The £2.7bn reason Chancellor will not reform inheritance tax

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With hefty tax rises already scheduled for spring next year, it is unlikely that Rishi Sunak’s Budget in ten days’ time will contain nasty surprises. But don’t rule out further tax hikes as the Chancellor attempts to repair the Government’s finances, battered by the pandemic and lockdowns. 

Although spending cuts to Government departmental budgets are more likely – a point made last week by the influential Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which suggested they could total £2billion – households’ finances could be squeezed even further by Sunak. 

On top of the 1.25 percentage hike in National Insurance Contribution rates and higher taxes on dividend income, bigger council tax bills look very much on the cards – maybe as much as five per cent more from next April. 

© Provided by This Is Money Money-spinner: One tax that is ripe for reform, but unlikely to be touched by Rishi Sunak, is inheritance tax

Taxes on alcohol could also rise while graduates may be required to start repaying their student loans earlier – if a lowering of the earnings threshold at which repayments kick in is sanctioned. 

Other taxes could also be raised, although Sunak may hold back for fear of incurring the wrath of people already dealing with higher energy bills and a tickle up in inflation. Tax relief on pension tax contributions could come under attack while taxes on capital gains (typically made on share disposals) could rise into line with those levied on income. 

Jason Hollands, a director of wealth manager Tilney, believes it would be ‘politically risky’ for Sunak to announce further broad-based tax hikes. Like the IFS, he thinks the underlying theme of Sunak’s Budget will be ‘spending restraint in order to create room for pre-election tax cuts in 2024’. 

One tax that is ripe for reform, but unlikely to be touched by Sunak, is inheritance tax. A combination of spiralling house and asset prices has made inheritance tax a rich source of revenue for the Treasury. 

The latest data shows £2.7billion in inheritance tax receipts between April and August, which is £0.7billion – 35 per cent – more than for the same period last year. 

Currently, when someone dies, the first £325,000 of their estate – property, shares and cash minus debts – is exempt from inheritance tax. Any sum above this nil-rate band is usually taxed at 40 per cent. 

For married couples and civil partners, the rules also provide a spouse or civil partner exemption. This means that after one partner dies, the survivor can claim any of their unused nil-rate band. 

On top, there is a £175,000 residence nil-rate band, available when a home is passed on to a child or grandchild – including stepchildren, adopted children and foster children. 

Earlier this year, Sunak said these nil-rate bands would be frozen until 2026. By then, the £325,000 exemption would have remained frozen for 17 years. 

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‘Outrageous,’ says Hollands. ‘Since the £325,000 threshold was introduced, global share prices have soared by more than 400 per cent and retail prices are up by more than 30 per cent. Taking into account inflation, it should be £100,000 higher than it is.’ 

James Ward, a wealth expert at law firm Kingsley Napley, says IHT bills vary widely on a regional basis with the highest sums paid in London and the Home Counties (see table). Stratford-upon-Avon, Winchester, Devon and Dorset are ‘hotspots’, too. 

Ward describes inheritance tax as a voluntary tax – for it can be avoided through careful financial planning. 

‘It’s the beneficiaries who end up paying the tax,’ he adds, ‘so the incentive for someone to mitigate the tax ahead of their own demise is not always high. But I would urge anyone in their late-50s or early-60s to think about IHT planning.’

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