The Chancellor’s Spring Statement was delivered yesterday against a backdrop of rising inflation and fuel costs. This was always going to be a tough one for Rishi Sunak, who last year had the (now seemingly less) tough task of delivering a budget a year in to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our clients are always keen to understand what the financial year ahead looks like, so we’ve broken down the key points of the Spring Statement – and how it relates to business – below.
The financial environment
Inflation is currently at 6.2%, set to rise to 7.4% later this year. Interest rates have risen again, from 0.5% to 0.75%. Borrowing is to become more expensive, which will have an effect on businesses looking to grow. Sunak is well aware of these pressures and has made attempts to help businesses through a tougher trading environment.
This one, on the surface, is for all the car drivers who have filled up with increasing horror over recent months, with petrol prices really spiking after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. All businesses use fuel in some way though – for transporting their own goods to customers, ordering supplies, and pretty much anything that requires the movement of goods or people. In the Statement, Sunak revealed that fuel duty will be cut by 5p per litre, the largest reduction in history. This will reduce the cost of filling up an average tank, which has risen to £98.43 for diesel and £91.87 for petrol, by £3.30, according to the RAC.
Our view is that this is a nice touch to help a situation that is very much out of the chancellor’s hands. There is only so far the UK government can edit the price of fuel when it comes from a global market. We will have to see if Boris Johnson’s Saudi mission brings in a new supply of oil, though we do not expect fuel prices to decline any time soon, sadly.
Regardless of the fuel duty cut, businesses will see the fuel price increase cut into their bottom line, and prices will have to be raised to preserve profit. It will especially affect delivery, logistics and online retail firms, for whom delivery is a large part of their product offering. We will, of course, work with our clients to find a way to balance costs so that long-term sustainability and growth is achieved.
Zero VAT on energy-related materials
Such materials include solar panels, heat pumps and insulation. “A family having a solar panel installed will see tax savings worth over £1,000, and savings on their energy bill of over £300 per year”, Sunak told MPs. Wind and water turbines will also receive a zero VAT rate, in a reverse of the previous “red tape” imposed by the EU.
This action is more aimed at homeowners than businesses. Due to the increase in hybrid working, many companies have already saved large sums by downsizing offices and, consequently, paying less to heat them. Zero VAT couldencourage architects or existing landlords to incorporate greener heating/insulation methods into office buildings, but the effect of that will be felt years down the line, we would argue.
National insurance threshold increase
National insurance thresholds are to be increased in line with the personal allowance limit of £12,570, which is set to save 30 million taxpayers £330 each per year. This is a boon to many workers, considering the government announced a rise in national insurance last year of 1.25%, which will take effect from April. The chancellor has effectively increased and decreased national insurance at the same time.
Business rates discount of 50% for hospitality businesses
Coming into effect from 1st April, this is, in our view, the biggest positive change in the Statement for business owners in the hospitality sector. Hit hard by the pandemic initially, then given a little boost with Sunak’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ (remember that?!), then hit hard again during Christmas 2021, pubs and clubs will benefit from this temporary discount on business rates, which should allow them to recoup some of their losses from the pandemic (though government support was generous, as we learned from our work with the Hare & Hounds, Harlton).
We calculated that a café in Swaffham would save just over £4,000 over the year with this change. That is a useful sum for a business sector that often operates on small margins.
Employment allowance to increase to £5,000
Sunak has delivered a £1,000 increase here from the previous £4,000. This constitutes a tax cut of £1,000 for up to 500,000 small businesses. Every little helps!
Overall, I believe this Spring Statement is aimed at supporting those struggling most with the cost of living. Small businesses will benefit the most from the new measures. We look forward to advising our clients on how to navigate this newly amended financial environment and make it work for them.
Members Voluntary Liquidations
As of April HMRC have changed the rules regarding MVL’s in an attempt to stop ‘Phoenixing’ and ‘Moneyboxing’. The end result is that leaving large cash reserves in a business in the hope of extraction at a low tax rate has suddenly become not such a sure thing.
Prior to April if a person had had enough of the business world and wanted to wind up a company then in the majority of cases all residual funds could be extracted with capital tax treatment and would also be subject to entrepreneurs relief giving an effective tax rate of 10%. This has now been changed in order to trap people who misuse the rules and leave large cash reserves retained within the company which is called money boxing and, also, parties who use MVL as a way of removing funds from the company cheaply before immediately starting up an identical company and repeating the process, called phoenixing.
This applies to a situation where a director who is also a shareholder retains profits within the company over a long period of time in effect using the company as a savings account before deciding to wind up the company. It would seem that the new legislation dictates that any funds removed from the company would be treated as income and taxed as such which, obviously, is disadvantageous in comparison to capital gains tax.
It remains to be seen how HMRC are hoping to enforce this and all guidance on the matter is rather shaky at best. It seems that if it can be proved there is a genuine commercial reason for having large cash deposits within the company, for example any business that requires regular large capital expenditure, then the MVL should not be caught by the new legislation and will be treated as capital and allowable for entrepreneur’s relief as before.
Phoenixing is slightly easier to identify and is associated mainly with property development firms. In essence the idea is that a contract is completed and a large amount of cash is paid into the company. Instead of drawing this as salary or dividend the directors will wind up the company, through an MVL, and remove the residual cash at the substantially lower 10% tax rate. The owners will then create a new company and repeat the process which allows individuals to receive large amounts of income at a low tax rate.
Again the enforcement will be a challenge for HMRC however, after deciphering the guidance available, it would seem that any person or a related person who incorporates a new business within 2 years of a MVL in a similar trade will be subject to income tax rather than capital gains tax. The main problem arises in family owned business. If a father retires and winds a company up, as is expected, the son who may be in the same trade risks imposing a large tax bill on his own father if he were to incorporate a company within 2 years.
As is always the case with new legislation it will be a waiting game to see how far the HMRC boundaries can be pushed before we get definitive answers to the above questions. It would seem reasonable that anyone embarking upon a MVL for genuine commercial reasons should not be punished. However, as the past will show sometimes legislation misses the mark and affects unintended parties. One thing is clear though, MVL could be about to get a whole lot trickier.
The new budget was announced earlier this year and with it came the inevitable changes proposed by government. In order to keep all our clients up to date with all these changes we have put together a report outlining the most important parts. If anything within the report concerns you in anyway please contact us and arrange a meeting to discuss your situation.
Here you can download a copy of the latest 2016 budget report.