Budget measures you may have overlooked

The new rules surrounding pensions and individual savings accounts (Isas) have dominated the coverage of the Budget (including our own). So it is easy to forget that these are not the only measures that affect savers, investors and anyone about to retire.

There have been a number of significant changes to the tax treatment of various investments and savings products that you might have missed in the hubbub.

Firstly, if you’re a high net-worth individual being tempted by various clever-sounding tax-avoidance schemes, you probably want to think again. For a start, as we noted last week, you’ll now have to cough up any money the government believes it is owed from a disputed scheme up front – you’ll only get it back if a tax tribunal eventually rules in your favour.

On top of that, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) now has the power to take money directly from the bank accounts of those it claims owe unpaid tax. HMRC won’t be able to drain your account completely, and you will still be able to challenge its decisions in the courts.

However, the decision certainly increases the risks of taking a bet on any less-than-watertight schemes – and further appeals after an initial unfavourable judgement could also land you with extra penalties.

There have also been some changes to venture capital trusts (VCTs). VCTs are popular with some investors because, despite their high charges, they offer generous tax benefits to compensate for the fact they’re meant to be used to back high-risk small firms.

As with any such scheme, product providers have been keen to find ways to reduce the risk while keeping the tax breaks. But the government has now cracked down on this – VCTs can no longer include ‘green energy’ schemes, which already benefit from government subsidies.

This is to prevent ‘double-dipping’ of both subsidies (from the initial green energy scheme) and tax benefits (from the VCT packaging).

Meanwhile, on the savings side, there were a couple of other announcements that were overshadowed by the pension and Isa news that could still be useful to investors.

Firstly, from June you will be able to hold £40,000 in premium bonds, up from £30,000 currently. The cap rises again to £50,000 next year. There will be an additional £1m prize from August this year, but the overall prize fund will not change, meaning fewer overall individual winners.

Finally, National Savings & Investment will also launch ‘pensioner bonds’ from January 2015, aimed at the over-65s. The estimated interest rate is 2.8% for a year, and 4% over three years.

Merryn

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