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Spring Budget 2017: Three Key Recommendations

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Ahead of next Wednesday’s (8 March) Budget, set to be the last announced during the Spring, AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) has made three recommendations to the Chancellor aimed at boosting productivity, encourage saving and save the taxpayer money. These recommendations are largely revenue neutral.

Recommendation 1: Promote skills

Approximately twenty percent of AAT’s 80,000 student base are apprentices.  AAT welcomes the Government’s commitment to three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, if supported by a focus on timely completions and overall quality.

However, the UK’s skills needs extend well beyond the scope of apprenticeships and it is important to ensure the introduction of the new levy in April 2017 ultimately recognises the varying requirements of different sectors and is aligned with industrial strategy.

In time, AAT would therefore like to see the Apprenticeship Levy renamed as the Skills Levy and for levy monies to be able to be spent on high quality traineeships and other forms of training that will benefit individuals, employers and the economy as a whole.

AAT recently surveyed MPs across all parties on this issue and found that 65% support our suggestion that the levy should be developed to allow funding for skills other than apprenticeships.

Increasing the flexibility of the levy would foster improved productivity across the whole workforce, deliver greater value for money and yet have no significant revenue implications for the Exchequer.

Recommendation 2: Making Tax Digital

AAT wholeheartedly supports the ambition to make our tax system the most digitally advanced tax administration in the world, but remains concerned about the timetable for implementation and the costs MTD may place on both SMEs (60% of AAT members are employed by an SME) and taxpayers more generally. 

A recent Treasury Select Committee report highlighted that, “…the total cost to business (including software, hardware, training, agent fees and, above all, time) might exceed the total benefits in improved tax yield.”

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The amount of time small businesses are spending on dealing with tax issues is already too great and any increase would be far from welcome. An AAT study has found that 78% of MPs think that the time SMEs spend dealing with tax issues seriously impacts upon their ability to invest and create jobs.

Numerous concerns have been raised around timescales and the threshold for exemptions. The Select Committee described the £10,000 threshold as “palpably absurd” and the timescale for implementation as, “…too short a lead time for such fundamental change.”

AAT suggests that the qualifying threshold for MTD should be set at £83,000 (the current VAT threshold) falling to £11,000 (the personal allowance) over a three year period. This will assist SMEs whilst simultaneously helping HMRC achieve the best possible policy outcome. Revenue implications are minimal and yet the phased process of implementation would significantly increase the effectiveness and value for money of the programme.

Recommendation 3: Simplify ISA savings

In keeping with AAT’s ultimate objective of delivering a more simplified tax system, the current ISA regime requires attention because there is now an ISA for almost every day of the week, offering unnecessary complexity, bureaucracy and confusion for consumers.

Some ISAs have age limits, some do not, three have a maximum savings limit of £15,240 per annum, one has a £4,080 limit, another £4,000 and Help to Buy ISAs offer a £50 bonus for every £200 you save and offer a bonus of up to £3,000. In short the introduction of more and more ISAs is becoming increasingly confusing and should be stopped.

Some commentators have argued that the new personal savings allowance (PSA) has largely rendered ISAs obsolete and they should be scrapped entirely. This is because the PSA means every basic-rate taxpayer can earn £1,000 interest without paying tax on it (£500 for higher rate taxpayers) – equivalent to the interest on £100,000 in the best easy-access savings account. The PSA removes 95% of savers from paying tax on interest. AAT does not subscribe to this approach as it ignores the possibility of higher interest rates in the future; that the top paying interest accounts often require money to be locked away with no access whereas ISAs do not; and that spouses can inherit their deceased partner’s ISA allowance unlike personal allowances which cannot be passed on.

Instead AAT believes it would be far better to have one or two simple ISAs which merge the most important benefits and discard any unnecessary complexity.

ISA standardisation would make both their availability and features more widely understood and ultimately more effective in encouraging saving. This would also have the advantage of being more easily administered.

About AAT

  • AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) is the UK’s leading qualification and professional body for technical accountants and bookkeepers, and has over 140,000 members in over 100 countries. We offer a range of qualifications that are open to all regardless of previous education or age, such as the AAT Accounting Qualifications that provide a non-degree route into chartered accountancy, and the AAT Bookkeeping Qualifications that can support business growth through accurate and up-to-date financial records. Students encompass a wide range from school and college leavers, to older people hoping to change their career or learn the skills to run their own business.
  • An AAT Accountant is a qualified accounting professional with the practical and technical skills needed to support businesses with their accounting activities. Typical job roles of an AAT Accountant include: Financial Accountant, Commercial Analyst, Senior Finance Officer, Payroll Manager, VAT Accountant and Tax Supervisor. An AAT Accountant in the UK can sign off the accounts for small companies that meet two out of three of the criteria of turnover less than £10.2 million, total assets less than £5.1 million and less than 50 employees. Currently over half a million businesses trust AAT Accountants and AAT Bookkeepers to service their accounting requirements.
  • AAT awards around 90% of all technical qualifications in accounting in the UK, and generous exemptions are provided by many of the senior UK bodies including CIPFA, ICAEW, CIMA and ICAS. AAT has been listed in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For 2017.
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