Transfer of tax allowance after death of spouse or civil partner

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 am ar 9 Ionawr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 3—Review of the effects of changes to the transferable tax allowance for married couples and civil partners—

‘(1) Within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review of the effects and cost of changes made by section 6 of this Act to Chapter 3A of Part 3 of ITA 2001 (transferable tax allowance).

(2) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay the report of this review before the House of Commons.’

This new clause would require HMRC to carry out a review of the effects of changes to the transferable tax allowance for married couples and civil partners arising from changes to Chapter 3A of Part 3 of ITA 2007 made by Clause 6 of the Bill.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 6 makes changes to allow marriage allowance to be claimed and backdated on behalf of deceased spouses and civil partners. Marriage allowance was introduced in 2015. It allows individuals to transfer 10% of their personal allowance to a spouse or civil partner if they are a basic rate taxpayer. Marriage allowance can currently be claimed and backdated by up to four years if taxpayers meet the qualifying condition. Currently, taxpayers cannot claim after a partner is deceased, even if they may have qualified in the current or previous years since its introduction.

I have heard representations from the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group highlighting the fact that it is unfair that this financial support is not available for people going through a period of considerable distress that accompanies the death of a partner. The changes made by clause 6 will put marriage allowance on a footing with other tax reliefs, where claims can be made by a personal representative after death on behalf of the deceased.

As a result, bereaved partners can now claim on behalf of their spouse or civil partner in the current year and any previous years where they were eligible, up to a maximum of four years. That will enable of thousands of extra people to claim the marriage allowance, worth £230 this year in tax relief, or up to £662 if backdated to its introduction. That will have a negligible cost to the Exchequer.

New clause 3 would include a review in six months’ time of the effects of the costs of the extension of the marriage allowance made by clause 6. It is the Government’s view that there is no need for a formal review of these changes. First, the new clause asks for a review of costs. As I have said, clause 6 is forecast to have a negligible cost, a judgment with which the independent Office for Budget Responsibility was content. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs also publishes the Exchequer cost of the main tax reliefs, including the marriage allowance, on an annual basis. The House will be able to examine the overall change in costs at that time.

Secondly, the new clause calls for a review of the effects of these changes. As the Committee would expect, we keep the effectiveness of the marriage allowance under review. Indeed, the clause was developed in response to concerns raised by the Low Income Tax Reform Group, a sign that the Government are willing to listen when concerns are raised. After six months, it will be too soon to tell how effective the policy has been, so a formal review would be a disproportionate response. I therefore urge the Committee to resist the new clause.

A total of 2.6 million couples have successfully applied for the marriage allowance and thousands more apply each week. That is a tax cut worth more than £400 million to couples on lower incomes. The changes being made by clause 6 mean that thousands more will be able to claim, recognising that bereaved partners going through extremely distressing times deserve all the support that they can get. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

The Scottish National party has a long-documented opposition to the married couples allowance, with which we have disagreed for a long time. The change the Minister suggests makes it slightly better and gets rid of one of our concerns, but it remains a tax relief that overwhelmingly benefits men. It remains a tax relief that leaves abused women out in the cold. Because they have to hand over part of the personal allowance, it is difficult for them to go back to work in some circumstances.

It remains a change that benefits only traditional nuclear families, whether people are in a civil partnership or are a heterosexual couple. Only those couples who choose to live together as married benefit. When the measure was first introduced, it was made clear that couples with children were less likely to benefit, because of the working structure that tends to exist with those couples. Apparently, only 15% of those who benefit from the scheme are women; it may even be less.

This issue has been raised by the Women’s Budget Group as one that creates further gender disparity in a society where we are trying to reduce the gender pay gap and make matters better by trying to create a situation where women can more easily go back to work and earn a reasonable amount of money.

The married couples allowance is incredibly flawed. Although this change makes it slightly better, it still has a huge number of problems. We will continue to support new clause 3 and press Government to get rid of the married couples allowance.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It will not surprise anyone to learn that Labour has similar concerns to the SNP about the married couples allowance. We would obviously all want families who have experienced a bereavement to be supported. The problem remains that bereavement has a severe impact, whether or not a family is composed of two people who are married or in a civil partnership. It also has a huge impact on lone-parent families, or on those who live together but do not have a formalised relationship such as a marriage or civil partnership. We are concerned about the allowance because, as was mentioned, it privileges certain family forms over others, and that is a particular concern when many families are under severe pressure.

We have heard from a number of Labour Members about the problems faced by very low-income families, and I understand that the Child Poverty Action Group has done some analysis into the situation for lone parents, overwhelmingly mothers, with school-age children. It found out that due to changes to social security, and other changes, they are on average around £9,000 worse off. Very large diminutions in people’s incomes have occurred recently under this Government, and it therefore seems inappropriate to be targeting a measure universally, including at those who are far better off. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said, this measure appears overwhelmingly to be focused financially for the benefit of men, and it benefits higher-income couples and those who tend to work full time, which is not the pattern for many families. For that reason, we are concerned about this measure. We understand the motivation for applying it to bereaved families, but we do not support the provision in the first place.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General 10:30, 9 Ionawr 2018

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Aberdeen North welcomed the clause in so far as it extends these benefits to those whose partner—either civil partner or married partner—is deceased. I understand that she has fundamental reservations about the entire policy of having such tax reliefs for those who are married, but personally I do not think we should be shy about supporting those who are either married or in a civil partnership. As I said earlier, the problems with the hon. Lady’s new clause are, first, that the costs are negligible—the Treasury would view them as being below £5 million in total. As a responsible team in the Treasury we will review the policy in future, and on that basis I would like to think that the clause can be accepted, and I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7