Almost no surprises in the March 2008 Budget. Most of the tax changes due to come into force in April 2008 were announced by Gordon Brown in the Spring 2007 Budget, or by Alistair Darling in the 2007 Pre Budget Report. However, one big and welcome surprise for small businesses is the postponement of the Income Shifting proposals.
There are also a number of small changes made to the new capital allowance rules, as well as to corporation tax, and in VAT administration which may make life easier for small businesses.
This budget summary gives a brief overview of some of the issues which may affect your business.
When the Taxman lost the Arctic Systems case back in July 2007 the Government immediately said they would change the law to prevent individuals drawing profits from a business in a way that minimised the total tax payable. The Government referred to this behaviour as 'income shifting'.
Income shifting is said to apply where an individual makes larger contribution to the business than his co-owners, but receives a smaller or similar share of the profits. Some of the profits generated by the main worker are paid to individuals who play a less active role in the business. Crucially, the total tax paid by sharing the profits in this way is less than would be paid if the main worker had received his fair share of the profits. Many small companies and partnerships share profits on a basis that does not strictly reflect work each person put into business, and thus would be caught by the income shifting law making the main earner taxed on their 'fair' share of the profits.
The draft income shifting proposals were released for consultation in December 2007 and were roundly criticised as completely unworkable. Fortunately someone in the Treasury has listened and more consultation will now take place to see if a more reasonable solution can be found. The income shifting law will not be brought into effect until at least 6 April 2009.
The system of capital allowances is radically changed from 1 April 2008 for companies, and from 6 April 2008 for unincorporated businesses. Under the new rules all businesses of whatever size can claim a 100% deduction for the cost of plant and machinery up to a total of £50,000 per year, known as the annual investment allowance (AIA). The cost of assets not covered by the AIA is set against profits by way of a so-called writing down allowance given at 20% per year (down from 25%), or at 10% for equipment that is an integral feature in a building.
Most small businesses won't have to worry about claiming the writing down allowance on new equipment as the full cost will be covered by the £50,000 AIA. However, you will need to continue to claim writing down allowances for equipment purchased before April 2008, which has not yet been given full tax relief. This could be a total pain as the amounts of unrelieved costs get progressively smaller each year. For accounting periods starting on or after 1 or 6 April 2008 (depending on the structure of your business) you will be able to write off the full cost of old assets, where the total unrelieved cost is £1,000 or less.
It may therefore pay to delay the purchase of plant and machinery until after 1 or 6 April.
The increase in the taxable benefit for using a company car was announced in the 2007 Budget. The scale of CO2 emissions that sets the taxable amount of the vehicle's list price is ratcheted up by 1% for each 5g/km, and now starts at 15% for cars with CO2 emissions of 121-139g/km. Although cars with CO2 emissions of 120g/km or less are taxed at 10% of their list price. The list price scale will remain the same for 2008/09 to 2009/10 but will move up again by 1% for each 5g/km from 6 April 2010.
Where fuel is given for private use, the taxable benefit is based on the same percentage that is used to calculate the car benefit, multiplied by the fuel constant. This fuel constant figure increases from £14,400 to £16,900 on 6 April 2008, which will hike up the taxable benefit of private fuel by about 21%. This fuel constant will also be increased by the rate of inflation in 2009 and 2010.
The tax free allowances for using your own car for business journeys will not increase in spite of the huge rise in fuel costs. Currently up to 40p per mile can be paid for the first 10,000 business miles driven per year, and 25p per mile for any additional miles.
The capital allowances system for company cars is to be reformed from April 2009, not from April 2008 as we had expected. From 1 April 2009 for companies, (6 April 2009 for unincorporated businesses) all cars will be categorised on the basis of their CO2 emissions.
Low emissions cars will qualify for a 100% first year allowance, but the definition of low emissions will be changed from CO2 of 120g/km or less to 110g/km or less from 1 April 2008 (note the earlier year). High emissions cars are those with CO2 emissions of 160g/km or more. These only qualify for a 10% writing down allowance per year. All other cars will qualify for a 20% writing down allowance. This new system will lengthen the period over which tax relief for the full cost of the cars will be given, particularly for higher polluting cars. It is not yet clear whether the new system will only apply to cars purchased after 1 April 2009 or for all cars owned at that date.
Gordon Brown told us last March last the basic rate of tax was being cut from 22% to 20%, with effect from 6 April 2008. What he didn't make clear was that the starting rate of tax at 10% is also removed for most types of income, but not for savings income. The 10% tax band has been abolished for most types of income, so you will pay 20% tax on all of your taxable income up to £36,000 in 2008/09, and 40% tax on income above that threshold. However, dividends are still taxed at 10% up to £36,000 and at 32.5% above £36,000. The 10% dividend tax credit attached to dividends means that you pay no additional income tax on dividends as a basic rate taxpayer.
Savings income is basically interest paid by banks and building societies. It is taxed as a slice on top of your other earned income but before your dividend income. The £2,230 of savings income is taxed at 10%, if your other earned income hasn't already pushed you into the 20% rate.
Pensions and Charities
There are two problems with the reduction in the basic rate of income tax, which concern pension contributions and gift aid donations.
The pension problem is solved easily. If you make a pension contribution of £2,000 before 6 April 2008, the pension fund can reclaim £564 of basic rate tax (22% x £2,564) to add to the fund on your behalf. If you pay £2,000 to the pension fund on or after 6 April 2008 the fund can only reclaim £500 (20% x £2,500). Your gross pension contribution has been reduced by £64 due to the drop in the basic rate of tax from 22% to 20%.
To maintain the same level of gross contributions into your pension fund in 2008/09 and beyond you will have to increase your net pension contributions by 2.56%.
The same problem applies to charities that receive donations under the gift aid scheme. The charity can reclaim the basic rate tax on any gift made under gift aid. So in 2007/08 the charity can reclaim £564 on a gift of £2,000, but in 2008/09 the charity's income will be cut by £64 to £500. This problem will be solved temporarily in the tax years 2008/09 to 2010/11. The Government is to repay the charities the extra income they will lose by the reduction in the basic rate of tax in those years. This will not affect the individuals who made the original donations under gift aid.
The changes to corporation tax rates were announced in the 2007 Budget. The rate for small companies increases to 21% on 1 April 2008, and then to 22% on 1 April 2009. The main rate of corporation tax reduces to 28% on 1 April 2008. This is charged where taxable profits exceed the £1.5 million large company threshold.
When you control a company any other companies you also control are all treated as associated companies. The large company threshold is divided by the number of associated companies to determine when the main rate of corporation tax is payable. Three associated companies means the 28% rate is charged where profits exceed £500,000 (£1.5 million /3).
All the companies controlled by your business partners, spouse or civil partner are also treated as your associated companies, even where there are no commercial links with your company. This problem is partly solved from 1 April 2008 by ignoring the interests of the business partners of the controlling shareholder who otherwise have no connection to the company. However, it does not remove the problem of your spouse's company being associated with your company.
The compulsory VAT registration threshold has been increased to £67,000 from 1 April 2008. This is a generous increase of £3,000, which maintains the VAT registration threshold at one of the highest in Europe. You must register for VAT when the total value of your vatable sales for the last 12 months exceeds the compulsory registration limit. You can of-course register voluntarily for VAT at any time once you intend to trade.
If the level of your sales drops below the deregistration threshold you can ask to be deregistered for VAT. This deregistration threshold is also increased by £3,000 to £64,000 from 1 April 2008.
Errors on VAT Returns
This is good news for all VAT registered businesses. At present if you make an error in your VAT calculations you can work the under or over payment into your next VAT return if the total net error amounts to no more than £2,000, which is not a lot. Where the error produces an under or overpayment of more than £2,000 you should write to the VAT office and 'fess up! This wakes up the VAT Inspector and they hit you with interest on the late paid VAT.
This error reporting limit is being raised to the greater of £10,000 or 1% of the reported turnover for the VAT quarter, subject to a cap of £50,000. The new limit will apply for accounting periods beginning on and after 1 July 2008.