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4 Dec 2020

Spending Review: five things that were in the small print

Find out how your finances could be affected by the details that didn't make it into the Chancellor's speech

Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered his Spending Review speech to the House of Commons, outlining the government's spending plans for the next financial year - but there's a lot of detail he didn't mention.

We reported on the Spending Review as it took place, but have now delved into the depths of the report and found some further indications of what's likely to happen next year.

Here, Which? reveals what was buried in the small print and how your finances could be affected.

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1. Your council tax bill could increase by 5%

The Spending Review says local authorities will be able to increase council tax by up to 2% next year without the need for a referendum, with an additional 3% precept to help fund social care.

This follows a 4% council tax cap in 2020-21, and a 4.99% cap in 2019-20.

With the coronavirus crisis adding pressure to already stretched services, it's likely a lot of councils will take the opportunity to maximise their income.

Your council tax could increase your bill by more than this; if a proposal for higher rises is passed in a local referendum, the council can go beyond 5% - in fact, in 2020-21 a total of 98 councils upped council tax rates beyond the government cap.

2. The personal allowance will rise by 0.5%

The personal allowance is set to increase by 0.5% next year, with the Spending Review confirming that it will rise in accordance with September's CPI rate of inflation.

This could mean you'd be able to earn an extra £70 in 2021-22 without having to pay income tax.

The personal allowance has been set at £12,500 since 2019-20, when then-Chancellor Philip Hammond brought in the higher thresholds 'ahead of schedule', but this also meant it was frozen for the following tax year.

The higher-rate tax band in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is set to increase by the same amount; currently, people start paying 40% higher-rate tax on earnings above £50,000, but in 2021-22, this will go up to £50,270.

Scotland has its own income tax bands, which differ to the rest of the UK.

3. National Insurance limits and thresholds will change

All National Insurance limits and thresholds, along with Class 2 and 3 contributions, will also be set according to the 0.5% CPI figure.

While the specific figures have not been announced, this could mean employed workers could earn around £68 more before Class 1 NI rates kick in, with a new threshold of around £9,568 (again, this may be rounded up or down).

Self-employed workers, too, should also be able to earn more before having to pay Class 2 and Class 4 contributions - currently, Class 2 NI comes in when you earn more than £6,475, and Class 4 payments are for those who earn more than £9,500.

Class 3 voluntary contributions are currently £15.30 per week, a 0.5% increase could see them rise to around £16.10.

4. Making Tax Digital is still happening

While the Making Tax Digital scheme has already come into force for businesses declaring VAT, there have been plans to bring income tax for taxpayers such as landlords and businesses into the same process. However, the deadline for compliance has been pushed back several times and currently stands at April 2023.

That may seem like a long way off, but the Spending Review confirmed £146m of continued investment for the programme, proving it's not going away any time soon and you might want to start preparing for it.

Making Tax Digital aims to make tax reporting easier and more accurate, by moving the process online. To comply, you just need to make sure you keep your records and submit your tax returns using compatible software.

5. The Universal Credit boost may end in April

As part of the government's measures to help those who had been financially affected by coronavirus, the Universal Credit standard allowance and basic element payments have been boosted by an extra £20 per week since April 2020.

This was billed as an emergency measure, set to last for a year - but there have been many calls since then for the help to be extended into 2021-22.

The Spending Review suggested this extra help would still end in April 2021, which would mean a huge income reduction for Universal Credit payments just days after the extended Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and official payment holiday help is set to finish at the end of March.

This article was originally published on 3 December 2020. It was updated on 4 December 2020 with confirmed tax figures from the Treasury.