What the Budget means for investors

22 April 2009

One of the main elements of Alistair Darling's Budget was the change to the ISA allowance - but it also included several other measures that will impact investors.

For example, from 1 September 2009, investment trust companies will be able to invest more tax-efficiently in interest-bearing assets such as bonds. Experts say the change will open up new opportunities for investors.

Daniel Godfrey, director general of the Association of Investment Companies (AIC), says: "Allowing investment trusts to invest tax-efficiently in bonds will mean the industry can compete more effectively with alternative structures."

Darling also used the Budget to announce that tax relief on pension contributions for people earning more than £150,000 will be gradually tapered to 20% from April 2011 - impacting self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs).

The move prompted universal condemnation from pension providers; commentators point out that this is backtracking on the pensions simplification legislation of 2006, where limitations on higher paid earners were imposed.

Martin Tilley, business development manager at Dentons Pension Management, says: "It will have a particular impact on the higher end of the SIPP market and I dare say that for some smaller SIPP providers the potential slowing of new business, together with the inability to augment headline fees with interest rate trails could result in some firms looking for ways out of the market."

However, it is possible that the government may see this as ultimately a retrograde step as it would be extremely difficult to administer and is likely only to raise an additional £200 million in revenue in 2011-12.

Raj Mody, pensions partner and chief actuary at PricewaterhouseCoopers, explains: "The government has indicated that it will be consulting on this so there is time for different viewpoints to be analysed, and a run-up period seems likely to allow time to get the details right."

Mody adds: "This change is likely to be a distraction employers could do without, while they are still grappling with major financing challenges and risks for their defined benefit schemes. A simpler alternative change to achieve this policy objective in principle might be to reduce the annual allowance."

This is currently 100% of annual salary up to a maximum of £245,000 and the lifetime allowance is £1.75 million.

Offshore funds also feature in the Budget; from 1 December, the offshore funds regime will be reformed to provide a simple and fair approach to taxation.

However, from 22 April, the dividend tax credit will be extended to UK investors in offshore funds. This will allow for equal tax treatment between onshore and offshore equity and bond funds.

The government also confirmed that foreign dividends will generally be exempt from tax as of 1 July 2009.

Meanwhile, the time limits on the employment of capital raised for investment through enterprise investment schemes (EISs) will be relaxed and there will be an extension of the period of carry-back of income tax relief for EISs and venture capital trusts (VCTs).

From 22 April, investors will be able to carry back income tax for the entire previous year and will no longer be limited to claiming back just half of their investment.

Martin Sherwood, a director of the Enterprise Investment Scheme Association (EISA), says: "By increasing the amount of income tax relief investors can carry back to the previous year, Revenue & Customs has helped make EISs more attractive from an investors’ point of view.

"However, we are disappointed not to get any increases in the upfront income tax relief rate."

Gary Robins, chief executive of EIS specialist Hotbed, adds: "With Alternative Investment Markets on hold and interest in VCTs on the wane it seems illogical that the government is not using EIS as a tool to tackle falling investment in growing companies.

"Even though income tax relief on VCTs is 30% and just 20% on EIS, EIS is now attracting 2.5 times more investment than VCTS. EIS could be even more popular if the government had matched the 30% tax relief and may have helped them to avoid using public funds to invest in growing companies."

Finally, the Budget contained nothing on real estate investment trusts (REITs) or commercial property.

One of the reasons quoted commercial property companies that converted to a REIT structure had performed so poorly over the past year was the requirement to distribute at least 90% of their income as dividends.

Ed Stansfield, property specialist at consultants Capital Economic, says: "In the run-up to the Budget, the property industry had lobbied the chancellor to reinstate business rates relief for empty commercial property or, at the very least, to extend the one-year holiday from rates for properties with a rateable value of less than £15,000. Darling did neither.

"Nor, as many had hoped, did he loosen the REIT regime which would help REITs to conserve cash in these challenging times."


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