Aisléan Nicholson: Mini budget tax savings welcome but impact remains to be seen

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng
Aisléan Nicholson

FRIDAY’S fiscal event turned out to be less of a “mini-budget” than anticipated as we saw Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng make a series of significant announcements which will have an impact for all local taxpayers.

While many of Northern Ireland’s SMEs may have been unaffected by the intended increase in the main rate of corporation tax to 25 per cent for companies, the retention of the main rate at 19 per cent will be positive for our bigger local businesses. Business will also appreciate the maintenance of the annual investment allowance at £1m as a permanent measure, as this will help fund business investment.

Employers and employees alike will no doubt be pleased to see the November reduction in national insurance rates. The reversal of April’s increase of 1.25 per cent, which was due to be in place until April 2023, was coupled with the cancellation of the Health and Social Care levy (which was to replace it from that date) and the additional 1.25 per cent income tax on dividends.

This represents an immediate saving for employers, employees and shareholders, which will be welcome in businesses and households, though employers will have the challenge of updating payroll systems quickly to get the savings into people’s hands.

There were also some headline-grabbing reductions in income tax – the elimination of the top rate of income tax will see all higher rate taxpayers pay at a rate of 40p - perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. Of more interest for the majority of people here will be the reduced basic rate of income tax of 19 per cent to be introduced in April, a year earlier than promised and a welcome saving given the wider economic pressures many families are facing.

We’ll need to wait to see how the measures around energy will be applied in Northern Ireland for both households and businesses, given they do not directly apply here and the local reliance on heating fuel. The Chancellor has been clear in his commitment for NI to benefit equally, so hopefully this will also mitigate some of the cost pressures households and businesses are facing in the light of energy price volatility, but we await the detail.

Of the stamp duty announcements, the doubling of the stamp duty-free band will be of most interest to home-owners and prospective buyers here, given we have lower average house prices than much of the UK.

One of the announcements few commentators anticipated was the reversal of the IR35 legislation introduced in recent years, which will see some changes in the way that businesses operate their engagements with contractors and freelancers. The transition may cause a few headaches on both sides.

Government also indicated their intention to stimulate high-streets and create jobs in the retail and tourist sectors by modernising the existing VAT relief scheme for tourists. Given Northern Ireland remains in the EU as regards VAT on goods, we will have to await the detail of this in the proposed consultation to understand the impact.

Investment zones with specific tax reliefs and incentives were announced for a variety of locations across England, with the indication that the other countries of the UK could seek to create areas which offer similar opportunities – again, time will tell what this could mean for business here.

In all, there was a lot crammed into a short statement and several important announcements, with some savings for taxpayers in Northern Ireland.

:: Aisléan Nicholson is a business tax advisory partner for Deloitte