Could inheritance tax be in line for a shake-up?

All bets are off when it comes to politics, and that fuels more intense speculation over what may or may not be included in a pre-Christmas Budget.

With the party conference season in full swing, Chancellor Sajid Javid hinted that the Treasury is poised to scrap or reform inheritance tax later this year.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Taxpayers' Alliance, Javid was asked if he would get rid of inheritance tax.

"We've already made some sensible reforms to that tax, but I understand the arguments against it," he responded.

"When people pay taxes already through work or investments, capital gains or other taxes, there's a real issue with then asking them to pay taxes all over again.

"Sensible changes have already been made but it's something that's on my mind."

That is, of course, assuming the current Government survives past 11pm on 31 October 2019 - when the UK is scheduled to formally leave the EU.

If it does hang on, Javid confirmed plans to deliver his first fiscal announcement before the end of the year - and reforming death duties could be on the cards.

Change is overdue

Estates are taxed at 40% on any amount that exceeds £325,000, except when the deceased leaves above the nil-rate band to their spouse.

This threshold has remained unchanged since April 2009, when Alistair Darling - one of Javid's predecessors - raised it from £312,000 to its current level.

It has also been frozen until 2020/21, with the current plan to adjust the threshold annually in line with consumer price inflation thereafter.

We could also see a set of new rules come into play, or inheritance tax scrapped altogether from April 2020 onwards.

Options for reform

Simplified rules on gifts

If you die within seven years of making a gift, the recipient may have to pay inheritance tax in certain circumstances.

The Office for Tax Simplification (OTS) recently called on the Treasury to reduce this period to five years.

The rate of tax owed on gifts goes down based on how many years ago the gift was made.

This taper relief, the OTS suggests, could be abolished so that everyone pays the same rate of inheritance tax.

Personal gift allowance

Anyone can give away up to £3,000 a year without the gifts being added to the value of their estate.

Any unused annual exemption can be carried forward to the following tax year, meaning up to £6,000 of exemption could be available in a single year.

Gifters can usually hand out as many gifts as they like to different recipients up to a value of £250, while there are other related exemptions such as gift towards a wedding.

The OTS proposed scrapping a raft of these allowances in favour of introducing a personal gift allowance, and an increased lower threshold for small gifts.

Fully digital system

In November 2018, the OTS recommended the Treasury should adopt a fully digital system for inheritance tax.

Its report said: "The Government should implement a fully-integrated digital system, including the ability to complete and submit a probate application."

Speaking at the time, Angela Knight, former chair at the OTS, said: "Improving the administration of this tax is important as having to deal with the current process can seem overwhelming to people at a time when they are both preoccupied and distressed."

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