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Budget 2021: from fiscal drag to super-deductions

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As the chancellor sits down after delivering his speech, let's start with the things that have not become more complicated. The rates and thresholds for the main taxes (income tax, national insurance, VAT, CGT and IHT) are unchanged, with additional revenue to follow in future years through fiscal drag (by freezing allowances).

There will be relief amongst business owners that no significant changes to capital taxes were announced: on this front, the Budget favours stability over change.

For corporate taxes, it is a different story. The headlines will be about the new 25% rate from 2023, a big hike from the current 19%. But that masks a more nuanced story, with some businesses likely to benefit in the short term from the effect of a temporary super deduction (130% tax relief for capital investment) and more generous loss relief rules (allowing companies to reclaim tax paid in the past three years by carrying back current losses, up to a limit of £2m per group). 

The real story, though, is about complexity. One of the selling points of the UK's current corporate tax regime is its relative simplicity: one low rate, payable by all companies on their profits. The Budget turns that on its head by introducing a future low profits rate (19%) and a tapered rate for businesses with profits between £50k and £250k. For banks, who currently pay an 8% surcharge on their corporation tax profits, change is also on the horizon, with the Chancellor noting that the total rate (25% + 8% = 33%) would otherwise be globally uncompetitive. For multinationals, a new top rate of 31% (up from the current 25%) would apply to profits artificially diverted from the UK.  

These sources of tax complexity - taxing different companies or activities at different rates - are familiar from past Budgets. The final business tax change is a new, but no less complex proposal: freeports. Whilst freeports potentially act as an incentive for investment, they are by definition a source of tax complexity, because they operate under different tax and customs rules to the outside world.  

For private businesses, the overall sense is probably relief: whilst taxes are going up in future, as was expected, the overall increase (at least in the short term) looks manageable. For tax directors, looking to understand the implications of these changes, the job does not get any easier.

Categories: In brief