Budget 2013 – Some initial thoughts

December 5, 2012

Some of my initial thoughts on (a rather unimaginative) Budget 2013:

Local Property Tax

I predict that the new Local Property Tax will create much difficulty for the Government within the coming year.

While Revenue will provide “valuation guidance”, this is likely to be tailored more to their own objectives (ie, raise as much tax as possible) than those of the property owner (the opposite) and will not be a particularly appetising option. The alternative option to hire “a competent valuer” to value one’s property will rankle with many people, especially as auctioneers and valuers:

  1. will, (quite properly), charge a fee for their services.
  2. as a group, have a long record of overvaluing properties (one of the main contributors to the Tiger-era bubble)
  3. have a vested interest in renewed property price inflation.

NPPR €200 Property Charge

Given the mess that the local councils have made of collecting the Household Charge (HC) and NPPR, it is quite correct that the new tax will be collected by the Revenue Commissioners. However, as with the HC & NPPR, I think it is a serious error to make the owner, not the occupier, liable. Quite simply, I believe that people should be encouraged, within reason, to own their own homes and the property market is likely to remain in the doldrums if individuals and families are incentivised to rent rather than own their homes.

The €50,000 ‘bands’ for the property tax are too narrow and in my view are a temptation to evasion. A wider band, of €100,000 or €150,000 would have generated the same tax revenue with a lot less scope for undervaluation.

It seems that  a minimum rate of €90 will apply to properties valued under €100,000. This may be okay for someone living in a €100,000 property (which may be more numerous than the Minister expects, given the quoted prices on local and online property listing), but a €90 charge is scarcely justifiable in the case of a person living (or more precisely existing) in poverty in a semi-derelict, low value property.

Among the Property Tax payment options is the facility to pay in cash. This is rather  ironic in the light of Revenue’s stated determination to stamp out the cash economy and the government’s wider policy to move towards a cashless society.

The facility for voluntary deferral of the Property Tax entails an interest charge of 4% p.a.  This is not the highest interest charge on the planet, but given the fact that people who opt for deferral will only be doing so on the basis that they are already in straitened circumstances, the fact that they are facing an additional interest charge will only add to their woes.

It is good that the Household Charge is being abolished  from 1 January 2013, but it is an absolute, and gratuitous, disgrace that the NPPR Charge on non-owner occupiers will be charged for 2013 in addition to the Property Tax. Another example of double taxation.

Business

I predict that the much touted “10 Point Tax Reform Plan” for SME’s will make little or no difference to almost all firms.

Budget 2012 Business Reliefs

The 3 Year Corporation Tax Relief for Start Up Companies has already been significantly diluted in earlier Budgets, and I honestly see little point in continuing with it, except perhaps for political window-dressing purposes.

The €250,000 increase in the VAT cash receipts basis threshold  (from €1 million to €1.25 million) is indeed a welcome measure, as is the doubling of the “initial spend” eligible for the R&D tax credit (from €100,000 to €200,000).

However the extensions to the Foreign Earnings Deduction for work related travel will need to be dramatic if they are to be of any use to Irish businesses. The Budget 2012 measure which allowed for this Deduction to apply only for travel to Brazil, Russia, India and China was laughably restrictive.

News of a long-awaited diesel rebate for hauliers, to apply from 1 July 2013, is very welcome, but the devil will be in the detail.

I fear that the new “PlusOne initiative” to employ long-term unemployed workers will be more window dressing.  The Irish economy needs small businesses and sole traders to hire more workers. If every one of our 270,000 sole traders (as per 2010 figures) and many more small companies, employed one extra person next year, our unemployment problem would be well on the way to being resolved. However this is unlikely to happen and I fail to see the logic in telling a young graduate (or even a not-so-young non-graduate) that they must rot on the dole for 6 months before an employer can be incentivised to hire them.

Farming

The extension of the farmers’ 25% & 100% Stock Relief incentives is a perennial feature of almost every Budget.  Sadly this Budget contains little else for the agricultural sector. The Stock Relief concession for beef production farm partnerships, and the  new farmland Capital Gains Tax relief for farm restructuring purposes are welcome but will have limited impact.

Film Industry & Tourism

The Budget promises an extended Film Tax Relief Scheme until 2020, with a new “tax credit model” in 2016 which will replace the current ‘‘high earner’ investor-driven incentive. Again the devil will be in the detail.

The 9% VAT rate for the tourism industry will continue  in 2013, but will this survive post-The Gathering into 2014?

Property

The Property Tax exemptions for “new or previously unoccupied homes” by 2016, and for 2013 first-time buyers, underline what I see as the key structural problems of the Property Tax, ie discouraging first time buyers and others from buying or trading up. The exemption for residences in “unfinished estates” may prove controversial if this is applied in practice in a fashion as arbitrary as the corresponding Household Charge exemption. Some people living in luxury estates found themselves unexpectedly exempt from the HC on the basis that their estates included a couple of vacant sites or unsold homes, while their neighbours in less salubrious neighbourhoods had to stump up the €100 charge.

Pensions

The continuation of tax relief on pension contributions at the 41% marginal rate of tax is welcome and a small, if significant, victory over the reactionary voices calling for the effective destruction of pension cover for private-sector workers. The measure to curb the relief on on pension pots projecting income of over €60,000 per annum is a sensible one, as are the scrapping of the 2012 private pension levy after 2014 and the ending of the reduced USC charge for high-earning over-70s.

I remain unconvinced of the wisdom behind allowing individuals to withdraw up to 30% of their AVCs. Withdrawals will be charged income tax at marginal rates and I fear that many people will erode their long-term financial security in a desperate attempt to pander to unreasonable demands from their banks or other lenders.

Budget 2013

PRSI

The increase from €253 to €500 in the minimum annual self-employed annual PRSI contribution is a reasonable move, as such contributions are invariably good value for self-employed people, yielding a contributory old age pension amongst other benefits. However the increased cost will by its nature exclusively hit low-income self-employed people many of whom will have to cope with property tax and other financial pressures.

The abolition of the weekly €100 PRSI-exempt allowance for employees makes sense from a crude mathematical viewpoint,  but again will impact, disproportionately but not exclusively, on low earners.

From 2014, PRSI will apply to employees’ rental income, investment income, dividends and deposit interest. In my view this is long overdue, as it has already applied to the self-employed for many years.

Income Tax 

The only Income Tax measure mentioned in the Budget Speech relates to Maternity Benefit, which will be treated as taxable income from 1 July 2013. The question remains as to why Maternity Benefit remains exempt from the USC.

Excise Duties

There is a most welcome absence of the threatened increases on excise duty on diesel and petrol.

The excise duty hikes on beer, cider and wine will do nothing for our struggling hospitality sector in the year of The Gathering, and makes something of a mockery of the special 9% VAT rate on tourist enterprises.

Capital Taxes

The rises in the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) & Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) rates from 30% to 33%, and the cut in the CAT threshold, each make sense at first glance but ignore the fact that they both discourage property owners sell or gift properties. As Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, sharply increased the revenue from both tax headings by cutting the rates to 20%. This experiment is worth repeating and might yield surprising results.


Govt Jobs Initiative – The tax measures

May 10, 2011

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has today unveiled the Government’s much-heralded ‘Jobs Budget’, including the following tax measures:

Pension Levy

A levy of 0.6% is to be applied on the capital value of pension assets held within the State.

PRSI

Employers PRSI on lower-paid employees is to be halved. This will apply until the end of 2013 for employees earning less than €356 per week (not the figure of €365 per week as announced by the Minister in the Dáil today).

Employers PRSI will no longer apply to share-based remuneration.

Michael Noonan Government Jobs Initiative

9% VAT

A cut in the lower rate of VAT to 9% on so-called ‘tourism-related’ goods and services. This will apply from 1 July 2011 until the end of 2013.  The VAT cut will apply to

  • restaurant and catering services
  • hotel and holiday accommodation,
  • theatre, cinema, museum, fairground and other entertainment tickets
  • hairdressing
  • newspapers and magazines.

Air Travel Tax

The Air Travel Tax of €3 per passenger is to be abolished, but not with immediate effect. Its abolition is to be conditional on the major Irish airlines opening new tourist routes into Ireland.

R&D Tax Credit

The Minister intends to introduce a technical change to the Research & Development tax credit legislation, in order to allow companies more flexibility in how they account for the credit. This is intended to make the credit more attractive for qualifying companies.

Corporation Tax

Unsurprisingly, the Minister confirmed that ‘our 12.5% rate of corporation tax is here to stay’

The Department of Finance have just published full details of the Jobs Initiative on their website.


High Earners can beat Budget 2011 Pension Blues

December 10, 2010

High earners can beat a Budget 2011 cut in pensions tax relief if they top-up their pensions before 31 December next.

This week’s Budget cut the earnings ceiling for tax relief on personal pension payments, from €150,000 to €115,000. This means that, from 1 January 2011 onwards, the tax relief claimed by a high-income earner in respect of pension payments is limited to the first €115,000 of their earnings.

Liam Ferguson, of Ferguson and Associates has kindly confirmed to me that this lower ceiling relates to ALL contributions physically made in 2011. This includes contributions made by 31 October 2011, which can be backdated to the 2010 tax year for tax relief purposes.

So if you are in a high income bracket, and you leave it until next October to pay a Personal Pension contribution for 2010, the lower ceiling will apply to your contribution.

However, if you top up your pension by 31 December 2010, before the higher €150,000 earnings ceiling expires, you can still avail of the higher ceiling.

21 days left to act…


16 Nov. ROS deadline applies to Pensions Relief

November 8, 2010

Chartered Accountants Ireland have confirmed today that the deadline for paying Pension Contributions that attract backdated tax relief for 2009 is extended from 31 October to 16 November. This applies where an individual has filed their 2009 Income Tax return by 16 November, and paid any 2009 tax balance via ROS by the same date.

In a statement issued  today, Chartered Accountants Ireland stated  “Following a request for confirmation from our members, we wish to advise all readers that where a taxpayer qualifies for the extended ROS Pay & File deadline of 16 November 2010, this extended deadline also applies to RAC, PRSA and AVC contributions.  Readers are reminded that in order to avail of this extended deadline, both the return and the payment must be made online.  Where only one of these actions is completed through ROS, the extension will not apply.”

As yet I don’t have a link for the statement but I will add this when it is online.


‘Levelling Down’ a threat to Pensions Plan

March 5, 2010

The Government’s plans for mandatory pensions by 2014 could mean lower pension cover for some workers.

Minister Mary Hanafin  yesterday unveiled the Government’s new National Pensions Framework, which aims to increase employees’ pension cover.   From 2014 onwards,  most workers will automatically join a new mandatory pension scheme. This scheme will require employees to contribute 4% of pay, with the State and the employer paying a further 2% of earnings, bringing the total contribution of 8%.

I am concerned that, for employees who already hold employer-funded pensions, the mandatory scheme may mean lower, not higher, pension entitlements.

At present, many workers participate in pension schemes where their employer contributes, say, 5% of salary, with another 5% being paid by the employee.  In the current environment, with employers under pressure to cut costs,  they may question the wisdom of such arrangements when the State-backed scheme requires only a 2% employer contribution.

If sufficient numbers of employers end their existing scheme and migrate their employees to the new mandatory scheme, this could represent a signficant hit to overall national pensions cover.

This phenomenon is known as “levelling down” and already has attracted much debate in the UK, where mandatory pensions will be launched in 2012.

Dr Ros Altmann, a pensions expert and a former adviser to Tony Blair, has warned in a recent press release, that “the new workplace pension savings accounts (in the UK)  could be a disaster for millions of unsuspecting individuals”, highlighting what she sees as the “huge incentive” for employers to “level down” their existing pension commitments to the State-scheme minimum.

What do you think?


Finance Bill: End of the 1% Levy on Pensions

February 5, 2010

Yesterday’s Finance Bill heralded the scrapping of the 1% levy on pension payments, which came into force last June.  This is a welcome development and highlights the absurdity of the original levy.

I cannot understand why the Minister decided last year to discourage taxpayers from saving for their old age,  especially at a time when we are told we have a serious national pensions deficit.

Retirement fund

It appears from the Finance Bill that the 1% levy on life assurance payments will stay in place, at least for another year. Again, I am at a loss to understand why the Minister deems it fit to impose a tax on people who are prudent enough to put a few euro into a life assurance policy, to protect their family if they happen to die unexpectedly.

Last year’s Finance Bill included both the new 1% life and pensions levy, and also a hike in the insurance levy from 2% to 3%.  Unfortunately the insurance levy is unchanged this year. That said, it might be more than a little optimistic to pray for its demise.

Older readers will recall that the previous 2% levy was introduced as a ‘temporary’ measure in the early 1980s, in order to finance the State rescue of the stricken Allied Irish Bank.

It is ironic that, not only is the levy still in place a generation later, but it is now 50% higher, just as Nama is in the process of bailing out the banks once again! Plus ca change…


The 2010 Finance Bill is unveiled

February 4, 2010

The 2010 Finance Bill has been published earlier this afternoon.  In addition to the measures announced in the Budget, it contains a raft of new provisions, including the following:

  • A new package of reforms to the Capital Acquisitions Tax system,  which are designed “to modernise and simplify the CAT regime, while delivering immediate and significant benefits to taxpayers, their legal advisers and the Revenue Commissioners”.
  • Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan

  • Measures to facilitate the development in Ireland  of Islamic finance which  is compliant with the principles of Shari’a law.
  • From 1 July 2010, VAT will apply to Public Bodies and local authorities, for waste collection, landfill, and recycling services; off-street parking; toll roads; and leisure facilities).  This follows a 2009 European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against Ireland. The changes will not affect education, health, water and passenger transport services.
  • The abolition of  certain Tax Reliefs including tax relief on Service/Refuse charges (from 2012 onwards), relief for Gifts of property to the State and Capital Allowances for childcare facilities.
  • Confirmation that the 80% Windfall Tax will now not apply to the sale of one-off sites below an acre and €250,000.
  • Technical changes to procedures in relation to tax relief for medical expenses. According to the Dept of Finance “he relief is being refocused on expenses incurred by or on the advice of a medical practitioner”.
  • The scrapping of the 1% Levy on pension products “in order not to discourage investment in pensions”.
  • The introduction of transfer pricing legislation to regulate trading between associated companies.
  • Measures to combat the misuse of tax avoidance schemes.