Sunday, 24 May 2015

WHO WILL PAY FOR CARERS' PENSIONS?

A hundred thousand severely disabled people are being told they must set up a pension scheme for their carer. And no-one knows how the cost of doing so will be met. 

The people affected take what are called direct payments from their local authority to arrange their own care. The system was introduced in 2012 in England, Scotland, and Wales as a way of giving disabled people more independence and control over their care needs and how they were met. 

The local authority gives them the money - a direct payment - to pay for a carer or carers depending what they need. That payment is enough to include all the costs of employment - including national insurance, sick pay, holiday pay and so on. 

In general it has been seen as a great success - better for the disabled person and cheaper for the local authority. But it does mean that the disabled person becomes an employer. And from 1 June 2015 even the smallest employers will begin to be brought into the auto-enrolment of workplace pensions. They will have to provide a pension for their employee and pay into it. 

Who is auto-enrolled?
The people affected will have a carer who is 

  • their employee, 
  • aged 22 to state pension age (65 for a man and around 62.5 for a woman), and 
  • paid more than £10,000 a year - which is £192.30 a week or £833.33 a month. 

Someone on minimum wage of £6.50 an hour would reach those levels at 30 hours a week. And carers paid more than that - as many are - will be well above them. All figures are for gross pay.

People who are outside those ages or earn less than £10,000 will not have to be automatically enrolled. But may request to join a pension and if they do one will have to be provided. In some cases the employer will have to pay contributions too.

Employees can opt out of the auto-enrolment pension. But the employer must then re-auto-enrol them every three years. 

What will it cost?
The cost at first is likely to be modest. The contributions into the pension are 1% from employee and 1% from employer of the gross pay above £5824 (up to a maximum of £42,385).  So a carer working 35 hours a week on £9 an hour will earn £16,380 a year. The cost of 1% of the band of earnings which will be £8.80 a month which the disabled person will have to pay into a pension scheme. The carer will also get less. Another £8.80 will be taken off their gross income and paid in. However, they will get tax relief on that amount so the net cost will be £7.33 off their net pay.

But from October 2017 the contributions double to 2% each and then from October 2018 they rise to 3% from the employer and 5% from the employee. So the costs will by then be more significant, costing the disabled person £26.26 a month and the employee £36.67 on gross pay of £1365 a month.

Commercial employers can get tax relief on the payments they make - they count as a cost of employment and reduce the corporation tax they pay. But this tax relief is not of course available for an employer who is not a company and makes no profit. 

When will it happen?
Small employers with fewer than 30 employees will have to start auto-enrolment on what is called their staging date. That is the first of the month from 1 June 2015 to 1 April 2017. The date depends on the employer's PAYE reference number. A year before that date the employer will be written to by the Pensions Regulator, and again at six months and one month. Failure to comply with the new auto-enrolment duties can result in a fine of up to £400. Some disabled people have found the fairly small print letters and the tone of them intimidating.

The Pensions Regulator estimates that 100,000 disabled people will have to enrol their carer. That implies about 5000 a month will enter the system over the final 21 months of staging. 

The Pensions Regulator has more information online. But a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics found that 27% of disabled adults had never used the internet. 

Who will pay?
There seems little doubt that the local authority making the direct payment should meet the extra costs of auto-enrolment pensions. They are obliged to meet all the costs of employing the carer. Guidance issued by the Department for health says 

"The local authority should have regard to whether there will be costs such as recruitment costs, Employers’ National Insurance Contributions, and any other costs by reason of the way in which the adult’s needs will be met with the direct payment" (Care and Support Statutory Guidance Issued under the Care Act 2014 para 12.27

and footnote 170 on that page adds 

"Employers (including direct payment holders) will be required to comply with the duty to automatically enrol eligible workers into a qualifying workplace pension scheme and to meet the minimum contributions required by law."

But the local authorities seem completely unprepared. Will they review and revise the direct payments? How quickly will they do that? And how will they estimate the extra costs?

No-one seems to know. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services told me it did not know but would start collecting some data in the future. And the Local Government Association told Money Box it did not know.

The Department for Work and Pensions - which is responsible for direct payments - told me 

"The local authority should consider these employment costs, including automatic enrolment pension contributions, when making the direct payment award."

But the Department would not say if that meant the local authority had to meet the costs nor how they would do so.

It will be hard for a local authority to work out the cost of auto-enrolment. The staging date system means that disabled people will be brought into the scheme depending on their PAYE reference number which bears no relation to the area where they live. And the cost of contributions will depend on the exact amounts carers are paid. There seems to be no mechanism for the disabled person to convey this information back to the local authority. And it is not clear how or when the care package that includes these costs can be revised.

More information
You can listen to the Money Box item on auto-enrolment and disabled people on Money Box 23 May 2015 

24 May 2015
Vs. 1.01


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

INCOME TAX CUTS AHEAD

The 2015 Conservative Manifesto promises that the personal tax allowance will rise from its current £10,600 to £12,500 by 2020/21. And the higher rate tax threshold will increase from £42,385 to £50,000 over the same period. That is a rise equivalent to 3.4% a year every year, way above the forecast levels of CPI inflation which rises from 0.2% in 2015 to 2% in 2019 (Economic and Fiscal Outlook, Office for Budget Responsibility, March 2015 Table 1.1).

If the two levels are raised from their 2015/16 level to the promised amounts in even steps of 3.4% they will rise as shown in the table below.

 Current                   rising in equal steps  Manifesto
   2015/16   2016/17   2017/18   2018/19   2019/20    2020/21
Personal tax allowance £10,600 £10,955 £11,325 £11,700 £12,095 £12,500







Higher rate threshold £42,385 £43,810 £45,280 £46,800 £48,375 £50,000







NB allowances and threshold rounded to nearest £5. For the value of these cuts to taxpayers see Tax Cuts for the Better Off. Broadly they are worth £380 by 2020 to basic rate taxpayers and £1903 to higher rate taxpayers.

These rises are higher for the next two years than those already promised in the March 2015 Budget which put the allowance and the threshold up to £10,800 and £42,700 in 2016/17 and then to £11,000 and £43,300 in 2017/18. So expect a 'I'm being much more generous now I'm freed of the Lib Dem lead weight' in Budget II 2015. The Chancellor may even use it as an excuse to re-affirm that the idea of raising personal allowances was always his and not Danny Alexander's.

Of course the allowance and threshold do not have to change in equal steps. And it is possible that the generosity will be saved until closer to the next election. But the personal allowance is constrained by another promise - it is now linked to the National Minimum Wage.

The Conservative Manifesto promises that will be more than £8 by the end of the decade. So it must be at least £8.01 by no later than October 2020. It also promises that anyone working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will pay no income tax - in other words will earn no more than the personal tax allowance. So the personal tax allowance and the minimum wage must rise in step.

At the moment someone on National Minimum Wage will earn £10,296 in 2015/16 so the policy is already fulfilled. Under the rises in the table above that would remain true for the whole of this Parliament until 2020/21. If the minimum wage rises in equal steps it would rise by 3.6% a year to reach £8.01 by October 2020 - via £6.94, £7.20, £7.46, and £7.73. Every tax year 30 hours a week on that pay - which changes in October - would be comfortably below a personal tax allowance which rose in steps of 3.4%.

But it does mean that the Chancellor must watch the Low Pay Commission decisions on what the level of minimum wage will be each October. And that may influence his decision on the personal tax allowance which is linked to his decision on the higher rate threshold.

So he may not be a lame duck Chancellor, but he is certainly boxed in by election promises.

13 May 2015
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Monday, 11 May 2015

LAME DUCK CHANCELLOR?

George Osborne told me he would not be a lame duck Chancellor after the Prime Minister ruled out rises in Income Tax, National Insurance, or VAT for the whole of the next Parliament. In a Tax Pledge on 29 April David Cameron restated and clarified the Manifesto.

  • No increases in income tax rates
  • No increases in VAT - nor an extension of its scope
  • No increases in National Insurance - nor an increase in its ceiling above the higher rate threshold

Those three raise three out of every four tax pounds. So what might he do to bring the deficit down to zero by 2019 as also promised?

Income tax
On income tax his hands are tied further. Not only will it not increase, but £7 billion will be spent raising the personal allowance from £10,600 this year to £12,500 by 2020/21 and raising the threshold where higher rate 40% tax starts from £42,385 this year to £50,000 in 2020/21.

Two other pledges on income tax also constrain him.

  • The rise in the higher rate threshold will never be lower than inflation (expected to mean CPI). 
  • The personal allowance will always be sufficient to ensure that no-one working 30 hours on the minimum wage will pay income tax.   

As I explain in Income Tax Cuts Ahead the personal allowance and higher rate threshold will have to rise significantly over the next five years. And there is little wriggle room for any extra take from income tax.

VAT
The Manifesto promise of no VAT increase was extended by the tax pledge to mean no extension in its scope either. So £41 billion of tax saved by zero rating food, new dwellings, domestic passenger transport, books (on paper), newspapers, and magazines, children's clothing, water and sewerage services etc are all safe. As is the 5% rate on domestic energy. And the exemption of domestic rents (cost £4.35bn), private education (£3.8bn), private health services (£2.95bn), finance and insurance (cost £4.5bn), and others is safe.

Oh, and there won't be another pasty tax - charging VAT on  pies sold above ambient room temperature proposed and then all but withdraw in Budget 2012. That would definitely be an extension of its scope. A move the chancellor told me on Money Box on 2 May was 'a mistake' which he had admitted.

National Insurance
At the moment there are two rates for employees. 12% of earnings from £155 to £817 a week (equivalent to £8060 to £42,484) and 2% on income above that. In other words, just as the rate of income tax rises from 20% to 40% the rate of NI falls from 12% to 2%. The tax pledge made it clear that link would continue as the income tax higher rate threshold rises to £50,000.

A lower rate of NI for employees in some pension schemes ends from April 2016. And the self-employed pay in a different way. They pay Class 2 - a flat rate £2.80 a week Class 2 which gives entitlement to state pension. On top of that they pay Class 4 contributions of 9% of earnings between £8060 and £42,385. This 9% rate is lower than the employee rate because self-employed people cannot pay into SERPS or state second pension. But from April 2016 state second pension will be ended and the basic state pension will be around £35 higher than it is now.

From April 2016 Class 2 contributions will be abolished and rolled up into Class 4. So that rate of 9% will have to rise slightly which in any event will stretch the no rises in NI pledge. So could it be stretched further to raise the 9% rate a bit further towards 12%?

Other taxes
The taxes that are left are a long list of things which generally bring in relatively little and some of which are highly unlikely to be increased. So how might the Chancellor raise other tax income?
  • Corporation tax? Brings in £42.3bn (2014/15) but is falling to 20% from April. Irreversible politically.
  • Bank Levy? Collected £2.7bn but HSBC already using it as a reason to threaten to quit the UK.
  • Inheritance tax? Nope. Its £3.7bn take will fall under plans to introduce a special exemption for the family home.
  • Petrol and diesel tax? £27.2bn a year but would be seen as anti-business, anti-rural, and anti-consumer. The above inflation escalator has already been scrapped and inflation rises cancelled. Unlikely.
  • Vehicle Excise Duty (£6bn) is very out of kilter as emissions fall and new vehicles pay less. Time for a rebanding or restructuring.
  • Capital Gains Tax (£5.8bn) one of George Osborne's first reforms in 2010. Could be due another look. But the £13.3bn exemption for gains on the main home unlikely to be changed. 
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax (£10.7bn)? Unlikely as it has only just been reformed.
  • Stamp duty on shares (£3bn) unlikely to change
  • Tobacco duties? They brought in £9.5bn in 2015/16 and could be extended to e-cigarettes
  • Alcohol duties brought in slightly more £10.5bn but tax on spirits, beer, and cider have recently been cut and wine duty frozen. 
  • Air passenger duty (£3.2bn) has recently been restructured and cut.
  • Insurance premium tax (£3bn) is a possibility
  • Landfill tax, climate change levy, and aggregates levy (£3bn) could be sold as a green measure but anti business
  • Betting and Gaming duty £2.1bn - popular but would need further action to prevent offshore avoidance.  
  • Customs duties raise £3bn but scope for significant rises limited.
Even large rises in most of the above could not be used to produce anything approaching the easy £4.4bn from a 1p rise in basic rate income tax in 2016/17, the £5.4bn from a 1% rise in VAT, or the £9.6bn from a 1% rise in employee and employer VAT. All of which have been ruled out for five years.

Negative taxes
Tax credits - paying money to low income households - cost £29.7bn in 2014/15, slightly more than the year before. Despite five years of cuts the Government spent £2bn more on tax credits in 2014/15 than in 2009/10. Further cuts would have to be very tough to save money.

Child benefit - where promises not to change have been made but are slightly vague - cost £11.5bn. Possibly some scope for cuts there.

Version 1.02
13 April 2015


Saturday, 18 April 2015

TAXFREE MINIMUM WAGE

The Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election promised to "pass a law to ensure we have a Tax-Free Minimum Wage". The promise formed the centrepiece of David Cameron's presentation of the manifesto in Swindon on 15 April. It's a good sound bite. But between 400,000 and 500,000 people on the minimum wage will pay tax even under the Conservative plans.

Tax-free now
At the moment the adult rate of the National Minimum Wage is £6.50 an hour. That will rise to £6.70 from 1 October 2015. The personal tax allowance is £10,600 a year or £203.85 a week. Over the whole tax year - half the time at one rate, half at the other - 30 hours work at minimum wage would bring in £10,296 which is below the personal allowance so no income tax would be due. Another hour a week would sneak over the limit by £39.20 and about a penny a week income tax would be due.

So those working 30 hours a week or less already have a tax free minimum wage. And the promise in the manifesto is already fulfilled. People aged 18-20 could work 38 hours on the £5.30 rate and be below the personal allowance and 16-17 year olds could work 52 hours on the £3.87 rate.

Tax-free in future
"In the next Parliament, we will [raise] the tax-free Personal Allowance so that those working 30 hours on the Minimum Wage pay no income tax at all." (pp. 25-26).

The manifesto also says the party is committed to "a Minimum Wage that will be over £8 a week by the end of the decade." A minimum wage of £8.01 for 30 hours a week would produce an income of £12,495.60 in a year. And guess what? The manifesto also promises a personal tax allowance of £12,500 by the end of the next parliament.

So a tax-free minimum wage - on the manifesto definition at least - has already been achieved and would be achieved every year of the next parliament.

What is full-time?
The Office for National Statistics does define full-time work as 30 hours a week or more in its Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. And the latest report of the Low Pay Commission, which fixes the minimum wage, estimates that 60% of the 1.4 million workers on the minimum wage work part-time, less than 30 hours a week, and 4% work 30 hours. So that leaves 36% - up to half a million - who work more than 30 hours and will earn enough to pay income tax.

The estimate is approximate as some working on the under 21 rates will be below the level to pay tax even if they work more hours. The actual number is probably between 400,000 and 500,000.

National Insurance
Income tax is not the only tax on earned income. National Insurance is 12% and begins at a much lower level £8060 or £155 a week. To escape NI you must work fewer than 24 hours a week on minimum wage. On average people on minimum wage work 26.2 hours a week and would pay £2.46 a week NI.

The Conservative manifesto makes no mention of raising the National Insurance threshold. Nor do those of any other major party.

18 April 2015
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TRIPLE LOCK TO CONTINUE

The three biggest parties – Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrats – are all committed to preserving the Triple Lock for the State Pension. The lock guarantees that the basic state pension, currently £115.95 a week, will rise by prices, earnings, or 2.5% whichever is the highest.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the triple lock cost £4.6 billion in 2015/16 alone compared with the cost of using earnings as the index to raise the pension from 2012. That represents a major transfer of state support from younger people to older ones. Over the next parliament the cost of the triple lock compared with raising the pension in line with prices will be much more.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicts that inflation will be just 0.2% this year. But under the triple lock the basic state pension will rise by at least 2.5% in April 2016. The OBR forecasts that the rate of CPI inflation will be below the 2.5% floor of the triple lock in every year of the next parliament.

So we know that the state pension will rise from the present £115.95 by at least 2.5% a year to reach at least £131.20 from April 2020. If the pension rose with CPI instead of 2.5% then it would be just £124.30 from April 2020. And that £6.90 a week extra will mean a cumulative extra bill for the state pension of £12 billion over the next parliament and another £4.6 billion in the year 2020/21 to be paid by the next but one government.

And it gets worse – or at least more expensive. The third ward of the triple lock is earnings. Over the last five years that has never been an issue as earnings have been outpaced by either prices or 2.5%. But earnings are already outpacing inflation and the OBR forecasts that average earnings will grow, as they have in the past, by around two percentage points above inflation. OBR predicts average earnings to rise by 3.1% in 2016, 3.7% in 2017, 4% in 2018, and 4.4% in 2019. So it will be earnings not the floor of 2.5% which will be used to raise the state pension after 2016. That implies a pension of £138 a week by April 2020 which is more than £13.50 a week above the level needed to keep up with prices alone.

There are about 13 million pensioners and that number is not expected to fall – in fact despite the rise in women’s state pension age the number receiving a state pension has risen in just about every quarter since women’s pension age began to creep up from April 2010. Then the number of state pensioners was 12.5 million, now it is around 13 million. So let us assume it will be 13 million on average for the next five years. The minimum extra cost of the state pension rising by 2.5% instead of prices will be £12 billion over the next parliament. And if the earnings figures turn out to be true the extra cost will be £17 billion. 

These are back of the envelope figures. Two factors mean they are too high. 

1. As their state pension income rises, pensioners will be floated off means-tested benefits such as pension credit, housing benefit and council tax support, saving the Government money.

2. Not everyone gets the full basic state pension. Some get less, some more. Any extras on top of the basic are not protected by the triple lock and rise just with prices inflation. So the triple lock only affects a maximum of £115.95 a week. 

But a third factor means the estimate is too low.

3. From April 2016 the new state pension for those reaching pension age will be a lot more than the basic state pension – probably at least £154 a week. As things stand it appears that new pension will be fully protected by the triple lock. So as each new wave of pensioners arrives the triple lock will cost more compared with prices indexation.


Whatever savings there are from (1) and (2) may well be offset by (3). So it may be back of the envelope. But it is not wide of the mark. And whatever the final figure of the cost of the triple lock over the next five years, it seems unlikely to me that the same commitment will make it into the party manifestos for the 2020 election. 

FOOTNOTE
A final note on whether this comparison is a fair one at all. Before the 2010 election the three main parties were committed to raising state pensions by earnings rather than prices. So the extra cost calculated above using earnings as the index would have occurred anyway if that policy had continued. Comparisons with 'would have beens' or 'counter-factuals' as they are now called, are always difficult and needs choices to be made. My choice is to ignore this earnings link and compare the Triple Lock with a rise in prices, the standard way of increasing benefits and pensions for many years until 2010. However, even that assumes that the index would have changed from the RPI to the CPI. That, as I have noted in Triple Locked Down, did have a considerable effect on the level of the state pension at the end of the Coalition Government.

18 April 2015
Version 1.00

This blogpost is a corrected and updated version of my Money Box newsletter 17 April 2015. Subscribe to future newsletters 

Monday, 13 April 2015

UNVEILING THE NON-DOM NUMBERS

In an election period government departments are reluctant to answer any questions that could be politically sensitive. They call it ‘purdah’ – a term which in fact describes the practice of some religions to hide women from the public gaze, especially that of men from outside their families.

So when I asked HMRC on 8 April for some figures which it had already made public through Freedom of Information requests I perhaps should not have been surprised when it refused to send them to me, citing ‘purdah’ for refusing. In Civil Service language purdah clearly means hiding facts from the public gaze just when men and women outside the political family need to see them most - when they are making decisions about political matters!

These now redacted figures cast light on non-doms - the 100,000 or so people who live and often work in the UK but are not ‘domiciled’ here. Hence non-dom(iciled). 

I learned about the existence of the numbers when some were published in a letter to the Financial Times on 8 March by a Mr Mark Davies. I wanted to check them with HMRC and that is when it drew the veil of purdah over them. Fortunately Mark himself was more forthcoming. Though I should say right away that Mark Davies Associates is a firm of tax advisers with the website nondom.com. Guess what it advises on! So Mark is not a disinterested party. 

What is a non-dom?
The figures later. But first what is a non-dom? The concept of domicile is a strange – and strangely British – one. It dates back to 1799 when the first income tax was imposed by Pitt the Younger to raise money to fight Napoleon. Under the Duties on Income Act 1799 (39 Geo. III c.13) the tax was 10% on all income above £200 a year with lower rates on income from £60 to £200. 

From the start the tax applied to all residents on their income arising in the UK or elsewhere and on non-resident subjects on any income on property that arose in Great Britain. At the time many people from the UK lived, worked, invested in, and profited from countries around the world that were part of the British Empire. It was seen as reasonable that money brought to the UK would be subject to the new tax. But overseas earnings which were spent and invested abroad should not be caught, even if the individual spent much of their time in the UK. The notion of ‘domicile’ was born. 

Nowadays, domicile is where you call home. Your original domicile is the country that your father (or your mother if they were not married) called home when you were born. That stays with you unless you choose to change it. To do that you must live somewhere else and call that place your home, probably plan to die there. Once you have changed your domicile that stays with you wherever you travel or stay unless you change it again. So UK citizens can change their domicile and keep that foreign domicile even if they return to live and work in the UK. HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver does just that – born in Derby his domicile is Hong Kong where he worked for many years and where he says he will return when his work in the UK is done.

For a registered non-dom any income (or capital gain) from outside the UK is taxed where it arises and is only taxed in the UK if it is brought here. That means the complex rules on domicile can be exploited by wealthy UK residents with worldwide income to reduce their UK tax liability. 

The idea of taxing non-doms further was first proposed by George Osborne, then shadow Chancellor, in 2007.In his speech to the Conservative Party conference on 1 October he promised "a flat annual levy of around £25,000 for those who register for non-domicile status".The idea was taken up by the Labour Government and from April 2008 a flat rate non-dom tax charge was introduced by the Chancellor Alistair Darling at £30,000 for non-doms who had lived in the UK for seven out of the last nine years. 

A higher band of £50,000 for those here for 12 out 14 years was introduced by George Osborne as Chancellor in the Coalition Government of 2010-2105. The higher charge began on 6 April 2012. And from 6 April 2015 a new maximum charge of £90,000 is levied on those who have lived here for 17 out of the last 20 years. 

Even after the change the Government said the system “remains a very generous tax regime.” Not least because in the first seven years of UK residence no charge is made. 

Non-doms and what they pay
So, the numbers. The figures provided by HMRC under the FoI request of Mark Davies show that out of the 110,700 UK resident non-doms in 2012/13, 64,000 of them chose not to take advantage of their status and were taxed here on their worldwide income. The remaining 46,700 chose to be taxed on foreign income only if it was remitted to the UK. And of those only 5000 actually paid the flat-rate charge. Which implies the other 41,700 had been here for less than seven out of the last nine years. Altogether those 46,700 paid £4.6 billion in income tax in 2012/13. Which indicates an average taxable income in the UK of around £240,000. The remaining 64,000 who avoid the flat-rate charge by paying their tax normally handed over average income tax of £24,687 – suggesting an average taxable income of around £87,000.

Those are the figures that HMRC decided to veil from the public gaze just at the time when that same public was trying to decide whether scrapping the concept of domicile would raise – or cost – the UK money. Thanks a bunch. 

I should add that the figures that HMRC was willing to reveal were slightly different giving the number of UK resident non-doms in 2012/13 as 114,800. That could be because the FoI figures relate only to those who complete a self-assessment tax return. But until after the election I shall not be able to clarify that.

13 April 2015
Version 1.01

This blogpost is a longer version of the introduction to my Money Box newsletter of 11 April 2015. Keep up to date by subscribing to future Money Box newsletters

Monday, 30 March 2015

TRIPLE LOCKED DOWN

The basic state pension would be £1.15 a week higher from April 2015 if the Coalition Government had not changed the rules which the previous Government used to increase it. 


2001-2010
Under the previous Labour government the state pension was increased each April by inflation or 2.5% whichever was the higher. The measure used for inflation was RPI, the Retail Prices Index.

This rule was announced to Parliament by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his Pre-Budget Report on 27 November 2001.

"the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I have decided that...in future, the [basic] state pension will rise by at least 2.5 per cent...or more if inflation is higher." (col. 836-837)

The rule was confirmed as government policy by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 15 June 2005 and again in the Pre-Budget Report on 9 December 2009 and was used for nine pension upratings from April 2002 to April 2010.

Brown's 'double lock' rule was a response to the embarrassment in April 2000 when the the basic state pension went up by just 75p – from £66.75 a week to £67.50. At the time the pension was increased each April by the rise in prices the previous September as measured by the RPI. The April 2000 rise in the pension was in line with this rule. At the time inflation was low and the pension was increased by 1.1%, the RPI in September 1999. But when this rise was announced in November 1999 it was widely condemned both in the press and among pensioners, some of whom felt so insulted they sent 75p - which was less than the price of three first class stamps - to Gordon Brown.

The Coalition
Before the May 2010 General Election the three main parties - Conservative, Liberal Democrats, and Labour - had all committed themselves to raise the state pension by the rise in earnings rather than prices and the understanding was that the rule would be earnings or prices whichever was higher, although that was not always specifically stated. Historically earnings have nearly always risen more rapidly than prices, though from early 2008 that stopped being the case and from 2010 earnings rose barely at all and even fell on some occasions.

The Liberal Democrat party went further and proposed in its manifesto (p.18) to raise the pension by earnings, prices or 2.5% whichever was the higher. That policy of a 'triple guarantee' was adopted by the Coalition government (p.26). The phrase 'triple lock' was in use by 6 July 2010.

However, the value of the triple lock was weakened by the Coalition Government's separate decision to change the index used to measure prices. Its June 2010 Budget announced  (para 2.32) that it would change the index used to raise benefits each year from the RPI to the Consumer Prices Index or CPI. Although the CPI was preferred by statisticians, the maths it uses ensures it is nearly always lower than the RPI by around one percentage point.

That cost-saving measure began for most benefits from April 2011 but was delayed for the basic state pension (para 2.33) until April 2012. But then for four upratings 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 the basic state pension was increased by the highest of earnings, CPI, or 2.5%.

In two of those years CPI was below 2.5% so 2.5% was used instead. But under the Brown 'double lock' rule the RPI would have been used for four years and the 2.5% floor only in 2015 when RPI was lower than 2.5%.



Source: ONS, DWP and Paul Lewis calculations using September indices and official uprating and rounding rules.

The result is that the basic state pension would have been higher for four years of the Parliament. And by April 2015 it would have been £117.10 a week instead of £115.95, an extra £1.15 a week or £59.80 a year. The total loss to a person receiving the full basic state pension is £163.80 over five years of Coalition upratings. The loss is due entirely to the change in price uprating from RPI to CPI.

Government response
The Coalition Government has claimed that Labour would have raised the state pension only by earnings. On 9 December 2014 Andrea Leadsom, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, told a Conservative MP that the triple lock had benefited pensioners by £560 compared with the Labour policy. That claim is based on Labour's 2010 Manifesto which states "we will restore the link between the basic state pension and earnings from 2012" (p.6:4) with no mention of prices or the 2.5% floor.

The Labour promise is the same as that in the Conservative Party Manifesto for the 2010 election which committed the party to "restoring the link between the basic state pension and average earnings" (p.12). It is implausible that a Conservative or Labour government would not have used an alternative price measure if that was higher than earnings and unlikely that either would have abandoned the 2.5% floor.

In any case this note compares the actual Coalition Government policy with the actual policy of the previous Labour Government and does not speculate about what would have happened if the 2010 General Election had turned out differently.

30 March 2015
vs 1.01