Clause 6 - Zero-rate contributions for armed forces veterans

National Insurance Contributions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 22 Mehefin 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 7 stand part.

New clause 3—NIC relief for employers of veterans: review of the tax year of relief claims—

(1) The Government must conduct a review of how many veterans have been employed in 2021-22 in jobs for which employers have accessed the National Insurance contributions relief provided for under section 6 of this Act.

(2) The review must assess the impact on decisions around job creation of the requirement that the relief must be claimed retrospectively for 2021-22 rather than being available in real time.

(3) The review must be commenced by 30 April 2022.

(4) The review must be published and laid before Parliament by 31 July 2022.

This new clause would assess the impact of NIC relief for employers of veterans being claimable retrospectively for 2021-22, rather than in real-time.

New clause 4—NIC relief for employers of veterans: review of the period of NIC relief—

(1) The Government must conduct a review of how many veterans have been employed in jobs for which employers have accessed the National Insurance contributions relief provided for under section 6 of this Act.

(2) The review must assess the impact on decisions about the creation of jobs for veterans of the relief being available for earnings paid over a one-year period rather than a three-year period.

(3) A review must be conducted for each of the financial years 2021-22, 2022-23, and 2023-24.

(4) Each review under subsection (3) must commence within 30 days of the end of the relevant financial year.

(5) Each review under subsection (3) must be published and laid before Parliament within three months of its commencement.

This new clause will require the Government to evaluate the impact of the NIC relief for employers of veterans being available only for one year rather than three years.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We have considered the clauses concerning the zero-rate contributions for employees at freeport sites. I turn now to the second aspect of the Bill—the clauses on zero-rate contributions for armed forces veterans, starting with clause 6.

As the Committee will recall, the Government made a manifesto commitment to support ex-service personnel in their attempts to work to secure stable and fulfilling employment. Clauses 6 and 7 honour that commitment and provide employers with a zero rate of national insurance contributions on the earnings of qualifying veterans.

The Chancellor announced that policy at the spring Budget in 2020 and launched a policy consultation shortly after. The Government received 37 written responses from a variety of stakeholders and a response to that consultation was published on 11 January 2021. That response document outlined the final policy design. On 11 January 2021, the Government also published draft clauses for a technical consultation, which closed on 8 March 2021. Thus, the measure has been fully and effectively consulted upon, tested with stakeholders and debated by Parliament. It should be seen in that light.

Clause 6 introduces a zero rate of secondary class 1 NICs when the conditions in clause 7 are met. The relief can be applied on earnings up to the upper secondary threshold. Earnings above that threshold will be liable to the standard rates of NICs.

The relief will be available initially for three years. For the tax years 2022-23 and 2023-24, employers will have immediate access to the relief. For earnings in the 2021-22 tax year, employers will be able to claim the relief from 2022 onwards. The Government have sought to introduce this policy as quickly as possible, but practical and, in particular, IT considerations have meant that claims for earnings in the 2021-22 tax year will need to be at year end. That does not affect the amount of relief that an employer is able to receive.

The Government are keen to understand the effectiveness of the relief and will review the impact before deciding whether to extend it. Clause 6 provides the Treasury with the power to add additional years.

Clause 7 sets out the conditions that need to be met to allow an employer of a veteran to qualify for the zero rate that clause 6 provides. To qualify as a veteran for the relief, an individual needs to have completed at least one day of basic training in the regular forces. An employer can claim the relief for the first 12 months of a veteran’s first civilian employment since leaving the armed forces. The 12-month period starts on the first day of the veteran’s first day of civilian employment and ends 12 months later. Any employment in that period will qualify for this relief, which means that a veteran will not use up access to this relief if they take on a temporary role immediately after leaving the armed forces.

The relief will be available on the earnings of qualifying veterans from April 2021. Clause 7 also provides that a veteran can commence their first civilian employment before April 2021 and still qualify for the remaining period. Therefore, the 12-month period will begin on the first day the veteran took up their first employment and the relief will be made available only from 6 April 2021 for the remainder of that 12-month period.

Opposition new clauses 3 and 4 ask the Government to report on the impact of claiming the relief retrospectively and the impact of providing the relief for one year, rather than three. I shall explain why they are unnecessary. First, most of these issues were considered during the detailed consultation, which I have described. In addition, the Government have already committed to reviewing the measures and will, of course, be transparent about their expected impact. The policy costing for the measure and the underlying analysis were signed off and certified by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, and the methodology was set out in the Budget policy costing document. As I say, the Government are committed to keeping the measure under review as new information becomes available. As part of the review process, HMRC and HM Treasury will speak to stakeholders to gauge their views on how the policy is operating.

Clause 6 will support veterans and help them to find stable and fulfilling employment, and it will provide employers with up to £5,500 in savings. I hope the Committee will agree to clauses 6 and 7 standing part of the Bill, and that the new clauses will not be pressed.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

Clauses 6 and 7 introduce an important relief, designed to help service personnel leaving the armed forces to get back into work. As I made clear on Second Reading, we believe that this is a vital issue. Veterans deserve the Government’s full support as they seek civilian employment after their service to our country. It is crucial to make sure that all veterans get the support they need.

Clause 6 sets out the detail of the relief. It provides for a 0% rate of secondary class 1 national insurance contributions up to an upper secondary threshold for the tax years 2022-23 and 2023-24. Earnings above the upper secondary threshold will be liable to secondary class 1 NICs at the secondary percentage, currently 13.8%. It also specifies that the relief is available for the 2021-22 tax year retrospectively. In practice, that means that employers need to pay secondary class 1 NICs as if the relief did not apply; then, from April 2022, they can claim the relief retrospectively for the earnings in 2021-22. The relief described by clause 6 applies if the veteran conditions in clause 7 are met. The conditions include that to qualify for the relief the earner is required to have served for at least one day in the regular forces, and that the relief is available for one year, beginning on the earner’s first day of civilian employment after leaving the armed forces.

On Second Reading, I asked Ministers to explain why the employer’s relief for veterans is for 12 months, which is much less than the relief for employers in freeports, which is 36 months. In her response, the Exchequer Secretary said:

“The answer is that the relief provides employers with up to £5,500 in savings per veteran that they employ. The aim of that policy is to support veterans’ transition into civilian life through encouraging employers to hire veterans.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2021; Vol. 697, c. 70.]

That did not address my question about why the Government had chosen to make the relief for veterans’ employers available for one year, rather than any longer; in particular, why not for three years, in line with the relief for freeport employers, which the Bill also introduces. That is why we wanted to raise the matter again, and why we tabled new clause 4, to address the impact of the Government’s decision.

New clause 4 would require the Government to conduct a review of how many veterans had been employed in jobs for which employers accessed the national insurance contributions relief provided under clause 6. The review would have to assess the impact on decisions on the creation of jobs for veterans of the relief being available for earnings paid over a one-year period rather than a three-year period. I would be grateful if the Minister agreed to undertake the review. If he does not, perhaps he will explain in greater detail why the Government have chosen a one-year period for veterans’ employers, rather than the three years for freeport employers.

New clause 3 is about enabling us to understand the impact of the Government’s reluctance to make the relief claimable in real time for 2021-22. As the Chartered Institute of Taxation sets out, it seems that the policy intention is that the relief will be available from 6 April 2021, although employers will need to pay the secondary class 1 NICs on the earnings of eligible veterans for the 2021-22 tax year, then claim them back retrospectively in April 2022. From the 2022-23 tax year onward, employers will be able to claim the relief in real time through their PAYE declarations.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation reasonably questioned why employers cannot self-serve the relief for 2021-22, once the legislation has been passed, especially given the challenging circumstances of the pandemic and the cash-flow implications. The institute asks whether HMRC could be permitted to exercise its discretion and to permit employers to make real-time claims for 2021-22 where their payroll software provides for suitable identification of eligible veterans.

I shall therefore be grateful if the Minister agrees to undertake the review suggested by our new clause 3 to understand the impact of the decision. If not, will he explain whether he might take this point on board and agree to look at making the relief claimable in real time for 2021-22 to help the cash flow of potential employers who want to help veterans into civilian work? We want the relief to be as effective as possible in helping veterans back into civilian work. I look forward to hearing the Minister address my points, which are intended to help make it so.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 10:15, 22 Mehefin 2021

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. He repeated the question from Second Reading of why the measure is for one year, contrasting it with the freeports measures, which are for three years. The Exchequer Secretary was absolutely right, but it is important for me to add more colour.

The freeports measure is set at a lower upper secondary threshold, but for a longer period, because the goal is to bring people into an environment that has already been greatly supported by taxpayers, but to create circumstances in which they can have long-term secure employment, in particular with all the employment rights that come with more durable employment. The NICs relief for veterans is at a higher level for a shorter period, because the goal is to support a very specific process of transition, which veterans have as they come out of the armed forces.

Many people in the room have constituencies in which there are veterans or serving armed forces personnel, so they will appreciate the importance of the measure. Veterans are extremely skilled individuals who have extraordinary life experience, but there is often that process of transition. Therefore, the more effective approach is to provide more support for a shorter period to assist that transition in as flexible a way as possible.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

I understand the concept of the transition, but does the Minister not share my concern that it might go against the grain of what he is trying to do if we were to find that, after a period of one year of having the national insurance relief, people were out of employment? The proposal to look over a longer period would be beneficial to veterans in maintaining long-term employment.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I fully understand the concern of the hon. Lady, and precisely because the Government have been concerned about transition, we have introduced the relief. If it were the case that veterans still had a serious problem of finding secure and stable employment, of course that would be a matter that the Government would wish to reflect on and consider. I thank her for raising it.

To go to the second point raised by the hon. Member for Ealing North, he asked about the timing and the issues of real-time payments that the Bill contemplates. I understand the concern, in particular at this moment of pandemic when the Government are seeking to protect and support the cash flow of businesses and have done so across a vast number of them, across the whole of the United Kingdom, in many different forms. The Committee is aware of that.

The hon. Gentleman asked if we would look at that. Of course, I am happy to consider the matter further and to ask HMRC to consider it, but as he will recall, the matter has been given extensive consultation and internal discussion, and the IT and other problems that I described are not ones that can be wished away.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Opposition Whip (Commons)

When it comes to veterans’ national insurance contributions relief, I really feel that it needs to be for much longer than a year, for some of the reasons that the Minister has just highlighted. The cuts to 10,000 armed forces personnel come at a time when people are losing their jobs due to the economic pressures from the pandemic, and it seems very odd to say that we are looking at a long-term solution yet giving armed forces personnel the security of only one year.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I would repeat the points that I made earlier, which is to say that this is about managing a process of transition. The process of transition is one that has a beginning and an end. The key thing is to offer genuine support at a moment when a veteran needs it as they come out of the armed forces and go into employment, and to design that flexibly. That is what we have done. It has been extensively consulted on throughout a process with a series of stages, which have taken place during the pandemic and in which colleagues and wider stakeholders have been well sighted. It reflects the shared and calibrated understanding, but of course we recognise the concern that colleagues have raised, and we will continue to reflect on this policy, as we will on other tax policies.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No, I think we have had quite enough discussion of this topic. If the hon. Lady is going to raise a new point, of course I am happy to take the question.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Llafur, South Shields

I am. The Minister says that he is confident about the argument he is making, and that the Government believe they are on the right track. With these new clauses, all the Opposition are asking the Government to do is evaluate and assess the decisions that they have made. Why will the Minister not do that, if he is confident about what they are doing?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

As I have explained, we already have in place processes of evaluation and assessment. We will be following them, and this reflects an extensive process. It is lovely to see the Labour party waking up at last after its long slumbers, but the question that the hon. Lady raises is not, in fact, a new question; it is a reiteration of the same question, so I am going to stick with the answers I have already given.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.