Saturday, 11 October 2014

SCOTTISH TAX LESS TAXING

Anyone buying a property in Scotland from 1 April will pay no stamp duty. Instead they will pay a new Land & Buildings Transaction Tax. The Scottish government says the new tax will be fairer and 90% of home-buyers will pay less. It will raise the same amount of money. So it follows that the other 10% will pay more – in some cases a lot more.

Stamp Duty Land Tax
At the moment throughout the UK anyone buying a residential property has to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax – SDLT. It is a strange tax. Nothing is payable on a property bought for £125,000 or less. But once that threshold is crossed a 1% tax applies to the whole price – not just the amount above £125,000. That is why it is called a ‘slab tax’. So a home sold for £150,000 is taxed at £1500. Once the price goes over £250,000 the tax is 3% - again on the whole price. So a £250,000 home costs £2500. But a £250,001 sale would generate a tax of £7500. The next threshold is a 4% tax above £500,000, 5% on homes selling for over £1 million and a 7% tax on those over £2 million.

Land & Buildings Transaction Tax
The new Scottish tax is very different. It starts later – not until a sale exceeds £135,000. And then the tax is only levied on the excess above that level. It starts at 2%. So on a £150,000 property the tax works like this. Take £135,000 from £150,000 which is £15,000 and multiply it by 2% which gives tax of £300. A lot less than the £1500 SDLT. The 2% tax applies up to £250,000 when it rises to 10%. But again that is only due on the amount above £250,000 plus of course the 2% on the amount between £135,000 and £250,000. But that still means any home bought for £324,285 or less will pay less tax in Scotland than in the rest of the UK from April. Another band taxed at 12% begins at £1 million. Some very expensive properties will pay almost double under LBTT compared with SDLT.

The table shows how the taxes compare.

Sale price
SDLT
LBTT
LBTT-SDLT
£125,001
£1,250
£0
-£1,250
-100%
£135,000
£1,350
£0
-£1,350
-100%
£150,000
£1,500
£300
-£1,200
-80%
£200,000
£2,000
£1,300
-£700
-35%
£250,000
£2,500
£2,300
-£200
-8%
£250,100
£7,503
£2,310
-£5,193
-69%
£275,000
£8,250
£4,800
-£3,450
-42%
£300,000
£9,000
£7,300
-£1,700
-19%
£324,285
£9,729
£9,728
£0
0%
£400,000
£12,000
£17,300
£5,300
44%
£520,000
£20,800
£29,300
£8,500
41%
£600,000
£24,000
£37,300
£13,300
55%
£750,000
£30,000
£52,300
£22,300
74%
£1,000,000
£40,000
£77,300
£37,300
93%
£1,100,000
£55,000
£89,300
£34,300
62%
£1,500,000
£75,000
£137,300
£62,300
83%
£2,000,000
£100,000
£197,300
£97,300
97%
£2,100,000
£147,000
£209,300
£62,300
42%
£5,000,000
£350,000
£557,300
£207,300
59%

Stamp duty is widely resented. Buyers have already struggled to save up a big deposit, paid a fee to the lender, a surveyor, a broker and a solicitor, and will probably have paid for removal costs. So having to pay a tax as well – which is demanded before the deal is done – can sometimes be the last straw. And if it is difficult for first time buyers it can be doubly so for those who trade up. Crossing one of the slab thresholds can put the tax up by thousands of pounds.

The Scottish government says that 90% of sales will attract a lower tax and 10% will pay more. It also says that the tax take will be the same. So a lot of people will pay a few hundred or thousands of pounds less. And a few will pay some thousands or tens of thousands of pounds more. Although the LBTT will be welcomed by the majority the few with expensive houses will resent it even more than Stamp Duty.

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland
Given the dislike of Stamp Duty, would a version of the Scottish tax in the rest of the UK be more popular in the rest of the UK?

An analysis for Money Box by Savills estate agents found that the vast majority in England and Wales would pay less under the Scottish system. In the north of England, the east and the Midlands between 91% and 96% would pay less. Even in the south the great majority would benefit – 85% would pay less in the south-west and 73% in the south-east. In Northern Ireland I estimate that 97% would pay less and in England as a whole 87% would pay less with 13% –  about one in eight – paying more. Those two figures are my estimates not Savills’.

Only in London would most buyers pay more – and it is small majority at 53% paying more and 47% paying less. The resentment against Stamp Duty is particularly strong in London where in many Boroughs even a modest size family home can incur tens of thousands of pounds in tax. But these same homes will usually exceed the £325,000 balance point and cost more in a version of LBTT than it does in SDLT.

HOME SALES TO YEAR END JULY 2014

Up to £325,000
Over £325,000
Mean
London
47%
53%
£501,006
South East
73%
27%
£299,851
South West
85%
15%
£233,236
East England
91%
9%
£250,698
West Midlands
92%
8%
£180,842
East Midlands
94%
6%
£170,227
North West
94%
6%
£161,619
Yorks & Humber
94%
6%
£161,613
Wales
95%
5%
£157,041
North East
96%
4%
£143,863
N. Ireland*
97%
3%
England*
87%
13%
Scotland**
90%
10%

Source: Savills from Land Registry data.
* PL estimate
** Scottish government

Pressure to change
Once the new LBTT begins in Scotland comparisons with SDLT in the rest of the UK are bound to grow. And for the vast majority the comparison will demand change. But of course in Westminster where the decision is made the argument would go the other way. So it could mean that demands grow for a version of LBTT in the rest of the UK outside London and perhaps a different tax exclusively for London that took account of the very high prices in many Boroughs. There are even suggestions that London should be able not just to set its property sales tax but to keep the proceeds as well. And that could set the capital on the road to its own form of devolution.

Further Information
Scottish Government announcement with links to a LBTT calculator
HMRC Stamp Duty Land Tax calculator


Thursday, 9 October 2014

CARERS STUCK IN EARNINGS TRAP

Some carers face losing £61.35 a week after their earnings rise just £3 due to a Government failure to coordinate its policies.

The people affected claim Carer’s Allowance – which means they already work unpaid looking after a disabled person for at least 35 hours a week. And they supplement that with part-time work of 16 hours a week on the minimum wage. Most of them will be parents – many single parents; some may be over 60 without a state pension; others may be disabled themselves.

Until 30 September 2014 National Minimum Wage was £6.31 an hour. For 16 hours work that is £100.96. On 1 October it rose to £6.50 an hour. So 16 hours’ work comes to £104 a week. One of the conditions for getting Carer’s Allowance is that you do not earn more than £102 a week. So before the change in minimum wage carers could work 16 hours and stay below the threshold. From 1 October 16 hours’ work will put them above the threshold. Once that line is crossed the whole £61.35 a week benefit disappears completely. So an extra £3.04 a week costs them £61.35 in lost benefit.

The simple answer of working fewer hours creates another problem. People on low pay can claim a benefit called Working Tax Credit. This group of people (single parents, some other parents, over 60s, and those who are disabled) must work at least 16 hours a week to get Working Tax Credit. So if they cut their hours below 16 to bring their pay under the threshold for Carer’s Allowance they stop being entitled to Working Tax Credit. It is worth up to £75 a week for some.

So this small rise in the National Minimum Wage faces this group of carers with the choice of losing a benefit of £61.35 a week or one of up to £75 a week.

Benefit complexities
Nothing in benefits is quite that simple. If they give up Carer’s Allowance they would not lose the full £61.35 a week. That is because their income is lower and Working Tax Credit might therefore rise – though never by more than £25 a week.

And two things might stop Working Tax Credit increasing. First there is a maximum amount payable and if they are close to or at that level already a further cut in income may not result in a significant rise in Working Tax Credit. Second, the Credit is worked out on annual income in the previous tax year. So it is insensitive to changes in the current tax year. You can apply for it to be changed if income has fallen significantly. But then you might hit a further problem. Unless your income in the current tax year falls by more than £2500 a year compared to the previous tax year no adjustment is normally made to tax credits. And losing £61.35 a week for half a tax year will not pass that test. So to get Working Tax Credit changed is going to be difficult. And of course HMRC which administers it may not get the sums right. It often doesn’t.

If the carer also pays rent and council tax they will probably already get help with those expenses through Housing Benefit and local Council Tax Support. Again, a reduced income from losing Carer’s Allowance could mean those benefits rise, though always by far less than the amount they have lost. They will have to apply (remember they are already working at least 51 hours a week plus travelling time doing their caring and part-time job) and hope that the local council works it out correctly and swiftly.

But even at the very, very best they are going to lose many tens of pounds for a pay rise of £3. Earn £3, lose £30 is not a slogan to encourage work.

Government steps in
As this problem emerged this week the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced a rise in the earnings threshold for Carer’s Allowance. It will increase to £110 a week. But not until April 2015. So six months after the National Minimum Wage went up the threshold will finally increase.

This year is not the first in which this problem has occurred and unless something changes will not be the last. The rise in April 2015 will sort the problem until at least October 2015 when the minimum wage rises again. But if that goes up to £6.90 an hour – and remember both Conservatives and Labour plan big rises – then that will again put this group of carers above the earnings threshold for getting Carer’s Allowance.

The obvious answer is to link the earnings threshold for Carer’s Allowance to the minimum wage – fix it at 16 times as much plus £1. So when the minimum wage rose to £6.50 on 1 October the threshold would automatically have gone up to £105. Problem sorted.

But if you want to lobby for this change where do you go? The Department for Work and Pensions administers Carer’s Allowance. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs runs tax credits. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills determines the National Minimum Wage. And the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced the rise in the Carer’s Allowance earnings threshold for 2015. Oh, and local councils determine the rules of Council Tax Support and administer Housing Benefit.

Joined up Government anyone?

Postscript
Buried deep in the rules is one small glimmer of hope. The income which counts for the Carer’s Allowance earnings threshold is earnings minus half the contributions paid into a pension scheme. So a carer who earns £104 a week but then pays £4 a week or more into a personal pension (or a pension at work) would bring their weekly income down to £102 and just scrape below the threshold.

Even though these carers earn far too little to pay tax the Treasury would still boost this £4 contribution by another £1. And the small fund they build up could be cashed in at any time once they reach 55. If their circumstance remained the same no tax would be due on it. All that is needed is to find an insurer who will take such a small contribution and levy reasonable charges on it.

PS A benefit geek writes: when they cash in their pension it may reduce any working tax credit, housing benefit, council tax support, or other means-tested benefit they receive.

Sigh.

Version 1.1 updated 10 October 2014

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Packaged bank account mis-sales

Do you pay for your current account? More than 10 million of us do. But it may have been mis-sold, especially if it was sold to you before April 2013. If it was then you may be able to get compensation.

A packaged current account is one which comes bundled with insurance products, such as mobile phone cover or a car breakdown service, and other benefits such as access to airport lounges. Some give better deals on overdrafts or loans.

In 2011 the regulator investigated these accounts because of concerns about the cost, the claims that were made about their value, and the suitability of the insurance products included. As a result it introduced strict new rules from 31 March 2013 to improve the way they were sold. Since those rules began several banks have stopped selling packaged accounts at all and others have changed their offers.

If you have a packaged account – especially it was sold to you before that date, as millions were – you may find that the account was mis-sold and you can claim compensation.

The banks are resisting such claims. In 2013/14 complaints about packaged accounts to the Financial Ombudsman Service more than trebled to 5667. Every one of these cases had already been rejected by the bank concerned. The Ombudsman upheld more than three out of four of these complaints reporting that many people were sold deals that did not meet their needs or with inadequate information.

You may be one.

Check your bank account and whether you do pay for it – it will be shown on your monthly statement. The Ombudsman found some people were not even aware they had a packaged account. If that is you then it was probably mis-sold

Then look back to when it was sold to you.
  • Were you told that taking the packaged account was a condition of getting another bank product or service such as a loan or mortgage? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • Were you sold the packaged account without being told that a free alternative was available? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • Did the monthly fee cause you financial hardship? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • The most common problems are with the insurance policies bundled with the account.
  • Were the separate insurance policies explained to you? If not that may have been a mis-sale.
  • Were the policies suitable? For example:
  • Was travel insurance included without asking about pre-existing medical conditions or age which may mean you could not claim on it anyway. That may have been a mis-sale.
  • If car breakdown insurance was included did you have a car? If not that may have been a mis-sale. If you did was it already covered by you? That may have been a mis-sale.
  • If mobile phone insurance was covered was your phone already covered by your home insurance policy? If so, that may have been a mis-sale.
Those are just examples. If the packaged account was sold to you without full disclosure and information about all the separate products you were paying for or without your full understanding of the products and the conditions attached to them then you may have a valid complaint for mis-selling.

Write to the bank setting out your complaint. Ask for the account to be cancelled and for a full refund of all the fees paid to date. Make it clear that if you do not get compensation you will be taking the matter to the Financial Ombudsman. If you do not get a satisfactory result then go to the Ombudsman. You can talk to the Ombudsman service on can be reached on 0300 123 9 123 or 0800 023 4 567.
www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/consumer/complaints.htm

This article was first published on the saga.co.uk/money website

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

DWP FOI on first use of phrase 'spare room subsidy'.


This is the full response to my request for an internal review of an earlier FOI on this topic.

Department for Work and Pensions

Website: www.dwp.gov.uk




Your Reference: IR202                           

Date: 3 June   2014.

Dear Mr Lewis


I am making a formal FOI request for any documents which cast light on the origin of the phrase ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ and ‘Removal of’ or ‘Ending’
the Spare Room Subsidy. It is now used by the DWP as the name for the policy of reducing housing benefit in public sector rented accommodation where there are more bedrooms than the regulations prescribe. The regulations came into force on 1 April 2013.”

You replied

“The first public use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy” was made by the Minister of State for Pensions during an opposition day debate on the  27 February 2013 about “Housing Benefit (under occupation penalty)”.

That statement is not true. The first public use of the phrase I enquired about which I have traced was ten days earlier than that and was by fellow Cabinet Minister Grant Shapps on BBC Radio 4 World At One on 17 February
2013 when he said

13:12:10 Labour have very cleverly deemed this to be a tax of course it’s exactly the opposite to a tax…. It’s a spare room subsidy that’s being paid through the benefits system on a million empty...bedrooms which makes no sense…we’re not using the housing that we have in this country in a proper way…it’s accurate to call it a spare room subsidy that’s the point.

He also used the phrase on his twitter account before going on air that day.

So your first answer was not a correct response to my question and I am asking for an internal review of it.
I am also asking for an internal review of your statement

“There are no details before this statement which use the wording ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’”

I originally asked if there were any documents which use that phrase or anything similar before 27 February 2013. Given that the Minister used it on that day and that his colleague used it ten days earlier I want you to check if there is no document using it on 27 February or earlier.”


Thank you for your request for an internal review of the response provided for FOI 485.

You asked whether there were any documents which use the phrase “removal of the spare room subsidy or other similar phrases before 27.2.2013.

The earliest public use of the phrase “removal of the spare room subsidy” in official  Departmental publications issued to local authorities can be found in A11/2013 dated 28.3.13.


There are no references to this phrase prior to this date in electronic or word documents.

Housing Benefit or Subsidy Circulars issued prior to A11.2013 used the phrase “social sector size criteria” or “size criteria” which mirrors what is specified in the relevant legislation dealing with the introduction  of the policy. .


The secondary legislation which introduced this policy is S.I.2012/3040.
Housing Benefit Amendment Regulations 2012.


Additional links relating to the statutory legislation are contained in the annex.

Other phrases had been adopted previously. These include  “under occupation penalty” as well as social sector size criteria.;.

Regarding your query about the first public use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy”.

The first use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy” by a Minister of the Department for Work and Pensions, namely the Minister of State for Pensions  was during an opposition day debate on the  27 February 2013 about “Housing Benefit (under occupation penalty)”. 
A link to the relevant Hansard section is enclosed below for reference.
[27 February 2013, Official Record, Column 334 ]


This term was later formally adopted as the name for the policy within Departmental publications after this public statement in Parliament by a Minister of the Department.    

The Department would not be aware that the term was used by the Right Hon Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield in his political capacity as [Conservative Party Chairman and Minister without Portfolio ] in a Radio Interview at an earlier date.

This would be regarded as a party political issue as debated between the Conservatives and her Majesty’s official Opposition, which would not be for the Department to comment on.


Yours sincerely


DWP FOI Central Information Team.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Your right to complain under the Freedom of Information Act

If you are not happy with this response you may request an internal review by e-mailing freedom-of-information-request@dwp.gsi.gov.uk or by writing to DWP, Central FoI Team, Caxton House, Tothill Street, SW1H 9NA. Any review request should be submitted within two months of the date of this letter.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office for a decision. Generally the Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted our own complaints procedure. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow Cheshire SK9 5AF www.ico.gov.uk


Saturday, 5 April 2014

WHY DOES THE TAX YEAR BEGIN ON 6 APRIL?

The tax year starts on 6 April and runs through to the following 5 April. To find out why we need to go back a l o n g way.

This year is the 2000th anniversary of the death of the first Roman Emperor Augustus in AD 14. Among his many legacies was the calendar we use today. 


It was initially devised by his predecessor Julius Caesar. By the time Gaius Julius came to power the Roman calendar was in a mess. One reason was that it was a secret religious document controlled by the priest class and not subject to outside scrutiny. Their job was to make the calendar work and determine the dates of religious holidays, festivals, and the days when business could and could not be conducted. But they had done it badly for many years and Caesar inherited a calendar that was out of step with the seasons by a quarter of a year. 


He called in an Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes and decided to put things right. He added 90 days to the year 46 BC to bring the calendar into line with the seasons so that the spring equinox was on 25 March and the year began on 1 January as it was supposed to do. Caesar decreed that in future the calendar would follow the solar year of 365.25 days divided into twelve months of 30 or 31 days apart from the 28 day February to which would be added the leap day every fourth year. 


Two years later, on the Ides of March 44 BC (15 March), Julius Caesar was assassinated on the steps of the Senate. As was their wont, the priests who were left in charge of the calendar mistook the instructions and added the extra day every third year (they counted inclusively 1-2-3-4 so to them the third year was called the fourth). 


This error went unnoticed for more than thirty years and was finally corrected by Julius's successor, Augustus. By then the seventh month had been named after Julius and on Augustus's death in AD 14 the eighth month was named for him. 


Apart from that one change the amended Julian calendar with the same months of the same lengths and a leap year every fourth year has run continuously since the year 8 BC. 


But one small correction was needed. The Julian Calendar assumes the year is 365.25 days long - hence the extra leap day every four years. In fact the year is very slightly shorter than that. So over many centuries the calendar began to get more and more out of step with the seasons. Towards the end of the 16th century it was almost two weeks ahead of the Sun. Pope Gregory XIII decided to correct it. He took ten days out of the calendar - which fixed the spring equinox around 20/21 of March - and decreed that in future there would no Leap Year in century years unless they were also divisible by 400. Taking out three days every 400 years would almost precisely align the new Gregorian calendar with the time it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun. 


The change was made in October 1582 and much of Europe soon followed. But the Protestant UK refused to obey a Papal decree and no change was made in the UK or in what were then its Colonies and Dominions. So our calendar got further out of step with the seasons and of course our dates were different from much of Europe. 


It took nearly 200 years before the British Government decided to make the necessary changes. The Calendar Act of 1751 decreed that Wednesday 2 September 1752 would be followed by Thursday 14 September thus removing eleven days and bringing the calendar back where it should be. It also provided that the new year would start on 1 January. Many people had reverted to starting it on the old Roman equinox day of 25 March. You can still find eighteenth century books published early in the year with two dates such as '1724/25'.


But there was a problem. Tax was due over a year. So if there were 11 fewer days in 1752 tax would be due 11 days early. At the time the tax year began on that Roman spring equinox day, 25 March. It was called Lady Day and was one of the quarter days when rent and other payments fell due. So the Government decided that the 1753 tax year would begin eleven days later on 5 April to give the full 365 days over which tax was due. 


That is still one day short of its present starting date. 


That extra day was added in 1800. That year would have been a Leap Year under the old calendar but not under the new Gregorian Calendar as century years (except those divisible by 400) were no longer leap years. Again there were protests. If people were denied their extra day of 29 February then they would be paying the same taxes but over a shorter period than they expected. Once again the Government gave in and extended the tax year by a day so it ended on 5 April and the next one began on 6 April 1800. And that is where it has remained. In 1900 no-one demanded the extra day for the tax year and the question did not arise in 2000 as it was divisible by 400 and so was a leap year. 


This piece is an expanded and corrected version of the Money Box newsletter for 4 April. You can subscribe to the newsletter here 


5 April 2014 

version 1.02

Friday, 28 March 2014

TAKING MONEY FROM THE TREASURY

DISCLAIMER
All the information in this blogpost is given in good faith, has been checked thoroughly, and is believed to be accurate at the date of publication – 28 March 2014. Paul Lewis accepts no responsibility for any consequences financial or otherwise to individuals who act on it. By reading on you accept this condition.

Up to £1500 free
Generally I don’t approve of using tax wheezes – evoidance as I call it – but this is one loophole which is built in to the current pension rules and has just been widened considerably. If you are aged at least 60 but under 75 and can get hold of a few thousand pounds (I know, I know) you can make £500 almost overnight. And you can do that up to three times with the same money. The gain is tax-free.

Here’s how it works.

             Open a personal pension plan (PPP) and pay in £8000.
             The Treasury puts in another £2000.That represents the basic rate tax you have paid to have £8000 left.
             The total in your fund is £10,000.

From Thursday 27 March a pension pot up to £10,000 counts as a small pot and can be taken out in cash as a lump sum.

             Immediately take out your small pot as cash
             The first 25% is tax free. That is £2500.
             The remaining £7500 is taxed at your basic rate.
             That will cost 20% which is £1500
             You are left with £6000.
             Add on the £2500 tax free and you have £8500. Even though you only put in £8000.
             Profit £500.

You can cash in up to three small pots, so you could make £1500 for nothing.

The calculation

Pay into a PPP
£8,000
Treasury adds
£2,000
Total in PPP
£10,000
Cash in as small pot
£10,000
Tax free cash
£2,500
£2,500
Taxable balance
£7,500
less 20% tax
£1,500
£6,000
£6,000
£8,500
less original outlay
£8,000
profit
£500
Do it 3 times
£1,500


HMRC has what it calls ‘anti-recycling’ rules to stop people taking tax free cash and putting it straight back into a pension to get further tax relief on it. However, those rules do not apply until you take more than £12,500 of tax-free cash so should not apply to this process as even doing it three times releases only £7500 tax-free cash.

The scheme has been possible since April 2012 when the rules for cashing in ‘small pots’ first began. But before 27 March 2014 the maximum 'small pot' was £2000 so the profit was just £100 and you could only do it twice. So it was not worth it. By raising the limits to three pots of £10,000 each the Government has made the scheme much more worth doing. You can of course do it with any amount up to paying in £8000 which gives the maximum small pot of £10,000.

If you take three maximum lump sums it will count as taxable income of £22,500 and added to the earnings you need of at least £30,000 that will push you over the threshold for higher rate tax - £41,865 in 2014/15. Depending on your other income, two lump-sums or even one might do the same. That would mean some of the lump-sum is taxed at the higher rate. In that case the calculation is complex. You may make more profit but will have to wait longer for it. See the paragraph on higher incomes below. 

Lower incomes
The scheme also works for people who have low or no earnings. It is especially profitable if their income is low enough for them to pay no tax.

Anyone below the age of 75 can open – or have opened for them – a personal pension with up to £3600 in the fund. That means a payment in of £2880 and £720 tax relief is added by the Treasury. The whole lot can now be taken out instantly by those aged at least 60 – leaving a profit of £720 for a non-taxpayer or £180 for a basic rate taxpayer. Non-taxpayers will find the basic rate tax is deducted and they must claim it back. If the lump-sum takes them over the personal tax allowance of £10,000 (£10,500 for 66-74 year-olds), in which case they will only get part of it back. 

So a kind spouse or child or grandchild can open a personal pension with £2880 for a relative aged 60 to 74 who has low or no earnings and the person over 60 can then take the profit and repay the initial investment of £2880. It can only be done once a tax year.

Higher incomes
People who pay higher (40%) or top (45%) rate income tax can make more out of the scheme. If you pay higher rate tax the arithmetic is a little more complex. For your £8000 outlay you would get back just £7000 after paying 40% tax on the taxable £7500. That is a loss so far of £1000. But you can then claim further tax relief through self-assessment which will give you another £2000 which will be deducted off your tax bill. So the final net profit is £1000. For a top rate 45% taxpayer the initial loss is £1375 but the self-assessment claim will reduce the tax bill by £2500 leaving a net profit of £1125. The procedure can be done three times. But beware pension limits – see below.

PRACTICALITIES
Conditions
The person opening the pension fund must be aged at least 60 and under 75.

They must earn at least as much as the pot or pots they pay into in the year they pay into them. Other income such as interest, dividends, a pension in payment, or an annuity does not count as 'earnings'.The exception is a single pot of up to £3600 including basic rate tax relief which can be opened by or for someone with low or no earnings.

Beware maximum limits
The maximum amount that can be put into a pension fund in a year is £40,000. If these payments take you over that limit in your pension input period you may face a tax charge on some or all of the money. If you are a member of a final salary scheme the rise in the value of your rights over the year will count towards your £40,000 limit. If you are at or close to your lifetime pension allowance of £1.25 million in 2014/15 further payments may not attract tax relief and you may be liable for a tax charge.

Delay
The Treasury payment may take some time to be credited which could delay the process. If you are a higher or top rate taxpayer you will make a short-term loss and will have to wait until you complete your self assessment form and pay your tax to make the tax saving.

Find a provider
Some platforms or insurance companies which offer personal pensions or SIPPs will be happy to do it for you. Some may charge nothing, others a modest fee especially for existing customers. One quoted me £120 including VAT for the whole job. Tell the firm you want to open an immediate vesting pension – or three if you can afford it and have the income needed.

The future
From April 2015 there will be no restrictions on taking a pension fund in cash and the age you can do so will fall to 55. So if you had you made no other pension contributions in the year you could put in £40,000 – the maximum pension contribution allowed in a year – and make £2000 instant profit. A higher rate taxpayer could get double that – £4000 – though there would be a delay before the profit was made. And for a top rate taxpayer the profit would be £4500. You could repeat the wheeze very year. So the Government will close this loophole before Pension Freedom Day in April 2015.

Finally
The facts in this blog have been checked with two top accountants and with pension providers and investment platforms. The Treasury has made it clear to me that officials recognised this consequence of the interim changes on 27 March. It seems that it does not intend to block this loophole in the current rules. But the Treasury will make sure that it cannot continue in its present form when the April 2015 changes begin. A spokeswoman told me "We are now consulting on how best to deliver the next step in our radical plan to let people withdraw their defined contribution pensions savings how they wish. This includes ensuring robust anti-avoidance measures are in place.” How small a pot will be caught by these measures will be the interesting thing to watch out for. 

Pension wheeze
Version 1.13
29 March 2014