Tax experts warn SNP pledge to devolve National Insurance ‘complicated and costly’

The SNP has been warned over its “costly” plans to devolve National Insurance.

Tax experts have warned that the SNP’s manifesto pledge to devolve National Insurance to Holyrood could lead to a “more complicated and costly” system.

The SNP’s manifesto for the general election, published earlier this week, stated that SNP MPs “will demand the full devolution of tax powers”, which the party claims will “enable us to create a fairer system that protects public services and invests in our economy”.

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The document adds: “ With the devolution of National Insurance, we could ensure rates and thresholds fit our progressive income tax rates.

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney during the party's General Election manifesto launch (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Wire)Scottish First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney during the party's General Election manifesto launch (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Scottish First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney during the party's General Election manifesto launch (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
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“With the full devolution of tax powers, we would crack down on tax avoidance and evasion and improve the transparency of tax paid by international companies to ensure that they make a proportionate contribution to tax revenues.”

Holyrood already sets Scotland’s income tax bands.

But experts at the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), have warned that different rates of National Insurance for different parts of the UK could cause complications and added costs.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Chris Thorpe, technical officer for the CIOT, said: “National Insurance devolution would give the Scottish Government the power to make changes to the way it operates in Scotland, but it may not be straightforward to deliver.

“Devolution would mean that ministers could choose to align National Insurance with Scottish income tax rates and bands.

“This could address the anomaly that sees Scots with earnings between the Scottish and UK higher rate tax thresholds pay a marginal rate of tax of 50 per cent on that slice of their income, compared with 28 per cent in the rest of the UK.”

He added: “However, devolution could also make things more complicated and costly.

“If different rules applied to different parts of the UK, it could become more challenging for businesses based across the country and employees moving between jobs in different parts of the UK.

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“While it is easy to see the reasoning that a Scottish-based employee should be liable for Scottish National Insurance, it is harder to justify in the case of employer contributions, such as where a company is located outside Scotland with Scottish remote workers.

“There is also the question of what would happen to the UK-wide National Insurance fund, which pools the money raised from National Insurance across the UK to help pay for some social security benefits and the state pension.”

SNP candidate for Inverness, Skye and West Ross-Shire, Drew Hendry, said: "Scotland already has the most progressive income tax system in the UK. By protecting those who earn less, and asking those who earn the most to pay a little bit more, we have also been able to invest in our public services in the face of Westminster austerity cuts.

"Only this week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recognised that 'devolving income tax on savings and dividends is a sensible idea, as is devolving National Insurance contributions’.

“We know that neither the Labour party or the Tories will protect our public services from Westminster cuts, which is why it’s essential that National Insurance is devolved to ensure rates and thresholds fit our progressive income tax rates."

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