Cut your tax bill in one day

Published by Sam Barrett on 18 March 2010.
Last updated on 24 August 2011

Woman with shears

Whether it's your salary, your profits or your Friday night drinks, the taxman will of course want his share.

But according to research by professional advice website, a whopping £9 billion of tax was paid unnecessarily by British taxpayers last year.

Making sure you don't pay more than you need is becoming more important than ever as taxes are on the up.

VAT rose to 20% in January and fuel duty will rise in April bringing the cost of petrol to an expected 136p a litre.

National insurance is also inching up in April 2011, taking the rate for employee contributions to 12%.

However there are steps you can take to tackle the amount of tax you pay and make yourself richer in just one day.


The first step is to make sure you're paying the right amount of income tax. Your tax code determines how much income tax you pay, so it's essential it's correct.

If not, you could be paying too much tax – or too little, building up a nasty bill when HM Revenue & Customs spots its error.

Problems with tax codes are particularly common among older people. "More than 40% of the queries we receive relate to tax codes.

In some cases, it's because the Revenue doesn't add the additional age-related tax allowance; in others, it's because someone has multiple sources of income," says Paddy Millard, chief executive of the charity Tax Help for Older People.

Checking your tax code is fairly straightforward. Ask your tax office for a coding notice or check the code on your pay slip. If you don't think it's correct, speak to your tax office. You can claim back up to six years' overpaid tax, although this will drop to four years in 2012.

Another area where the wrong code can seriously affect your wealth is your council tax. To make sure your band is correct, speak to neighbours and look at historic prices for properties in your street.

Rightmove has a tool to help you find what your home, or ones like it, sold for in previous years.

If you believe your band is wrong, contact your local listings officer through the Valuation Office Agency or the Scottish Assessors Association.

It's also worth checking that you receive all the tax credits you're entitled to. Research by found that around a quarter of pensioners aren't claiming their full pension credits – an equivalent of around £2.4 billion a year going unclaimed.

Likewise, with nine out of 10 families entitled to tax credits (including people without kids), you could be missing out.

To see whether you could claim tax credits, visit Tax Credits Online. Alternatively, use to check whether you could claim any benefits and tax credits.


Once you've sorted the basics, you can turn your attention to making your savings more tax-efficient. A cash ISA works just like a savings account but pays you interest tax-free.

You can currently put up to £5,100 a year into your cash ISA, rising with inflation to £5,340 in the new tax year (2011/12).

"You should put any spare cash into your cash ISA," says Danny Cox, head of advice at Hargreaves Lansdown.

If you're a non-taxpayer and have savings outside a cash ISA, then make sure you register for gross interest with a form R85 from HM Revenue & Customs. Likewise, if you're married, then arrange any savings as tax-efficiently as possible.

Mike Warburton, tax director at Grant Thornton, advises: "Make sure you have all your savings in the name of the spouse who has the lower tax bracket so as to keep the tax bill down."


When it comes to your investments, a stocks and shares ISA is a good option. You can invest in funds or hold assets including shares, corporate bonds and gilts, and from April 2010, you can invest up to £10,200 a year (rising to £10,680 in April), minus any contribution you put into a cash ISA.

In terms of tax, although it's impossible to claim back the 10% tax credit on any dividends, higher-rate taxpayers save paying a further 22.5% tax on the dividend. Additionally, any gains are tax-free.

Pensions, with their tax relief on contributions, are an even more tax-efficient way to save. Tax relief at 20% is available – so for a contribution of £80, the pension company can claim a further £20 on your behalf, making your contribution up to £100.

Higher-rate taxpayers can also claim back a further 20% through their self-assessment. But Cox warns higher earners to be careful.

"The government's anti-forestalling rules, which it introduced in the run up to April 2011's reduction in tax relief for anyone earning £150,000-plus, mean that most people with earnings of £130,000-plus are restricted to a maximum annual contribution of £20,000 for higher-rate tax relief."

However, you don't even need an income to get tax relief. A non-earner can pay in up to £2,880 a year and receive £720 in tax relief to bring their total contribution up to £3,600.

If you're married, it's also worth looking at both spouses' pension planning. "If you retire at 65, a couple will have a combined income tax allowance of £18,980 a year.

Rather than lump all the pension savings into one name and only take advantage of half the allowance, spread pensions between you so as to use the full allowance," adds Cox.

When trying to minimise your tax bill, salary sacrifice is worth considering. With this, part of your salary is sacrificed and diverted to a benefit such as a pension, cycle-to-work scheme or childcare vouchers.

The financial results are particularly compelling. For example, an employee earning £30,000 a year sacrifices £1,000 for a pension. This only costs them £690 a year as they would have paid £310 in income tax (£200 at 20%) and national insurance (£110 at 11%).

Additionally, it saves the employer national insurance at 12.8%, equivalent to £128, which the employer could add to the employee's pension. This would give them a contribution of £1,128, for a cost of just £690 to the employee.


Even at lunchtime you can save on tax. VAT is charged on pre-packed food such as crisps, chocolate and drinks; any hot food you buy; and on anything you eat in.

Cold sandwiches and other takeaway food are zero-rated, so choosing these will mean a few less pennies going into the taxman's coffers.

Find out more about cutting the cost of food


At 40% on anything over the inheritance tax nil-rate band (currently £325,000), it's wise to spend time ensuring you avoid leaving an IHT bill.

It's a little easier for married couples as they can take advantage of the transferable nil-rate band, with the widow or widower being able to carry forward any of their spouse's unused nil-rate band to use when they die.

"Unless you have well in excess of this, the best way to reduce a liability is to take advantage of the IHT-exempt gifts," says Cox.

These include gifts worth up to £3,000 in each tax year; as many gifts of up to £250 a year as you like; wedding gifts (£5,000 for children, £2,500 for grandchildren and £1,000 for anyone else); gifts to charities, museums or UK political parties; and gifts out of your income.

This last gift is often overlooked but as long as it's taxed income, if you give the gift on a regular basis – and by doing so you don't affect your standard of living – you can give away as much as you like and it's immediately outside your estate.

Another way to cover a future liability is by taking out life insurance to ensure there's money available to pay it. If you do, or you have any other life policies in place, make sure you write it in trust.

Tim Schofield, a broker at IFA Alexander Forbes, adds: "This ensures the proceeds are paid to a person rather than going to your estate." It's easy to arrange a trust: simply contact your life insurer and it will arrange it for you.

Watch our Moneywise TV: How to cut your inheritance tax bill


Make a profit and the taxman will want his share, charging capital gains tax (CGT) at 18% on any profits above £10,100 in 2010/11. Thankfully, a little bit of planning can help you avoid a bill.

"Use your own CGT allowance by selling assets with profit up to your allowance each year," says Warburton, "and if you have a spouse, you can transfer a liability to them to use their allowance too."

Investing in products that are CGT-efficient can also help. These include ISAs, pensions and venture capital trusts, which are all CGT-free, and EISs, where gains become tax-free after three years.

It may also be worth crystallising any losses you've made as these can be rolled forward for when you do make gains in the future. Schofield explains: "If you're sitting on a loss, it might be sensible to sell the investment and realise the loss.

You can reinvest in the same investment after 30 days or straightaway if you invest in something else, but the loss can be carried forward indefinitely and used against a future gain that's above your annual allowance."

For example, if you've made a £30,000 loss on your investments, sell them and notify the taxman of your loss through your self-assessment form.

This can be carried forward until you sell your investment, which has a £40,000 gain. Then, by using your annual allowance and the loss, there will be no CGT to pay.


Once you've followed these simple steps, all you need to do is to put your feet up and calculate just how much money you've managed to save in the space of just one day.

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