UK Budget 2021: What are the implications for UK expatriates?

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15.03.21

Please note that this article is over six months old. While Blevins Franks takes care to make sure that information is accurate on the date of publication, some content may change over time. You should not rely on the accuracy of legislation and tax information in this article; take professional advice for your circumstances.

While there were few immediate changes in the latest UK Budget, the freezing of some allowances is set to increase tax bills in the long run.

While there was little in the way of immediate changes in the latest UK Budget, the freezing of some allowances is set to increase tax bills in the long run. 

The 2021 UK Budget predictably focused on ongoing pandemic support, bringing very few changes to personal taxes. Chancellor Rishi Sunak did, however, introduce some longer-term measures to collect more tax by freezing the main allowances and exemptions for the next five years.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the overall impact of these measures will be that the UK’s tax burden will rise to its highest level since the 1960s!

So what changes in April may affect UK nationals living abroad, and what can you do to minimise any negative impact?

UK income tax

UK taxpayers – including non-UK residents – see a slight increase to the personal income tax allowance thresholds at each end: £12,570 at the basic 20% tax band and £50,270 at the higher 40% rate. However, these will be frozen until at least April 2026.

This is estimated to bring 1.3 million more people into income tax liability, with one million more paying the higher tax rate, altogether netting an extra £8 billion in the 2025/6 tax year.

Savings and investments

The band of UK savings income that can be earned tax-free stays at £5,000 and the annual ISA subscription limit at £20,000 (£9,000 for a Junior ISA).

The dividend annual allowance remains at £2,000.

Remember: investments like ISAs may become taxable in your country of residence once you are non-UK resident. Take time to explore alternative arrangements that may be more tax efficient and better suit your circumstances, goals and risk appetite.

UK capital gains tax (CGT)

As with income tax, the annual CGT allowance will be frozen for the next five years. Unlike income tax, the allowance does not increase, staying at its current level of £12,300 for individuals (£6,150 for most trusts).

Despite expectations that CGT rates would be aligned with income tax rates, there is no change here, so rates remain between 10% and 28%.

Don’t forget that, in recent years, non-UK residents became liable for capital gains tax on most UK property and land.

UK pensions

Annual pension allowance

This remains at £40,000 – as it has been since 2016 – and starts reducing once ‘adjusted income’ reaches £240,000.

Lifetime allowance (LTA)

This will not increase with inflation as planned so remains at £1,073,100, where it sticks until at least 2026.

If your combined UK pension benefits are near the LTA threshold, you need to consider the potential impact of future growth. If investment markets recover in line with the Chancellor’s forecast that the economy will return to pre-pandemic levels by mid-2022, this could bring many more pension funds within the scope of the LTA’s 25% or 55% penalties.

The Treasury expects to collect an extra £250 million this way.

QROPS transfers

There were no changes to Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes, with transfers to EU/EEA-based QROPS still tax-free for EU residents. The 25% ‘overseas transfer charge’ continues to only apply to transfers outside the EU/EEA. But now the UK has left the bloc, this could potentially be extended to capture EU transfers in future.

Once in a QROPS, UK pension funds become immune to LTA penalties and future changes to UK pension rules while unlocking other benefits, so carefully consider your options here.

See the pros and cons of transferring to a QROPS

UK inheritance tax

Despite much anticipation that this year could see inheritance tax changes, again the only action was freezing the exemptions, allowances and reliefs for the next five years.

The tax-free ‘nil rate band’ allowance stays at £325,000 per person (unchanged since 2009!) The residential nil rate band (RNRB) – which provides extra tax relief when passing on a main home (including overseas) to direct descendants – remains at £175,000 per person.

The Treasury collected £5.2 billion in inheritance taxes in the 2019/20 tax year. With these latest freezes, they expect to generate an additional £15 million next year, increasing to £445 million by 2026.

What can you do to minimise the impact of the UK Budget?

Although the 2021 tax year brings relatively few changes, there are longer term implications. The Chancellor’s strategy of freezing allowances, exemptions and reliefs is designed to raise more tax revenue as people’s income, capital gains, and asset values grow. Taxpayers may also feel the pinch as the cost of living increases over time.

Wherever possible, you should make full use of the available allowances each year to help minimise your tax bill. However, no one action in isolation will make a substantial difference. You need to make sure your overall financial arrangements are structured as tax efficiently as possible for your life in your country of residence to help minimise exposure for you and your heirs.

As always, subsequent Budgets can change the current trajectory by introducing new taxes with little notice, but this is especially likely as the economy picks up and the government looks to recoup its pandemic spending.

This is a good prompt to think ahead and review your tax planning to check you are making the most of all the available tax-efficient opportunities, in the UK and your country of residence. For the best results, take personalised advice from a Blevins Franks cross-border specialist with understanding of both tax regimes.

Contact us for a tax planning review

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.

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