Changes to Inheritance Tax legislation: a guide

A review of Inheritance Tax legislation by the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has recommended a major shake-up to the Inheritance Tax (IHT) rules. Here is a guide to the main points.

Change from 7 to 5 years for Potentially Exempt Transfers

The most far-reaching proposal is reducing the number of years an individual has to live for before their gifts become exempt from IHT. This has been changed from seven to five years. The OTS say this seven-year rule creates difficulties as it is hard to trace back bank payments beyond six years.

The report also says that the current taper relief system is very complex and it would be simpler to abolish it. The OTS called for the so-called “14-year rule”, which can affect estates where lifetime gifts have been made to both individuals and trusts, to also be abolished.

Annual Exemptions

Major recommendations were made to the current annual exemptions available to taxpayers. The annual exemptions have not risen since the late 1970s/early 80s and as such have lost their effectiveness over the years.

The recommended action is for the plethora and complexity of annual exemptions to be simplified with one higher allowance replacing them all.

The OTS recommends that the abolition of the exemption for regular gifts out of surplus income should also be part of the allowance replacement.
Of the 275,000 estates that submitted an IHT form in 2015-16, only 579 made a claim for the relief. More than 50% of those claims were for less than £25,000 of gifts.

Interaction of IHT reliefs with Capital Gains Tax

Worryingly the OTS has recommended that where relief or exemption from Inheritance Tax applies on death, there should be no capital gains uplift on the relevant asset. The result is that the recipient will be treated as acquiring the asset at the historic base cost of the person who has died.

This will particularly affect families passing on farms and family businesses, where the recipient wishes to sell rather than continue to run the business.

Furnished Holiday Lettings (FHLs)

Quite rightly, the OTS queried why the Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax treatments of FHLs are different from the IHT treatment and recommended that the rules should be the same for all taxes. This could mean an exemption from IHT for FHL owners – some positive news at last for landlords.

Business Relief

The Business Relief rules were introduced in the 1970s to prevent family farms and businesses being split up to pay IHT bills, by exempting the value of the farm or business from IHT.

Business Relief applies to shares in unquoted trading companies and as such certain AIM shares are also free from IHT. The report questions whether it is within the policy intent of Business Relief to extend the relief to Aim shares and other indirect non-controlling holdings in trading companies.The loss of Business Relief on AIM shares will necessitate a wholesale review of High Net Worth Clients’ investment portfolios, to take into account the loss of Business Relief.

Life Assurance

Finally, the OTS has recommended changes to the term life insurance death benefit system, so that there is no need for term life insurance to be written into a trust for it to be IHT exempt.

Summary

Although these are only recommendations, this is the second review that The Chancellor has ordered into IHT, indicating that we can expect sweeping changes to what has been a reasonably stable tax system over the last few decades.

If have any concerns or think that any of these changes might affect you, then please contact our team.