The George Osborne legacy, appears, to be receding into history. There is no doubt our new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is determined to do things in a different way entirely. For a start, he has announced this may be the last ever Autumn Statement. And that there definitely won’t be any rabbits being pulled from any hats – instead, he has promised us a gimmick-free speech.
Despite these assurances, rumours abound Hammond might hold onto one last vestige of Osborne’s plans and change pensions tax relief. But I’m not so sure he will make sweeping changes, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, he has already shown he is quite happy to ditch past promises Only last month, the Treasury announced it would scrap plans for the secondary annuity market. These weren’t in their infancy. Instead, the market was due to go live in six months’ time, and already the Treasury, as well as large parts of the financial services industry, had committed serious time and money to investigating how to design a functioning market. This was a ‘brave’ decision – showing if it wasn’t happy with the inherited policy, Hammond’s Treasury was not prepared to take it forward.
Second, making changes to pensions tax relief is not a small tinkering with the rules. Instead, it will need Parliamentary time to be outlined, proposed and debated. Parliamentary time the Government really hasn’t got at the moment, when the focus is going to be firmly on Brexit, certainly for the remainder of this Parliament.
But if he decides he does have the appetite for change, what could Hammond propose? The concept of a single rate of tax relief is still a favourite in the industry – partly for its simplicity, but also for its fairness and redistributive nature. But there has also been increased discussion about moving to age-related tax reliefs. Although, this wouldn’t create too many problems for the niftier technology providers, it would, I suspect, create confusion for the public. Especially if their age-related tax relief changed each year on their birthday. The Government could also decide just to introduce bands of tax relief, possibly with a different annual allowance for each.
Hammond might decide to tinker with the lifetime allowance, and the possibility of a reduction shouldn’t be ruled out. The lifetime allowance charge is already proving to be a ‘nice little earner’ for the Treasury coffers (it brought in over £350 million between 2006 and 2015), and the number of people getting caught in its net is growing, it seems, exponentially.
Other possible changes are measures to stop – or at least slow down – pension scammers. A petition drawn up to address this issue has begun to gain traction, and it is now three quarters of its way towards the 10,000 signatures needed to get a response from Government. Richard Harrington the Pensions Minister has hinted the Government might tackle cold calling before the petition gets any further.
And there may be something in the Autumn Statement on withdrawals from bonds. HMT has recently consulted on making changes to these rules, and it seems likely we will see some development on this, possibly moving to the 100% premium withdrawal rate rules.
Autumn Statements were not often dull under George Osborne, but Hammond might decide to go for a ‘lite’ version with few changes for our industry. If I was being greedy I would ask for one thing – simplification. I would like to see simplification by scrapping the rules for lifetime allowance completely making life easier for consumers and advisers to understand the rules for pensions. I would like to see changes to the annual allowance to get rid of tapering and create one annual allowance for all. And I would like to see simplification to the Isa regime by creating simple rules with just one overall Isa allowance for the year – regardless of how many different Isa plans you may have.
As the countdown to 23 November begins in earnest, we can only hope Philip Hammond decides to take away detailed rules for pensions and savings, rather than adding to them.