Families needlessly give billions a year to taxman

SAVERS and investors are set to gift billions of pounds to the taxman this year as they miss out on simple tax breaks that could deliver a boost to their finances.

Households could make big savings just by using their tax breaks. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Households could make big savings just by using their tax breaks. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Billions of pounds will be paid in unnecessary tax in 2014, the amount increasing even as many households continue to struggle with rising prices and low wage inflation.

Almost eight in ten people admit they’ve done nothing to legally reduce the amount of tax they pay, the TaxAction 2014 report by unbiased.co.uk found.

Among the most overlooked opportunities for tax efficiency are individual savings accounts (Isas), pensions, inheritance tax (IHT) and capital gains tax (CGT).

Some £4.7 billion will be given to the taxman this year that could be saved with better planning and use of tax reliefs, the research estimates, equating to £161 for every taxpayer.

Karen Barrett, chief executive of unbiased.co.uk, said: “While more people are confident with the idea of ‘shopping around’ and getting the best value for food and retail goods, the same cannot be said for their finances.

“We are still seeing millions of UK taxpayers putting their hard-earned cash into taxed saving and investment vehicles when reliefs, allowances and better rates are available to them.”

While the biggest missed opportunity is in pensions tax relief, perhaps the most glaring lies in the £1.1bn collected in tax on savings before annual Isa allowances have been used.

That includes £984 million in tax on savings accounts held by bank customers who haven’t taken out cash Isas. Another £160m goes on taxed stocks and shares investments that aren’t held in Isas.

Employees who don’t save into a pension are missing out on even more generous tax breaks. Around 4.4 million workers who aren’t in their employer’s pension scheme – despite the October 2012 introduction of automatic enrolment into workplace pensions – will miss out on an estimated £2.9bn in tax relief this year, according to the report.

It said the £3,260 put into a pension by the average worker includes £652 a year in government tax relief on contributions.

Another £530m will be paid in IHT that could have been avoided by better planning. The figure is increasing as rising asset prices drag more estates over the £325,000 threshold, above which 40 per cent is charged in IHT. With the threshold to be left at that level until at least 2019, the amount of IHT collected for government coffers is likely to rise dramatically over the coming years.

IHT can be avoided simply by placing life insurance under trust, whereby the proceeds are held outside the estate for tax purposes. Just one in four people feel confident in tackling IHT planning without taking financial advice, however.

“Depending on investors’ circumstances, income requirements and need for access to capital, an adviser can tailor a solution to individual needs,” said Alasdair MacDougall, director of Martin Aitken Financial Services. “Certain IHT solutions can immediately remove hundreds of thousands of pounds from an estate, saving tens of thousands in tax.”

Similarly, investors will pay £154m on CGT that could be avoided by the use of Isas – in which income and capital gains are tax-free – and annual CGT allowances, unbiased.co.uk found.

Yet, while almost four in ten people claim they are capable of saving and investing tax-efficiently without the help of advice, 77 per cent admit they haven’t taken any steps to cut tax over the past year.

That proves that most savers and investors would benefit from financial advice, said MacDougall. But many people have a negative view of tax-efficient Isas and pensions that costs them dear, he added.

“A tax-efficient wrapper is neither good nor bad; it’s the underlying investments that may or may not be suitable to an investor’s needs,” said MacDougall. “An Isa is not an investment, it’s only the tax wrapper into which your cash or investments are placed. Your timescale, investment goals and appetite for risk will determine what asset class will be most appropriate.”