Freezing of indexation allowance for gains chargeable to corporation tax

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 11 Ionawr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:00, 11 Ionawr 2018

I beg to move amendment 48, in clause 26, page 18, line 35, at end insert—

‘(7A) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of this section.

(7B) A review under subsection (7A) must consider the revenue effects of freezing indexation allowance for gains chargeable to corporation tax.

(7C) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons the report of the review under subsection (7A) as soon as practicable after its completion.”

This amendment provides for a review to be undertaken on the revenue effects of freezing indexation allowance for gains chargeable to corporation tax in Clause 26 of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The measures in clause 26 are aimed at aligning and consolidating tax and accounts. This clause will freeze the indexation allowance currently in place for companies’ gains that are chargeable to corporation tax. As things stand, companies do not have to pay tax on the proportion of their capital gains attributable to inflation. Instead, as hon. Members know, what happens is that when calculating a gain on the disposal of an asset, companies apply an indexation factor on the acquisition, enhancement or disposal of the asset that reflects movements in the retail prices index over the period since the expenditure occurred.

This system is different from the treatment of individual taxpayers, for whom the allowance was first frozen in March 1998 and then abolished in April 2008. That prompts the question: why was the allowance for companies not reformed and abolished at the same time, to avoid the situation that we have had for the past nine years, whereby there has been one set of rules for individual taxpayers and another for companies? However, we are where we are. It is another example of a needless complication in the tax system that causes problems for lawmakers, tax accountants, financial advisers, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and taxpayers alike.

The indexation allowance is in effect a tax relief from capital gains tax on inflation. The allowance may have been minimal before the drop in the pound, but with inflation at 2.8%, 3% and so on, it is potentially becoming a substantial amount of money. According to the Treasury’s estimates, the change could be a significant revenue raiser. It estimates that it will raise £30 million this year alone, and that that will go up to £525 million for 2022-23. Of course, that revenue would be a welcome addition to the public coffers, but we have a degree of scepticism about the figures, because in the past we have had from the Government figures and costings for measures that have been out of kilter quite heavily.

The most recent example was the revenue to be raised from the soft drinks industry levy, which was introduced in the first Finance Bill last year. Hon. Members may recall that that was dealt with in the wash-up. Opposition Members agreed to it going through its stages pretty smoothly. We always have concerns when there is a question about whether we can sufficiently challenge Government proposals, but as this was the sugar tax, and it was not just a tax-raising measure but had broader public health benefits, we were happy to allow it to go through. It was suggested in the draft proposals that the levy would raise an ambitious £520 million. However, the Chancellor announced in the 2017 spring Budget that its estimated revenue had been revised down to £380 million, and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in December, on the basis of the Government’s Red Book for the autumn Budget, that it would raise only £300 million. That is a whopping £220 million less than the Government’s original forecast, and a further £80 million less than the revised figure that the Chancellor provided in the spring Budget.

It is important for us to be clear. If the Government provide us with figures—I believe that they did so in good faith—we have a duty to challenge them. That miscalculation—I use that word rather than any other—only adds to the growing hole in the public finances. It is important for us to challenge the Government’s figures and assumptions.

That is why the Opposition tabled amendment 48, which would require the Government to commission a review of the revenue effects of freezing the indexation allowance for gains chargeable to corporation tax. I am sure that the Minister is sympathetic to our concern that some companies may still seek a way round the change, rather than paying an increasing amount on the inflationary element of gains. The amendment is an attempt by the Opposition to say, “Fine, the Government’s indexation proposal is okay—but let’s test the figures a little more.” Let us have a review. Let us ensure that we are not in the same situation as we were with the soft drinks levy, which does not raise as much revenue as we thought it might.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Minister will be aware that the insurance industry has raised concerns about the impact of the clause on fairly small savers, such as people with endowments that were sold door to door. There is a report on the BBC website that quotes Steve Webb, a former Minister who now works with Royal London, on the impact that the clause will have on Royal London’s savers. Standard Life is also reported to have concerns. We are therefore not entirely content with the clause. We will not oppose it at this stage, but we reserve the right to look at it again on Report.

We would like the Government to address the industry’s concerns, and I have a few questions for the Minister. It is estimated that the clause will affect 11.6 million policyholders, most of whom are basic rate taxpayers, and the industry estimates that the impact will be in excess of £250 million per year—double the figure implied by the Chancellor at the Treasury Committee in December. Individual life insurance policyholders may pay an average of £21, and in some cases up to £150, per policy per annum. That is a considerable impact given that such people have relatively small savings.

The Chancellor said in December in response to my hon. Friend Stewart Hosie, who sits on the Treasury Committee, that the change will have a “modest impact”, but that is not a modest impact for those savers—it is significant. The policies that the clause will affect include non-pension unit-linked, non-pension with-profits and whole-of-life policies, as well as endowments, which I mentioned. On what basis did the Government reach the conclusion that the change will have a modest impact and affect a relatively small number of policyholders? We are talking about 11.6 million people—not a small number by any manner or means. Those policies may represent a relatively small amount of money to the Government, but the change will have a significant impact for those people.

Have the Government made an assessment of the number of policies affected? Have they produced a detailed impact assessment that can be shared with members of the Committee? Will the Minister commit to providing further information on the impact of the policy on individual savers? The coverage in newspapers at the time of the Budget and since raises concerns that more policyholders will be affected than the Government at first assumed.

I would like as much clarification as the Minister can give us today. If he could write to me later with more detailed information, that would also be welcome. We want to put on record our concerns about the impact there might be; perhaps there will be unintended consequence, and maybe the impact has not been fully considered. Given the concerns that the industry is raising, it would be good get a commitment from the Government on how those will be addressed.

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

The clause freezes the indexation allowance—a relief for inflation—for a company’s chargeable gains for disposals on or after 1 January 2018. It may be useful for the Committee if I set out the background to the clause, although other Members have touched on it, before I turn to amendment 48 and the questions posed by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central.

Removing this outdated allowance supports the UK’s competitive rate of corporation tax by removing a relief that is not available consistently across corporation tax to individuals, as the hon. Member for Bootle pointed out, or in most major comparable economies. In doing so, the Government recognise the importance of being fair and proportionate. As companies may have factored in relief for inflation before the autumn Budget, relief will remain available for inflation before January 2018. However, it will no longer be available from 2018 onwards.

Companies pay tax on the capital gains they make on the disposal of certain assets, such as property. In most circumstances, the capital gain is based on the rise in value of the asset over the period of ownership. Indexation allowance relieves a proportion of that gain from the charge to tax, based on the rise in the retail prices index, during the same period. Companies therefore pay tax only on the gains they make over and above inflation.

The economy and tax system have changed substantially since the allowance was introduced in 1982, when the rate of corporation tax was 52%; inflation in the preceding decade had been in double digits. While I certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about the current level of inflation owing to the depreciation of the pound and other factors, the Office for Budget Responsibility projects that inflation will peak at 3.1% and tail off towards 2% across the period. While there used to be a rationale for such an allowance, it has become something of an anachronism.

The amount of indexation allowance due is calculated by multiplying the purchase price of the assets by the indexation factor. As I set out, that is currently based on the increase in the retail prices index over the period an asset is owned, from the date it is acquired to the date it is disposed of. Going forward, the allowance will no longer be calculated by reference to the date an asset is sold; instead, it will be calculated by reference to the final month before the relief is removed—in other words, December 2017. That means that, where a company acquired an asset before 2018, relief from inflation will be available from the date the asset was acquired up to December 2017. The indexation allowance will not be available for assets acquired from January 2018 onwards.

I turn to the questions posed by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central. I recognise the points that she makes. While these changes affect corporation tax, they do, in the context of life assurance policies, have potential impacts on individuals and their income net of tax. I do not recognise the large number of 11 million policyholders that she mentioned. I am not sure what the source of that figure was. However, as she requested, I am happy to hear from her, speak to her or have a letter from her on any of the aspects she may have an interest in.

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

It would be welcome if the Government could offer clarification on the numbers before Report, because that will affect what we do on the clause then.

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

That is perfectly reasonable. I am sure my officials are listening carefully, and we will ensure that we give a prompt response to the letter, which we await.

Opposition Members have requested a review of the revenue effects of this change. I am happy to say that the revenue forecast for the measure was confirmed by the OBR at the Budget as £30 million in 2017-18; it will raise £1.77 billion over the scorecard period. As per routine procedure, we will keep the measure under review through communication with affected taxpayer groups. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:15, 11 Ionawr 2018

I hear what the Minister says. I am sure that he will appreciate that the figures produced by the OBR are different from those produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. None the less, in the spirit of co-operation, I am happy to withdraw the amendment and keep tabs on this. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27