The child benefit tax charge, introduced on 7 January, affects over one million families

A family with 2 children could soon see their annual spendable income drop by up to £1,752 p.a. in 2013/14, while those with 3 children could lose £2,449 pa. With prices rising faster than incomes, it is imperative for many families to know how they will be affected, and what options are available to help improve their situation.

 

What are the implications of the tax charge?

Benefit payments will continue to be paid in full to the claimant, but if the household’s highest earner’s personal taxable income exceeds £50,000 per tax year then the amount will be clawed back by way of a tax charge. Once taxable income exceeds £60,000 in a tax year, the charge will be 100 per cent of the benefit claimed i.e. the value of the benefit is wiped out. For incomes between £50,000 and £60,000, the tax charge is 1 per cent for every £100 income exceeds the £50,000 threshold. Overall, these people will benefit, as the tax charge will always be less than the benefit claimed.

For the 2012/13 tax year, the tax charge will never exceed 25 per cent of the yearly benefit claimed as the tax charge will only have been operational for one quarter of the current tax year. As such, the tax will be limited to £438 where benefit is being claimed for 2 children, or £612 for 3 children. Around 500,000 people will need to complete a tax return for the first time. The tax charge will be collected under self assessment; therefore, for those submitting online, the first return will need to be in by 31 January 2014. It is important to note that failure to do so could result in fines and late payment penalties.

What action can be taken?

This will very much depend on an individual’s personal circumstances and priorities. Making an individual pension contribution to reduce income to below £50,000 would wipe out the child benefit tax charge altogether, while higher rate tax relief would also be available on the contribution if it all falls in the higher rate band. Any contribution reducing income to a level between £50,000 and £60,000 will still result in a surplus of child benefit over the tax charge, and a tax return would still need to be completed.

A pension contribution by salary sacrifice is an alternative way of reducing taxable income. With the employer’s agreement, an employee can reduce their contractual income in return for an equivalent employer payment to their pension. The employee will also save NI at 2 per cent for payments over the upper earnings limit – if the employer agrees to pass their 13.8 per cent NI saving on to the pension then the contribution itself can be increased. Another alterative is to simply continue claiming the benefit and paying the tax, which is a more likely consideration for those families where the higher earner has adjusted net income between £50,000 and £60,000, when the benefit will still exceed the tax charge.