How the 2011 Budget affected you
It was billed as a "fiscally neutral" budget by George Osborne in his 2011 Budget speech. But in the words of Paul Harwood, account manager for wealth managers Courtiers, "you could probably call it the most boring budget in 30 years".
Given that the coalition government had already produced an Emergency Budget last June, shortly after coming into power, and then followed this up with a Spending Review in October, this Budget offered few surprises.
Nonetheless, there were still plenty of measures that will have an impact on our everyday finances. So how do you need to budget, following the Budget?
As well as confirmation that the personal allowance will rise from £6,475 to £7,475, the government has vowed to increase it again by another £630 to £8,105 in April 2012. This is in line with its pledge in the Coalition Agreement to work towards a £10,000 tax-free threshold, and is higher than if the increase had been linked to inflation.
An estimated 1.1 million people will benefit from this change, paying no tax, while an estimated 23 million taxpayers of working age will benefit from the allowance rise.
However, increases in national insurance contributions (from 11% to 12% for those on lower earnings, with an additional 2% for anything earned above the £817 weekly limit for those in the upper earnings bracket) will mean the amount of extra money most of us actually receive is minimal.
In a bid to make taxes "certain and predictable," the chancellor also promised to hold a consultation into merging national insurance contributions with income tax. James Browne, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, however, says while simplifying the system will help reduce employers' administration costs, employees could find they are paying more.
Also, although the government argues that the unpopular 50p tax rate will remain for the time being, Osborne hinted in his Budget speech that it will not become a permanent measure.
The Spending Review in March already revealed that working tax credits and child benefit rates will be frozen for the next three years and that higher-rate families will no longer receive child tax credit payments, so it would have been surprising to see any major new announcements. Osborne confirmed this at the start of his speech, saying: "This is not a tax-raising budget. But nor can we afford a giveaway one."
Details emerged in the last Budget of the government's intention to link welfare payments and public sector pensions to the consumer prices index (CPI), currently at 4%, instead of the retail prices index (RPI) at 5.3%. Given that CPI is lower, the level of benefits will rise more slowly.
Osborne revealed that National Savings & Investments (NS&I) will relaunch index-linked savings certificates. However, it hasn't been confirmed how much they will pay or when they will be reintroduced, but it's likely to be before the end of the year.
Patrick Connolly, spokesperson for AWD Chase de Vere, welcomes the decision, but given that they were pulled last year because of oversubscription, he thinks savers should act quickly. "When index-linked certificates are relaunched, our advice to many savers will be to get in quickly because they may not be around for long," he says.
The state pension system will be simplified; a single-tier pension worth £155 will be introduced in due course.
Despite the fact that inheritance tax applies to just a small proportion of the population (only 2% of people end up paying IHT on their estate, according to accountant Baker Tilly), it attracts a lot of attention. In a bid to encourage a more open-handed nation, the Budget promises to reduce anyone's IHT liability by 10% if a tenth or more of their estate is left to charity.
People struggling to get onto the property ladder will be able to put down lower deposits as part of the £250 million FirstBuy scheme. It's targeted at 10,000 first-time buyers, who will only be required to find a 5% deposit. The government and homebuilder will then each lend 10% of the property's value to create an initial deposit of 25%.
The loans will be interest-free for the first five years, then charged at 1.75% for the sixth year, and then at RPI inflation plus 1%. However, despite making all the right noises, FirstBuy is only available to those with a joint income below £60,000 - and only on newbuilds.
Stuart Law, chief executive of property investment advisers Assetz, thinks the government has missed a trick.
"Rather than just help 10,000 first-time buyers raise on average 25% deposits, it would be sensible to help a significant number of first-time buyers raise 10% deposits, since 85% and 90% loan-to-value mortgages are available at reasonable rates," he says.
Osborne also announced an extension to the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme until January 2013. This scheme enables unemployed homeowners to claim back the interest on their mortgages, dependent on circumstances.
Petrol prices have been heading skywards for some time now and, prior to his Budget speech, the chancellor dropped hints that he would address the problem. Fuel duty has been cut by 1p a litre, and a 'fuel duty stabiliser' will be brought in to replace the existing fuel duty escalator.
Fuel duty was set to rise by 5p this year, but it will now only go up in line with inflation.
"Considering that fuel would have gone up by 5p and instead has fallen by 1p, it's quite a big difference," says Browne. However, motorists are unlikely to see much improvement at the pump.
Describing small businesses in the Budget speech as "the innocent victims of the credit crunch", Osborne announced a few measures to get them back on track.
Small business tax will be cut by 1% to 20%, and the government has also got the banks to agree to increase the availability of bank loans by 15%. It also declared it will launch 21 'enterprise zones' to encourage start-up businesses.
The mountains of red tape should also start to reduce, thanks to the government's promise not to introduce any new regulations for three years (for firms with less than 10 staff), and to scrap £350 million worth of current rules.
A raft of measures was promised to address the problems faced by a growing number of young people struggling to find work - from the introduction of 40,000 new apprenticeships and 100,000 work experience placements to the funding of 12 university technical colleges.
However, Osborne failed to mention the forthcoming increase in yearly university fees to £9,000.
The tax levied on the total value of your estate after you die. IHT has to be paid by the beneficiaries of your estate before they can receive any of the money from it. The money can’t be taken from the value of the estate _– it has to be paid before any money can be released. There is an IHT threshold – known as the “nil-rate band” – below which no tax is levied (£325,000 in 2011/12). Any amount above the nil-rate band is subject to tax at 40%. If your estate totals £600,000, there is no tax on the first £325,000; however your estate will pay 40% tax on the remaining £275,000, a total of £110,000. Prudent tax planning can reduce your IHT liability, so always consult a specialist solicitor.
A scheme originally established in 1944 to provide protection against sickness and unemployment as well as helping fund the National Health Service (NHS) and state benefits. NI contributions are compulsory and based on a person’s earnings above a certain threshold. There are several classes of NI, but which one an individual pays depends on whether they are employed, self-employed, unemployed or an employer. Payment of Class 1 contributions by employees gives them entitlement to the basic state pension, the additional state pension, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, maternity allowance and bereavement benefits. From April 2016, to qualify for the full state pension, individuals will need 35 years’ of NI contributions.
Replaced as the official measure of inflation by the consumer prices index (CPI) in December 2003. Both the Retail Price Index and CPI are attempts to estimate inflation in the UK, but they come up with different values because there are slight differences in what goods and services they cover, and how they are calculated. Unlike the CPI, the RPI includes a measure of housing costs, such as mortgage interest payments, council tax, house depreciation and buildings insurance, so changes in the interest rates affect the RPI. If interest rates are cut, it will reduce mortgage interest payments, so the RPI will fall but not the CPI. The RPI is sometimes referred to as the “headline” rate of inflation and the CPI as the “underlying” rate.
An increase in the general level of prices that persists over a period of time. The inflation rate is a measure of the average change over a period, usually 12 months. If inflation is up 4%, this means the price of products and services is 4% higher than a year earlier, requiring we spend and extra 4% to buy the same things we bought 12 months ago and that any savings and investments must generate 4% (after any taxes) to keep pace with inflation. Since 2003, the Bank of England has used the consumer prices index (CPI) as its official measure of inflation (see also retail prices index).
The Consumer Price Index is the official measure of inflation adopted by the government to set its target. When commentators refer to changes in inflation, they’re actually referring to the CPI. In the June 2010 Budget, Chancellor announced the government’s intention to also use the CPI for the price indexation of benefits, tax credits and public sector pensions from April 2011. (See also Retail Prices Index).
Everything you own: all your assets (property, cars, investments, savings, insurance payouts, artwork, furniture etc) minus any liabilities (debts, current bills, payments still owed on assets like cars and houses, credit card balances and other outstanding loans). When you’re alive this is called your wealth; when you’re dead, it becomes your estate.
Child tax credit
A scheme started in 2003 that sought to replace a raft of other tax credits and benefits, the payout depends on the number of dependant children in a family, and its level of income. The amount of credit is reduced as income increases. It is payable to the main carer of a child, usually the mother, and is available whether or not the recipient is working.