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Autumn Budget 2021: what was in the small print?

Find out what the Chancellor included in the Budget but didn't mention in his speech

Autumn Budget 2021: what was in the small print?

Cheaper pints, cheaper flights and higher minimum wages all made headlines after yesterday’s Autumn Budget. But there’s a lot more to the Budget than what the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said in his speech. 

At every Budget, after the Chancellor sits back down, the government publishes two major documents: the ‘red book’ and the overview of tax legislation and rates (OOTLAR).

These two digital tomes contain hundreds of pages of detail expanding on what the Chancellor says, and detailing measures he didn’t mention at the dispatch box.

Often these are relatively small, but sometimes bigger measures are hidden within.

This year, the Which? Money team has read both Budget documents so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found.

A possible online sales tax

It’s been rumoured and requested for a long time now, especially after multiple lockdowns saw online retail giants draw bigger sections of the market, but this year’s Budget doesn’t include an online sales tax.

What it does include is the promise of more consultation on the subject. The red book says the government will ‘continue to explore the arguments for and against a UK-wide Online Sales Tax’.

Some exploration appears to have been done already, as the book makes it clear the revenue from a possible online sales tax would be used to reduce business rates.

Proponents of an online sales tax say it would help protect the high street by taxing online-only retailers like Amazon, Asos and eBay. Without bricks-and-mortar stores, these firms are exempt from business rates, which some argue gives them an unfair advantage.

We might find out more about this soon, as the government says it will publish its consultation ‘shortly’.

Capital gains tax property deadline extended

You now have 60 days, instead of 30, to report and pay capital gains tax (CGT) if you sell a UK property. This change, effective immediately, was recommended by the Office of Tax Simplification to ensure taxpayers have enough time to complete the CGT process.

You pay capital gains tax when you sell something that’s increased in value.

Rates vary depending on your tax band and the type of asset you’re selling. You have an annual CGT allowance of £12,300, which remained frozen at this Budget. This is the amount of profit you can make on what you’ve sold before CGT kicks in.

Property-wise, CGT is only usually payable on second homes or buy-to-let properties. If you’re selling your main home, you’ll be entitled to ‘private residence relief’.

Pension ‘net pay’ top-up

For the most part, the pensions tax relief system was left untouched at this year’s Budget. But one change was pushed through in the accompanying documents, and it could see 1.2 million low earners benefiting by an average of £53 a year.

Due to an anomaly, low earners in ‘net pay’ pension schemes – where pension contributions are taken from your pay in full before tax is deducted – do not receive tax relief on these contributions.

From April 2024, this will change. The government will introduce a top-up of 20% for people this applies to, bringing them in line with other pension savers.

Benefit rates review

The Government’s OOTLAR document usually sets out how much certain benefits will pay in the following tax year.

However, this year the document didn’t deliver. Instead, it stated: ‘Following the publication of CPI figures for September 2021 on 20 October, the government will conduct a review of benefits rates for 2022 to 2023. The outcome of the government’s review, including any changes to rates, will be announced in November 2021 and implemented in April 2022.’

Inflation measured 3.1% in September and it’s what the state pension is due to rise by next year thanks to the ‘double lock’. However, those in receipt of child benefit, tax credits, and guardians allowance will need to wait to see if the 3.1% boost will be applied to their payments.

Some National Insurance thresholds to rise

The Chancellor didn’t bring up the National Insurance 1.25 percentage point increase coming in April 2022 in his speech, but the documents confirmed they are on the way.

However, the red Budget book revealed that some NI income thresholds are rising by 3.1% (in line with inflation), which means you may be able to keep more money than you might have thought.

The documents also revealed how much Class 2 and Class 3 NI rates will go up by.

Married couple’s allowance boosted

There are usually a few changes to tax allowances in the OOTLAR, and this year was no exception.

The married couple’s allowance is available to people born before 6 April 1935. It can reduce a partner’s tax bill by 10%, and the income limit is being raised from £30,400 to £31,400.

The minimum and maximum amounts of married couple’s allowance will also increase, to £3,640 and £9,415 respectively.

Blind Person’s Allowance is also rising from £2,520 to £2,600.

However, marriage allowance, which allows you to transfer a portion of your personal allowance to your partner, will remain frozen at £1,260 in the next tax year.

Continued high inflation

The Chancellor shares the economic forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) each Budget, and he did reveal its prediction that inflation will rise to 4% next year.

What he didn’t say, however, is that the OBR expects it to take until 2024 for inflation to return to its 2% target level.

This, according to the red book, is due to the effects of ‘global supply issues’ and ‘recent increases in wholesale energy and other input prices’.

Hospitality VAT cut ended

In March, the Chancellor cut VAT for the hospitality and tourism industry to a temporary rate of 5% to help the sector recover from a year of lockdowns.

The rate was raised to 12.5% at the end of September, and this year’s OOTLAR confirms it will return to 20% from April 2022, bringing it in line with the VAT rate for other businesses.

Some businesses might raise their prices in light of the full rate’s return, but it’s worth noting that measures to reduce business rates (which did make the Chancellor’s speech) could balance this out.

Electric vehicle investment

The Budget was far less focused on countering the climate crisis than many expected, especially considering its proximity to COP26, which starts on Sunday 31 October.

The red book did include a mention of electric vehicles that wasn’t in the speech, however. The government will provide £620m in funding to improve public charging infrastructure in residential areas, along with targeted plug-in vehicle grants to improve uptake with consumers.

There’s also a further £817m for developing electric vehicle supply chains.

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