where only £150,000 was contributed to Northwood by the remuneration trust and he claimed an income tax deduction concerning a contribution of £450,000, by using a ‘leverage mechanism’ whereby £150,000 went around in a circle three times between Northwood and Baxendale Walker.
As a result, Northwood did not bear the ‘economic burden’ of the alleged contribution because he did not have the cash to contribute.
It referred to the decision in Ingenious Games LLP, where the Upper Tribunal ruled that an ‘expense will only be incurred where the taxpayers bear the economic burden of an expense’.
It also argued that the purpose of benefitting suppliers was ‘exposed as a work of fiction’ and that the money remained within Northwood’s control, with the sole purpose of the scheme being tax avoidance.
HMRC pointed out that Northwood failed to identify ‘a single person who was both a beneficiary of the arrangements, so far as Mr Northwood understood them to operate and a person who fell within the class of beneficiaries under the remuneration trust scheme’, and that the only person who was intended to benefit – and did benefit – from the arrangements was Northwood himself.
Judge Kim Sukul said: ‘I accept Mr Northwood’s evidence that he was advised that he could enter into a set of arrangements which gave him the protection that he wanted for his business, in a way that offered him a tax advantage. I do not find Mr Northwood to have acted dishonestly in an attempt to evade tax or to conceal the overall arrangements.
‘However, I find that the contributions made to the remuneration trust, together with any associated fees, are not deductible in calculating Northwood’s taxable profits because the contributions should not have been recognised as an expense in the accounts under UK GAAP and the contributions and associated fees were not wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade.
‘I also find that there was an intention, by virtue of the remuneration trust documentation, to make things appear other than they were and the documentation was therefore a sham. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.’
Northwood now faces a substantial tax bill to settle the dispute unless he decides to appeal.
With less than a month to go before the end of the tax year, there are some essential tax saving measures that people can take before the tax year ends on 5 April
Paul Falvey, tax partner at BDO said: ‘This is the perfect time of year to review your finances and make sure you’re not missing out on any available tax reliefs – particularly as some of these reliefs become less generous from 6 April.
‘The tax system is complicated but there are some simple steps that anyone can take to make sure they are benefitting from available tax reliefs before the year end. However, for more complicated arrangements, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice.’
1. Take advantage of tax-free pension contributions
The standard amount that an individual can set aside tax-free each year for a pension is £40,000 – and any unused relief in the prior three tax years can be brought forward. There is also a lifetime limit of £1,073,100 which is frozen until the 2025/26 tax year.
Taxpayers close to the limit should take advice on contribution levels, as exceeding the available allowance will mean a tax charge will arise.
Qualifying taxpayers who don’t receive full tax relief at source should disclose their contributions in their annual tax return to receive a rebate at their marginal rate.
2. Boost your state pension by filling gaps in your National Insurance record
You can usually pay voluntary National Insurance contributions for the past six years to fill gaps in your National Insurance record to boost your qualifying years that are used to calculate your state pension entitlement. The deadline is 5 April each year.
However, because of changes to the state pension system introduced in 2016, ‘transitional arrangements’ are in place which enable men born after 5 April 1951 or women born after 5 April 1953 to make up for gaps between tax years April 2006 and April 2016.
While the deadline to do this was meant to be 5 April 2023, this has now been extended to 31 July 2023, giving people extra time to decide whether to fill the gaps in their National Insurance record. After this time, you will only be able to pay voluntary contributions for the past six years.
Voluntary contributions will not always increase your state pension entitlement, but for those who are eligible – and depending on circumstances – a modest outlay could help top up your state pension payments. Visit www.gov.uk to find out more or seek advice from the Future Pension Centre (if you’re below state pension age) or the Pension Service (if you’ve reached state pension age).
3. Use your ISA allowances
UK residents aged 18+ can invest up to £20,000 each and parents can fund a junior ISA or child trust fund with up to £9,000 per child for 2022/23 – making a total of £58,000 for a family of four.
Children will automatically have access to the funds in their ISA when they reach age 18 but ISAs are a useful vehicle for building up funds to support them through higher education.
Investors who have not used up their full ISA allowance, should consider selling shares yielding dividends outside their ISA and buying them back within this tax-exempt wrapper, although care should be taken as this could trigger a capital gains tax charge.
4. Avoid the child benefit clawback
Child benefit is clawed back where annual taxable income (or the taxable income of a partner) exceeds £50,000.
If both partners can keep their annual taxable income below £50,000, child benefit will not be clawed back through the high income child benefit charge at a rate of 1% of the benefit for every £100 of income over £50,000.
Making personal pension contributions or exchanging salary in return for employer pension contributions can reduce your taxable income to keep it below the £50,000 threshold.
5. Use annual exemptions
Everyone can realise capital gains up to the annual exemption tax-free – £12,300 in 2022/23. The exemption is available to each individual, including minor children, but any exemption unused in a year cannot be carried forward.
Married couples and civil partners can transfer assets between them on a no gain/no loss basis and such transfers should be considered to ensure that the annual exemption can be fully used.
It is important to note that the annual exemption will be reduced from £12,300 to £6,000 from 6 April 2023 and further reduced to £3,000 from 6 April 2024.
6. Match capital gains and losses to reduce your tax bill
If you hold stocks and shares outside an ISA, selling them can trigger capital gains: where your total gains exceed the annual exemption (see above) you will pay tax on them.
If you also have investments standing at a loss, selling the asset allows you to set that loss against any gains that are taxable – either in 2022/23 or in later years (provided you claim it through your tax return). So matching gains and losses can cut your overall tax bill.
If you think the loss-making shares had long term potential, you cannot buy back them back immediately (a 30-day matching rule applies) but you can buy alternative shares in companies in the same sector, or buy them through your ISA or your spouse could invest in them.
7. Own a company? Consider paying yourself a dividend
It should generally be more tax-efficient overall to withdraw profits from your company by way of dividends rather than salary payments for 2022/23.
The position depends on a number of factors for company owner-managers but the balance will shift for some company owners when corporation tax rises from 1 April: in 2023/34 dividend payments will suffer more tax overall than salary payments if you are a higher or additional rate taxpayer.
Of course, there are other factors to consider as well: dividends are only possible if the company has sufficient ‘distributable reserves’ and may alter the value of the company’s shares up or down. Also dividends do not allow the recipient to pay tax-deductible pension contributions.
8. Entrepreneur? Consider SEIS/EIS/VCT investments
The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) all offer tax benefits, but are really only suitable for experienced business owners and investors.
Under the SEIS, an individual can invest up to £100,000 (due to increase to £200,000 from 6 April 2023) in start-up enterprises in a tax year and claim income tax relief at 50% irrespective of his or her marginal rate of tax.
Investments in qualifying EIS companies (for example, certain companies listed on AIM or that are unlisted) attract income tax relief at 30% on a maximum annual investment of up to £1m for qualifying individuals.
Investments in VCTs provide income tax relief at 30% on qualifying investments of up to £200,000 and dividends received from the units are tax-free. In addition, the VCT can buy and sell investments without suffering capital gains tax (CGT) within the trust and there is no CGT payable on any gain made when you sell the VCT units.
9. Make gifts to use annual inheritance tax allowances
Reducing the value of the part of your estate that is above the nil rate band (£325,000) will reduce the inheritance tax (IHT) payable when you die.
Consider giving assets you do not need to other family members now. Gifts to a spouse or civil partner to enable them to use up their nil rate band are tax-free and gifts to other family members can also be tax-efficient over time.
Most lifetime gifts to individuals that are not covered by a lifetime exemption do not immediately trigger IHT and become totally exempt if you survive for seven years. Whilst the gift remains in your estate, the rate of IHT applied to it on death (40%) reduces each year depending on how many years you survive after making the gift.
You can give away up to £3,000 worth of gifts a year plus £250 to as many individuals as you like in a year and £5,000 to your children on their marriage.
10. Plan ahead for 2023-24
Plan ahead for 2023-24 by checking your tax codes. This can be done by logging into your personal tax account. Here you can inform HMRC about any changes that are likely to affect your tax code during the tax year. Helping HMRC to get it right from April onwards means you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises later.
Data from the 2021 census showed that the proportion of adults who have never married or been in a civil partnership has increased every decade from 26.3% in 1991 to 37.9% in 2021, while the proportion of adults who are married or in a civil partnership has fallen from 58.4% in 1991 to 46.9% in 2021.
What is important to realise is that there are a number of tax breaks available for married couples and civil partnerships when compared with cohabiting couples.
Higham said: ‘The total number of cohabiting couples has increased from around 1.5 million in 1996 to around 3.6 million in 2021, an increase of 144%. While they may not feel the need to formalise their relationship in law, such couples must recognise that they are foregoing significant tax benefits.
‘This is even more the case now than in recent years thanks to many tax allowances being either slashed or frozen, as announced in Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.
‘While marrying for purely financial motives is few people’s idea of romance, couples who are ambivalent or indifferent on the subject of marriage or civil partnership could quite sensibly be swayed by the fiscal advantages.’
Optimising tax allowances
Married couples and civil partners can transfer assets such as cash and investments between them, without giving rise to any tax liabilities.
This creates numerous tax planning opportunities to maximise the use of two sets of tax allowances. For example, by making sure you both use your annual Individual Savings Accounts (ISA) allowance (worth up to £40,000 for a couple).
It is also possible for a couple to optimise the use of their personal savings allowances so that they minimise tax paid on interest earned.
As interest rates on savings accounts have increased rapidly over the last year, and the allowances have been frozen (basic rate taxpayers can earn up to £1,000 in interest tax-free, higher rate taxpayers £500 and additional rate payers get no allowance).
With more individuals falling into the additional rate tax band since the proposals to reduce the threshold to £125,140, this is more useful than ever for those who have built up cash savings.
Married couples can also switch shares held outside of ISAs between each other to benefit from two sets of annual dividend allowances, which could be particularly beneficial as these are about to be halved in April so that only £1,000 of dividends per person can be received tax-free. That halves again to just £500 in 2024.
They can also reduce or eliminate entirely potential tax on profits crystallised on the sale of assets through using two sets of annual capital gains tax (CGT) exemptions, which gains significance this year with the individual CGT allowance being halved in April from £12,300 to £6,000, and then again to £3,000 in 2024.
The key here is that married couples (and civil partners) can transfer assets between themselves – known as ‘inter-spousal transfers’ – without triggering a tax liability. This option is not available to unmarried couples, as movement of assets between co-habiting couples is a disposal for capital gains purposes and would negate the benefits of this exercise.
For example, as an individual selling an asset for a profit – such as shares or a second property – you can realise up to £6,000 in gains in the next tax year before a CGT charge becomes due.
CGT is currently 20% for those subject to the higher and additional tax rates on most assets, but 28% on residential property other than main residence.
However, married couples have the flexibility to transfer assets between themselves ahead of a disposal in order to utilise their combined CGT allowance of £12,000. Or indeed they could transfer all of the assets to whichever of them is expected to incur the lowest CGT charge.
Unmarried couples can pass on assets valued up to £325,000 tax-free upon death (the inheritance tax nil rate band), but anything above this is potentially subject to 40% inheritance tax (IHT).
It is important to note that the IHT bill will have to be settled before probate is granted and the surviving partner may not have the assets outside of the conjugal home to pay this tax liability. So, if a partner is left a share of their jointly owned house that far exceeds this value, they could end up having to sell it to pay the tax – something that is not needed at a time of bereavement.
Where there are children, the couple may benefit from the residence nil rate band (RNRB) of £175,000, which can mean that together with the £325,000 nil rate band an individual can pass assets up to £500,000 tax-free upon their death.
The RNRB is only available when the family home is passed to children or grandchildren on death and the allowance is restricted or eliminated if the deceased’s estate is worth over £2m.
However, a deceased spouse or civil partner can pass an estate of any worth to the surviving spouse without immediate tax consequences. Furthermore, any IHT nil rate band that is unused by the deceased can be passed on for the spouse for their use in the future – creating a potential nil rate band of £650,000 for the survivor.
Furthermore, the RNRB can also be passed between married spouses to enable them to potentially claim a further IHT exemption on the value of the family home, enabling married couples to pass on greater amounts of assets tax efficiently where there are children. This means that a married couple could potentially pass on an estate of up to £1m tax-free.
Marriage also has potential benefits when it comes to making gifts to your loved one during your lifetime. Where an individual makes a gift of capital or assets to another individual, over the value of their £3,000 annual gift allowance, during their lifetime, it may be classed as a potentially exempt transfer (PET) and, should death occur within seven years from the date of the gift, the beneficiary may be liable to IHT.
That could be a nasty surprise if they don’t have the resources to pay the tax. However, gifts between spouses or civil partners are not potentially exempt transfers – they are ignored for IHT purposes altogether. Also, a married couple can gift to others up to £6,000 per annum without the gifts being considered as a potentially exempt transfer.
As only very rarely are income and savings split equally between spouses, the government allows a surviving spouse to effectively inherit the ISA savings of their deceased partner and maintain their tax-efficient ISA status.
The surviving partner will receive an extra ISA allowance known as an additional permitted subscription. This is equal to the value of the deceased’s ISA holdings at the date of death and is in addition to the surviving person’s own annual ISA allowance. This is not permitted between any other individuals.
Unmarried and cohabiting partners are not automatically entitled to any of their partner’s property, financial assets, or belongings if they die intestate unless they can be shown to be jointly owned.
They do have the legal right to claim against their partner’s estate if they have been cohabiting for more than two years, but this could be protracted, stressful and expensive – particularly if there are blood relatives of the deceased with a strong claim under intestacy rules.
It is important to bear in mind that as this stage there are still no rights of unmarried or unregistered couples under the intestacy rules, regardless of how long they have been cohabiting.
Writing a will is in many ways the answer to this but that is something very few unmarried couples do: estimates show that while more than half of married couples make a will, among cohabiting partners it is just 26%.
A spouse has an automatic claim to most of their partner’s assets on death, and while this might not be a reason to get married it is another aspect of the financial security that marriage provides. A civil partnership is a legal relationship entered into by two people which is registered and provides couples with the same legal rights and duties that they would have in a lawful marriage.
Finally, the annual marriage allowance is available to couples where one partner is earning less than the tax-free personal allowance of £12,570 per annum and the higher earning partner has earnings between £12,570 and £50,270 (£43,662 in Scotland).
The marriage allowance enables those eligible to transfer £1,260 of the lower earner’s annual tax-free personal allowance to their spouse or civil partner, creating a tax saving of up to £252 a year.