2020 Budget Update

Gary Green
Gary Green
March 24, 2020

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2020 Budget Guide

On 12 December 2019, the most important issue in the General Election appeared to be Brexit. On New Year’s Eve, Rishi Sunak was Chief Secretary to the Treasurer – Chancellor Sajid Javid’s second-in-command – and no one had heard of Coronavirus.

When Mr Sunak took over as Chancellor on 13 February, with four weeks to prepare a Budget speech, there were only a handful of cases of the illness in the UK. In that short time, Covid-19 has become the starting point of a series of measures that the Office for Budget Responsibility described as the biggest fiscal stimulus since 1992.

There seemed to be no end to the giveaways – £30 billion in all – and very little tax raising (even a freeze on alcohol and fuel duties). It seemed very different from the austerity of most of Philip Hammond’s Budgets.

What the Chancellor says in the House is only part of the story. When he sits down, the Government publishes everything on the internet – measures he hasn’t mentioned; the devilish detail of things he only touched on; and the tables of financial estimates that show what makes a big difference to the public finances and what is marginal.

This article summarises the most important points and explains how they affect businesses and individuals. We have included some of the changes that were announced in previous years and are about to come into effect – and some that we can look forward to in the future.

The Coronavirus outbreak has created unprecedented uncertainty, and it is impossible to know whether the proposed measures will be enough. The Chancellor mentioned another Budget coming in the Autumn – presumably we will have a better idea then of how we and the rest of the world have coped, as well as being clearer on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Significant points

  • £12 billion package of measures to help individuals and businesses cope with Covid-19
  • Increase in employee and self-employed NI contribution threshold to £9,500 for 2020/21
  • Immediate cut in lifetime gains eligible for Entrepreneurs’ Relief from £10m to £1m
  • Increase in thresholds for pension relief Annual Allowance tapering to £200,000/£240,000
  • Off-payroll working rules extended to private sector employers as previously announced
  • Employment Allowance increased for 2020/21 to £4,000 of employer’s Class 1 NIC
  • 30-day deadline for reporting and paying CGT on residential property applies from 6 April

The Chancellor began his speech by addressing the economic impact of the Coronavirus outbreak. As well as promising ‘whatever the NHS needs’ to deal with it, he announced a range of measures, estimated to cost in total £12 billion, to help individuals and businesses to cope with the financial consequences.

Personal Income Tax

It may be unprecedented for a Budget speech not to mention personal income tax. Philip Hammond made big increases in allowances for 2019/20 in his last Budget, and the main ones have been frozen for 2020/21. Income Tax rates are now extremely complicated. An individual’s total tax on any given amount will vary depending on the types of income they receive (for example, salary, profits, rent, interest, dividends), but at least someone on the same income will pay the same tax next year as they did this year.

The level of income at which the personal allowance is withdrawn has been £100,000 since the rule was introduced in April 2010, and inflation means that far more people are now affected. Every £2 of income over that level reduces the allowance by £1.

This results in an effective marginal rate of tax of 60% in the band of income up to £125,000 in 2020/21, above which the taxpayer will have no personal allowance.

The Scottish Parliament has set different tax rates and thresholds for general income of Scottish taxpayers. The Welsh Government also has the power to set a different rate of income tax for non-savings, non-dividend income for Welsh taxpayers, but has announced that it will not vary the UK rates.


‘Off payroll’ working

HMRC has been concerned about individuals working through personal service companies (PSCs) for two decades: they regard this as a way of avoiding PAYE and Class 1 NIC where ‘in reality’ (in HMRC’s view) the individual is acting as an employee.

The ‘IR35’ rules required PSCs to pay PAYE and NIC on income from engagements that were effectively employments. From 6 April 2017, where the individual behind the PSC works in the public sector, the responsibility for paying this tax was transferred to the person paying the PSC, and the responsibility for deciding ‘what is effectively employment’ was imposed on the public sector engager. HMRC is convinced that this has reduced non-compliance, and as announced in 2018, will from April 2020 extend the same rules to large and medium-sized employers in the private sector. This was put back to 2021 due to the pandemic.

This is a very significant and potentially contentious change for all those who work through PSCs and those who use them. It will be important to understand the decisions that have to be made and who has the responsibility for taking them, and what to do if the parties to a contract do not agree about its status.

National Insurance Contributions

For 2019/20, the National Insurance Contributions (NIC) thresholds for employers and employees were the same at £166 per week (£8,632 per year). The employee threshold is increased for 2020/21 to £9,500, which represents a reduction in contributions of £104 for most employees; it is now significantly higher than the threshold for employer contributions (£169pw in 2020/21). The upper limits and rates for employee contributions remain unchanged (12% on earnings up to £962pw/£50,000pa, 2% above that). The limits for Class 4 self-employed NIC are likewise £9,500 and £50,000 for 2020/21.

Employment Allowance (EA)

EA is a relief from Class 1 employer’s NI contributions for employers who have two employees who are both paid above the threshold at which those contributions become payable, and whose total liability for employer’s NIC did not exceed £100,000 in the previous year. For tax year 2020/21, EA is increased from £3,000 to £4,000.

Savings and Pensions

ISA limits

The ISA investment limit for 2019/20 remains £20,000 for a standard ISA. The limit for Junior ISAs and Child Trust Funds rises from £4,368 to £9,000.
The first Child Trust Funds were opened for children born in September 2002; they will mature in September 2020 when the child turns 18. The balance can be transferred to an adult ISA without affecting the annual ISA investment limit for that person.

Pension contributions

There has been speculation that the Chancellor might reduce pension tax relief, which costs the Exchequer a great deal. However, the most significant change has been to reduce the impact of tapering of the maximum contribution to a pension scheme – the ‘Annual Allowance’ (AA). People with salaries over £110,000 and total income (including pension contributions) over £150,000 currently suffer a reduction in the normal AA of £40,000 down to a minimum of £10,000; the charge on contributions or increases in pension benefits above the reduced AA can create an effective tax rate of more than 100% for someone at that level who takes on extra work. Senior doctors have protested that it is not worth them carrying out operations, and the Government considered special measures to address that particular problem.

In the event, the Chancellor has changed the rules for everyone, raising the thresholds from April 2020 by £90,000 to £200,000 and £240,000. For someone above those higher levels, the AA of £40,000 will now be tapered down to a minimum of £4,000. The Government estimates that 250,000 people are affected by the AA charge, and the increases in the taper threshold will exempt many of them.

The Lifetime Allowance (LA) is the maximum amount that a person can save in tax-advantaged pension schemes. The value of benefits is measured against the LA when benefits are first taken from a pension, and also on some other occasions, including the individual’s 75th birthday. The LA will increase in line with inflation from £1,055,000 to £1,073,100 from 6 April 2020.

Capital Gains Tax


The annual exempt amount rises from £12,000 to £12,300 for 2020/21. The rates of tax are unchanged at 10% (total income and gains within the taxpayer’s basic rate limit) or 20% (gains above the basic rate limit) on assets in general, but 18% or 28% on residential property that is not eligible for the main residence exemption, and also on ‘carried interest’ of investment fund managers. Most trusts enjoy half the annual exempt amount (£6,150) and pay tax at 20% or 28% on chargeable gains.

Main residence exemption

As previously announced, the generous exemption of gains on a taxpayer’s only or main residence will have two additional restrictions from 6 April 2020. First, the ‘final period exemption’, which allows exemption to continue after a person has moved out, will be cut from 18 months to 9 months. The final 36 months remain exempt where the owner is disabled or living in a care home. Second, ‘letting relief’, which can exempt an additional gain of up to £40,000 where a property has been let, will be restricted to periods during which an owner was in ‘shared occupancy’ with a tenant. Up to now, this relief has been very favourable for someone who moves and lets out the former main residence.

Chargeable residential property

Also as previously announced, new rules apply from 6 April 2020 to disposals of UK residential property where a CGT liability arises. A return must be made to HMRC, and a payment made of the estimated tax liability, within 30 days of completion of the sale. This is a considerable advance on the normal CGT payment and filing deadline of 31 January following the end of the tax year. Similar rules have applied to foreign resident sellers of UK property for several years, but they now apply to UK residents as well. There is no obligation to report disposals on which no CGT is payable.

Entrepreneurs’ Relief (ER)

ER reduces the tax on disposals of qualifying assets to 10%. It has been criticised as being excessively generous to people who are already rich, and as ineffective in incentivising entrepreneurs to start businesses. The Chancellor decided against abolishing it altogether, but reduced the lifetime amount of eligible chargeable gains from £10 million to £1 million with effect from 11 March 2020. The effect will be to increase the tax on a £10 million gain from £1 million to £1.9 million. Where a contract was signed before 11 March but the transaction had not been completed, a claim for the higher amount of ER will have to be justified by the taxpayer on the basis that the disposal was not made to obtain tax relief.

There is no change to the £10 million limit for the similar ‘Investors’ Relief’ which is for external investors in qualifying trading businesses.

Inheritance Tax


As previously announced, the nil rate band remains frozen at £325,000 until the end of 2020/21. The ‘residential nil rate band (RNRB) enhancement’ on death transfers applies where a taxpayer’s residence (or assets representing one following a sale) is left to direct descendants. It has been phased in over four years, and the full value of £175,000 applies from 6 April 2020. A married couple will be able to leave £1 million free of IHT to their descendants (£325,000 plus £175,000 from each parent), but the rules are complicated. The Budget contained nothing new on IHT.

Business Tax

Corporation Tax rates

The Corporation Tax rate was previously set to fall to 17% from 1 April 2020. However, the Government decided to keep the rate unchanged at 19% for at least the two years from 1 April 2020 in order to make funds available for the NHS.

Capital Allowances on plant

The Annual Investment Allowance, on which a business can claim 100% relief on the cost of purchasing plant and machinery, was increased to £1 million for two years from 1 January 2019. It will fall back to the previous limit of £200,000 on 1 January 2021. There are complex rules where a period of account straddles the change, so anyone planning to spend more than £200,000 per year on plant should take advice to avoid the pitfalls.

At present, there are 100% first year allowances for cars with CO2 emissions of up to 50g/km. This was to run until 31 March 2021, then to be replaced by the normal rules for cars, which only enjoy writing down allowances (WDAs). The Budget provides that 100% allowances will continue to apply to wholly electric cars and goods vehicles (no emissions) until April 2025. From April 2021, cars with emissions up to 50g/km will be eligible for 18% WDAs (currently up to 110g/km); cars above that level will only qualify for 6% WDAs.

Capital Allowances on buildings

Structures and Buildings Allowance was introduced for expenditure on construction of new non-residential structures and buildings (not land) on or after 29 October 2018. The allowance was initially set at a flat rate of 2%. There is no balancing adjustment on a sale – the purchaser takes over the remainder of the allowances and the writing down period.

The rate is increased from 2% to 3% from 1 April 2020. Where a chargeable accounting period straddles this date, the allowance will be time-apportioned (e.g. it will be 2.5% for a 12 month period to 30 September 2020).

Capital losses

As previously announced, from April 2020 the offset of companies’ brought forward capital losses will be restricted. Only 50% of gains will be eligible to be relieved by brought forward losses, but there will be unrestricted use of the first £5m of total losses brought forward (capital and income losses combined), which means that 99% of companies will not be affected.

Research and Development (R&D)

Large companies carrying out qualifying R&D are eligible to claim ‘Research & Development Expenditure Credit’ (RDEC), a percentage of qualifying expenditure that can be set against taxable profits. The rate of RDEC will increase from 12% to 13% for expenditure incurred on or after 1 April 2020.

The Government had intended to introduce a measure to prevent what is regarded as ‘abuse of the R&D relief for small and medium enterprises’ by restricting the payable tax credit to the amount of the company’s PAYE liability for the period. Following representations from industry, this has been deferred until 1 April 2021 and will be subject to further consultation. The Chancellor also announced a consultation on whether expenditure on data and cloud computing should qualify for R&D tax credits.

Intangible assets

A new way of giving tax relief to companies for intangible assets such as patent rights was introduced in 2002. At that time, a distinction was made between assets that had been created before and after the change of rules. Where a company acquired ‘pre-2002’ intangible assets from a related party, the relief did not apply. This distinction will be removed for acquisitions of intangible property from related parties on or after 1 July 2020. There are transitional provisions to deal with transactions between 11 March and 30 June 2020.

Enterprise Zones (EZ)

Enhanced capital allowances for investment in new plant or machinery within designated Enterprise Zones were introduced in 2012, originally for 5 years from the designation of an area as an EZ, later extended to 8 years – so an EZ designated in 2012 would expire in 2020. These 100% first year allowances will now be made available in all designated areas until at least 31 March 2021.


Registration threshold

As previously announced, the VAT registration and deregistration thresholds will remain frozen at £85,000/£83,000 until 5 April 2022.

International trade

There were some references to Brexit in the Budget, but few details on its consequences for businesses trading internationally – those remain to be settled by ongoing negotiations. The one important announcement is a change to ‘postponed accounting’ of VAT on imports from 1 January 2021. VAT on imports – which will on that date include goods arriving from the 27 EU Member States as well as the rest of the world – will be accounted for on the importer’s next VAT return, rather than being due either at the point of entry or through the duty deferment scheme. Import duties will still be chargeable on entry.

This avoids the change from ‘acquisitions’ to ‘imports’ representing a significant cash flow cost to businesses buying goods from the EU, because it applies the procedure previously used for EU goods to everything. It will provide a significant cash flow benefit to businesses buying goods from the rest of the world, because they currently have to pay the VAT and claim it back later.

Domestic Reverse Charge

In a ‘missing trader fraud’, a supplier collects VAT from a customer (who claims it back from HMRC) but disappears without paying it to the authorities. To reduce the risk of this, a ‘reverse charge’ makes the customer liable to pay the VAT due on purchases. If a supplier cannot charge VAT, a fraudulent one cannot steal it. ‘Domestic reverse charges’ (DRC) already exist in relation to substantial transactions in mobile phones and some other types of supply.

To counter missing trader fraud in the construction industry, HMRC planned to introduce a DRC on 1 October 2019 for supplies of ‘construction services’. In the middle of arguments about Brexit, there was a risk that the construction industry could not cope with such a radical change, so the Government decided to defer it for a year. It has been confirmed that it will be brought in on 1 October 2020. The rules and guidance available last year were criticised for lack of clarity and the likelihood that many of those affected would not be ready to comply. Anyone who buys or sells construction services should consider as a matter of urgency how they will be affected.

Sanitary products

Following a long-running public campaign, the Chancellor announced that VAT on women’s sanitary products (charged to 5% VAT since 2001) will be abolished from 1 January 2021.

Digital publications

The Chancellor announced an extension of zero-rating to the digital versions of books, newspapers, magazines and academic journals, in line with their physical counterparts, with effect from 1 December 2020. In a recent tax case the Upper Tax Tribunal held that digital newspapers should be zero-rated under present law, but HMRC has appealed the judgment. Other businesses have put in claims for back tax on the strength of the decision. That case will not be affected by the change in the Budget, which will only apply going forward.

Call-off stock

Although the UK has now left the EU, in the transitional period we are still supposed to apply EU VAT law – and also to benefit from it when dealing with other countries. The Budget includes a simplification in relation to ‘call-off stock’ – stock that is physically held in another country to be available at short notice for a particular customer. If a UK trader holds its own stock in another country, it is normally necessary to register for VAT there; however, Member States are allowed to ignore call-off stock holdings for registration purposes in certain circumstances. The EU revised the rule in 2018 to take effect in January 2020; because the UK was, contrary to expectations, still a Member State at that time, we are enacting it.

It will continue to apply to foreign businesses holding call-off stock in the UK, and UK businesses holding call-off stock in the EU, at least until December 2020. The situation after that will depend on whatever deal is negotiated, but it is likely that UK businesses will not then enjoy any simplifications, and will have to register for VAT and appoint a fiscal representative if they hold stock in an EU country.



A restriction on income tax relief for finance costs against rental income on residential property has been phased in over the last four years. This began in 2017/18; for 2020/21, finance costs will no longer be allowed as a deductible expense, but rather as a reduction in tax liability on rental income at 20%. The rules are complicated and can produce unpredictable results.

Non-resident companies

As announced in past Budgets, and following consultation, foreign resident companies with income from UK rental properties become liable for corporation tax rather than income tax from 6 April 2020. The Budget included technical changes to allow such companies relief for financing costs that might otherwise fall in a gap between the income tax and corporation tax rules.

Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings

The annual tax charges on residential properties worth more than £500,000 that are owned through companies and other ‘envelope’ arrangements will go up for 2020/21 by a little over 1.6% on average. The charge on a property worth between £500,000 and £1 million rises from £3,650 to £3,700, and the maximum charge on a property worth more than £20 million rises from £232,350 to £236,250.

Stamp Duty Land Tax

Foreign resident buyers

With effect from 1 April 2021, foreign resident purchasers of residential property in the UK and Northern Ireland will be subject to a 2% surcharge on the Stamp Duty Land Tax they would otherwise pay. This is intended to reduce house price inflation and make property available for first-time buyers.

Tax Administration

Tax avoidance

No Budget would be complete without an announcement of a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion. This time, there seemed to be no specific schemes for the Chancellor to close – instead, he announced a range of measures to make life difficult for people who promote and ‘enable’ artificial tax avoidance schemes. There is also extra funding for HMRC to pursue tax avoidance.

Loan charge

The Budget confirmed that the Government will implement the recommendations of Sir Amyas Morse’s review of the ‘disguised remuneration loan charge’. This was intended to negate the benefit of tax avoidance arrangements going back to 1999.

The effect on some individuals was severe, and many argued that it was unfair to tax twenty years’ worth of income in one year when HMRC had known about the scheme for years without challenging it. The charge will only apply to loans made from 9 December 2010 to 5 April 2019, and a number of other concessions will help those affected to settle their bills. Anyone who is concerned that the rules might apply to them should take advice on what ought to be a better outcome.


In 2018 the Government announced an intention to move HMRC up the order of preference when a business enters insolvency. This is intended to make sure that taxes that a business has deducted from someone else - PAYE, NIC and student loan deductions from employees and VAT from customers, for example - are used to pay for public services rather than going to other creditors. This measure will now be introduced (and will be extended to include Northern Ireland) but will be delayed to 1 December 2020.

The human face of HMRC

Tax law often refers to a decision being made ‘by an officer’. Some taxpayers have challenged notices that have been issued automatically by HMRC’s computer on the basis that no human decision was involved. The law will be changed, with retrospective effect, to make sure that all notices issued by computer have their intended legal effect.

If you would like to discuss any issues raised in this article, please get in touch.

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