Wed, 29 Nov 2023

The UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt will have limited room for manoeuvre when he makes his autumn statement about the government's financial plans on November 22. The government is committed to supporting the Bank of England's current strategy for reducing inflation, which involves using rate hikes to slow down economic activity.

This means Hunt can't take any steps that would immediately boost spending by people, businesses or the government, such as across-the-board income tax cuts. But he is likely to focus on extending tax breaks for business investment aimed at stimulating economic growth over time.

And while the government often saves grand financial plans for its annual budget announcement (usually made in March) , some smaller measures have been trailed in recent weeks that could feature in the autumn statement and that would have an impact on your money.

1) ISA overhaul

Part of the support for business theme could actually involve an overhaul of individual savings accounts (ISAs). These tax-sheltered savings schemes were introduced in 1999 and allow you to opt for the security of cash savings or putting your money riskier investments such as stocks and shares.

Six out of ten ISA accounts are currently in cash, but it's rumoured the chancellor wants to shift ISAs towards being a source of finance for British industry. This could involve raising the annual ISA limit (currently Pound 20,000) for accounts investing in UK companies to encourage more share ownership.

2) More mortgage support

According to mortgage lender Halifax, the price of an average first home fell slightly over the 12 months to August 2023, but can still be as much as ten times average earnings in some areas.

Against this backdrop, the government may extend its mortgage guarantee scheme for another year beyond the end of December 2023, at least for first-time buyers. Under the scheme, the government backs lenders who offer 95% mortgages, which enable homebuyers to put down a deposit of just 5% of the home's value.

The scheme has attracted criticism though. While these kinds of initiatives can make home ownership more affordable for some, they also increase demand. Without an accompanying move to stimulate extra housing supply, this can keep house prices high.

3) Stamp duty rebate

Stamp duty land tax is paid by buyers of homes in England and Northern Ireland that cost more than Pound 250,000 (Pound 425,000 for first-time buyers). There are equivalent taxes in Wales and Scotland.

A cut in stamp duty land tax rates seems unlikely and the current threshold has already been increased until March 2025 anyway. However, the government is rumoured to be considering a partial stamp duty rebate for buyers who improve the energy efficiency of their home within two years of purchase.

This seems like a drop in the ocean against the need for wholesale greening of the UK housing stock. which accounts for around a sixth of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions. But it could be a relatively inexpensive concession to please homebuyers.

4) Inheritance tax cut

Another persistent rumour is that inheritance tax - which is applied to money and assets you give away - could be cut or even abolished by the current government.

Most lifetime gifts escape the tax, so it is mainly a tax on your estate when you die. However, up to Pound 500,000 of what you leave (up to Pound 1 million for couples who are married or in a civil partnership) can be passed on tax-free. Above that, the tax rate is usually a substantial 40%.

The exemptions mean less than 4% of deaths result in a charge, but inheritance tax is still deeply unpopular. So, cutting or abolishing it could be a vote winner even though most people don't pay it.

5) State pension changes

The government is currently committed to honouring the "triple lock", in other words increasing state pensions in April each year by the greater of price inflation (based on the previous September's figures), earnings inflation (over the quarter to the previous July) or 2.5%.

Read more: How to fix the pensions triple lock but still protect pensioners from high inflation

Since the relevant data has already been published, we already know that under the triple lock the state pension is due to rise in line with average earnings (including bonuses) in April 2024 - an 8.5% increase.

However, legislation does not specify the measure of average earnings that the government must use. This creates wiggle room and there has been speculation that state pensions may be increased based on the rise in regular earnings excluding bonuses (7.8%) rather than in line with total pay.

Using the lower figure would save the government around Pound 900 million. And if you're getting the full new state pension, you'd see your pension rise to Pound 219.75 a week instead of Pound 221.20 under the higher figure.

6) Benefits freeze

In stark contrast to state pensions, the government might freeze benefit payments for working-age people. Ministers are rumoured to be considering cuts that would slice billions off the UK's welfare budget. This could be seen as a callous move since 3.8 million people in the UK are already financially destitute, according to think-tank Joseph Rowntree Foundation, despite nearly three-quarters of them being in receipt of state benefits.

Of course, the official details of the statement will remain under wraps until the chancellor makes his speech in parliament. While there has been plenty of speculation in recent months and weeks, you'll have to wait until then to get a definitive picture of how your finances will be affected.

Author: Jonquil Lowe - Senior Lecturer in Economics and Personal Finance, The Open University The Conversation

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