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Inheritance Tax – where are we now?

18th October 2018

If ever there is a UK tax that needed a major overhaul, then Inheritance Tax (IHT) must be a prime candidate. Many families will therefore be delighted to hear that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has written to the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) asking them to put forward proposals for the reform of IHT “to ensure that the system is fit for purpose and makes the experience of those who interact with it as smooth as possible.

His letter asked the OTS to look at the technical and administrative issues associated with IHT, the process of submitting returns and paying the tax. Mr Hammond also called for a review of the issues surrounding estate planning, and whether the current framework causes ‘distortions’ to taxpayers’ decisions regarding investments and transfers.

INCREASING PROPERTY PRICES GIVE RISE TO HIGHER IHT

In the 2016–17 tax year, HMRC raised a hefty £4.84bn in IHT, brought about largely by rising property prices that are seeing more and more families drawn inexorably into the tax net, despite doing nothing more than owning their own home.

IHT has certainly made several aspects of financial planning more complex. With the Bank of Mum and Dad currently a major source of funding for house purchases for first-time buyers, the operation of the seven-year rule is becoming a key issue that needs careful consideration in effective tax planning. The annual tax-exempt gift allowance of just £3,000 arguably needs a major overhaul, as does the out of date amount of £5,000 that can be given away to offspring on their marriage.

Since the advent of pension freedoms in 2015, it has become more tax-efficient to pass on a pension than an ISA, meaning that some people have found themselves viewing their retirement savings in a whole new light.

More controversial still was the recent introduction of the Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) which is both complex in its application and divisive in its outcomes. Former MP and now TV personality, Ann Widdecombe, was particularly incensed that under RNRB rules she wouldn’t be able to benefit by leaving her home to her niece, as the regulation only covered direct descendants, which she doesn’t have.

RAISING THE THRESHOLD ACROSS THE BOARD

Given the individual threshold for IHT has remained at £325,000 since 2009, many would argue that, rather than adding another layer of complication such as the RNRB, the simplest and fairest thing to have done would have been to increase the Nil Rate Band to a limit that bore some correlation with the rise in house prices. Hopefully, that’s one of many thoughts currently crossing the minds of the team at the OTS.

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate some forms of Taxation advice.