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Help to Buy: ISA scheme updated guidance is available
HMRC has published some updated guidance on the Help to Buy: ISA. The guidance clarifies the way the government bonus is calculated. First time home buyers need to apply for their bonus (and purchase a home) within 12 months of closing a Help to Buy: ISA account. There are special rules that allow the money to be re-deposited in a Help to Buy: ISA if the house purchase did not complete.
The Help to Buy: ISA scheme launched on 1 December 2015. The scheme allows savers to claim a government bonus of 25% on monthly savings of up to £200 on savings towards their first home. The bonus translates to an extra £50 added to every £200 saved up to a maximum governmental contribution of £3,000 on £12,000 worth of savings. The scheme is now widely offered on the high street.
Savers can make an initial deposit of £1,200 (the monthly maximum plus an extra £1,000). The bonus is only payable on the purchase of a first home. The scheme is limited to one per person (not one per home) so two people buying a home together can both receive a bonus. The bonus is available on home purchases of up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 outside London and can only be claimed against the deposit for a new home. It cannot be used to pay solicitors, estate agents or any other costs associated with buying a home.
For basic rate taxpayers, the scheme offer the equivalent to saving completely free of tax for their first home and savers aged as young as 16 can benefit from the scheme. New accounts can be opened for four years from the launch of the scheme. Once opened, there is no limit on how long an account can be held.
Late filing of self-assessment tax returns
The Low Income Tax Reform Group (LITRG) aims to improve the policy and processes of the tax, tax credits and associated welfare systems for the benefit of those on low incomes. The LITRG has recently published a press release urging anyone who has not yet filed their online self-assessment tax return with HMRC for the year ended 5 April 2015, to do so as soon as possible.
Taxpayers that have not yet filed their 2014-15 self-assessment returns will have been charged an automatic £100 penalty for late submission. The penalty applied from 1 February 2016 even if no tax was due or the tax due was paid on time.
However, taxpayers who were meant to file online by 31 January 2016, and have still not filed their 2014-15 return, are reminded that they will face far greater penalties. A daily penalty of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900 (90 days) is being charged from 1 May 2016.
Further penalties then apply if the return is still outstanding for more than 6 months after the 31 January 2016 filing deadline. From 1 August 2016 taxpayers will be charged the greater of £300 or 5% of the tax due. If the return is outstanding one year after the filing deadline, further penalties will be charged from 1 February 2017.
We echo the comments of Anthony Thomas, LITRG Chairman who said:
'We would strongly urge anyone with an overdue return to submit it as soon as possible; and to do so online as a paper return for 2014/15 will already attract the maximum £1,000 penalty. You can then appeal against the fines by writing to HMRC to explain why the return has been filed late.'
HMRC has been taking a more pragmatic approach in respect of taxpayers that file a late return. This approach may apply to those that have a reasonable excuse for filing a self-assessment return late. However, taxpayers must have had a good reason for sending in a late return.
Workplace pensions and automatic enrolment
The introduction of automatic enrolment for workplace pensions is intended to ensure that the majority of employees begin to make proper provision for having a work based pension. Automatic enrolment into workplace pensions has been rolling out across the UK since 2012. However, the first batch of small and micro employers with 30 or less employers only began to enrol in the scheme on 1 June 2015. There are estimated to be 1.8 million small and micro employers in the UK. It is expected that all employers will be part of the scheme by February 2018.
Once a workplace scheme both the employer and employee need to make contributions to a pension scheme. There is a minimum employer contribution that will eventually reach 3%. Employers can make higher contributions if they so decide. Employees must also make contributions which are part funded by tax relief. By 1 October 2018, contributions in total will be a minimum 8%: 3% from the employer, 4% from the employee and an additional 1% in tax relief. There are options to for employees to opt out of the scheme.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has recently announced the thresholds for the 2016-17 tax year. For the current tax year this is set between £5,824 and £43,000 a year. This means the lowest qualifying earnings level is £5,824. The first £5,824 of an employee’s earnings isn’t included in the automatic enrolment calculation. For example, if a worker earns £20,000 their qualifying earnings would be £14,176. The maximum amount contributions can be based on is £37,176 (£43,000 minus £5,824).