Termination awards: Great Britain

National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 2 stand part.

New clause 1—Report on the impact of Class 1A National Insurance Contributions on termination awards—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of section 1 of this Act (termination awards: Great Britain) coming into force, lay before Parliament a report on the expected impact of the new Class 1A liability on termination awards in excess of £30,000.

(2) That report must contain an assessment of the expected impact on—

(a) the total net value of termination payments received by individuals;

(b) the average net value of such payments; and

(c) the number of business start-ups using termination payments as funding in their first year in each region of the United Kingdom.”

New clause 4—Review of the impact of Class 1A National Insurance Contributions on termination awards—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of section 1 of this Act (termination awards: Great Britain) coming into force, undertake a review of the impact of the new Class 1A liability on termination awards in excess of £30,000.

(2) The review under section 1 must contain—

(a) an assessment of the impact the new Class 1A liability has on the level of termination payments workers receive;

(b) an assessment of the impact the new Class 1A liability has on employers;

(c) a distributional analysis of the new Class 1A liability; and

(d) anything else the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(3) The review under section 1 must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

It is a pleasure to return this afternoon, following my grilling by members of the Committee this morning, to explain the clauses in the Bill, starting—as you said, Sir Henry—with clauses 1 and 2. Before I respond to the hon. Members who have tabled new clauses 1 and 4, it may help the Committee if I begin by explaining some of the background to clauses 1 and 2. My apologies for repeating some of what I said this morning in answer to questions from members of the Committee.

The Office of Tax Simplification, or OTS, stated during its 2013-14 review of the tax and national insurance contributions treatment of these payments that

“the well-advised can often end up better off than the unadvised, as they are more able to structure their employment contract (or, indeed, their termination payment) to achieve the better tax treatment.”

One reason why businesses had an incentive to do so was the absence of any employer’s national insurance on termination awards of any size. My officials and I outlined some examples of that this morning during questions, which I think was supported by the interesting evidence from Bill Dodwell of the OTS.

Following that report from the OTS, the Government announced in the 2015 summer Budget that they would consult on simplifying the tax and NICs treatment of termination awards. We consulted openly and widely on that policy, receiving responses from 100 stakeholder groups and nine individuals, covering tax experts, law firms, trade unions, business groups and individual businesses. We also held several meetings with stakeholders to discuss their views on our draft proposals. Following that, in the 2016 Budget, we confirmed that we would be taking forward reforms to the tax and NICs treatment of termination awards, and shortly afterwards published draft legislation for consultation.

The income tax measures announced in the 2016 Budget were legislated for in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2017 and took effect from April 2018. The Government then reconfirmed in the 2018 Budget that the associated reforms to NICs legislation would be in place for April 2020. The reforms made by clauses 1 and 2 have therefore been properly consulted on, tested with stakeholders of all kinds and debated by Parliament—both during the process of this Bill and, more particularly, through the passage of the Finance (No. 2) Act. They have also been widely expected by stakeholders for many years.

I now turn to the changes made by clauses 1 and 2. It is important to note that the reforms we are discussing today are the second part of a package of changes, some of which have, as I said, already been approved through the Finance (No. 2) Act and took effect in April 2018. The tax rules for termination awards that existed before the reforms introduced by the Finance Act (No.2) 2017 were unclear and unnecessarily complicated. Some awards were taxed as earnings, others were taxed only above £30,000, while others were completely free of tax and national insurance contributions. That complexity left the system open to a degree of manipulation that we heard evidence about this morning. The Finance Act (No.2) 2017 tightened the rules on what element of an award is taxed as earnings. From 6 April 2018, the NICs liability was more closely aligned with the tax treatment, so that those amounts taxed as earnings became liable for employer and employee class 1 NICs.

Termination awards that are not earnings are currently charged to income tax on amounts that exceed £30,000, and they are currently entirely exempt from employee and employer national insurance contributions. Allowing the difference between the income tax treatment of that income and the employer national insurance treatment to persist would be confusing, and continue to provide an incentive for employers to manipulate final payments to achieve a tax advantage.

The clause will close that loophole, simplify the tax system, and raise about £200 million in revenue to continue to support the funding of public services in a significant way. Clause 1, which applies to Great Britain, achieves that purpose by ensuring that where an income liability arises on termination awards above £30,000, there will be a corresponding liability to employer class 1A national insurance contributions.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

On Second Reading, not much attention was given to employee benefits. How do they fit into that threshold?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

If my hon. Friend is referring to the benefits system, that is completely unrelated. Contractual benefits are liable to a tax liability in addition to that—perhaps I can provide more information on that in a moment. They will be part of taxable income taken in the round, which once generated is then subject to income tax and the employer’s national insurance contribution in the final termination payment.

The effect of the change will mean that a 13.8% class 1A secondary employers NICs charge will be applied to income derived from a termination award that is already subject to income tax. In addition, clause 1 also includes other modifications to existing legislation that relates to employer class 1A NICs, to ensure that the new liability for termination awards works as intended. Clause 2 makes corresponding changes for Northern Ireland, ensuring that the provisions apply across the United Kingdom.

Before I address new clauses 1 and 4, let me say a few words about what clauses 1 and 2 do not do. First, they do not introduce a NICs liability on the employee—I hope we made that clear during questions this morning. There remains an unlimited employee national insurance charge exemption on termination awards. Although there is a principled case for greater simplification and alignment by applying employee NICs to that income, the Government have listened carefully to representations made during the consultation, and we believe that our approach strikes the right balance between delivering greater simplification for employers, and fairness to individuals who are undoubtedly in a difficult period of their lives: losing their jobs and having to make the necessary adjustments.

Secondly, the clauses do not reduce or seek new powers to change the existing £30,000 threshold, below which termination awards are entirely tax-free and NICs-free. As we discussed this morning, that threshold remains generous compared with those of many other countries, including the United States and Germany, that tax income linked to a termination from the very first pound. It will ensure that about 80% of awards are unaffected by clauses 1 and 2, and that awards made as statutory redundancy pay are untouched. We have no plans to lower the threshold in future. Any future Government who wished to do so would need parliamentary approval.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

The Minister has not so far mentioned the money that the measure will raise. My understanding is that that has already been taken into account and that if we were not to proceed, the Government would need to find that money from another source. Is that correct?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have said on several occasions that the measure will raise about £200 million a year. Because it was a Budget measure, it has been included in the Government’s forecasts and certified by the Office for Budget Responsibility. If any hon. Member wished to take issue with the policy, they would need to find an alternative way to raise £200 million a year, if they wanted to continue to support public services in the way that we have set out in our spending plans.

Finally, the clauses do not introduce any legislation that goes beyond mirroring the effect of the income tax rules with respect to the scope of the change. Instead, by virtue of the clause, the rules that determine liability to income tax will apply directly in calculating the amount of employer class 1A NICs payable on termination awards above £30,000. Therefore, clauses 1 and 2 simplify the tax system and reduce the incentive for manipulating payments to achieve tax advantage.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

I am sorry to dwell on the point, but it was raised previously. My recollection is that it would require an affirmative statutory instrument to change the £30,000 figure in future. Is that correct? The Opposition have clearly raised that concern.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

That is absolutely right. As I have just said, we have no intention of changing the threshold. If a future Government wished to do so, that would need to be done through an affirmative statutory instrument and the House would have the opportunity to debate it and take issue with it in the usual way, if it wanted to. We have no plans to do so; my hon. Friend is right to seek that clarification.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Understandably, several concerns have been expressed about the impact that any changes might have, particularly on people on lower incomes who might have served in a job for many years before being made redundant. Can the Minister explain how the £30,000 threshold compares with the maximum available from statutory redundancy pay, and who might be captured by the measure?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Statutory redundancy pay is £15,000, so for these purposes, £30,000 appears generous. I have already made the international comparisons. It is also important to point out that there are a number of exemptions altogether, for discrimination, physical harm, disability and so on, set out in other areas of legislation to ensure that those who are particularly vulnerable and deserving are protected when it comes to the payment they receive for their injuries.

I will briefly discuss the amendments that would be made to the Bill if new clauses 1 and 4 were accepted. New clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, seeks to require the Government to produce a report on the impact of class 1A NICs on termination awards. Furthermore, it specifies that the report must contain

“an assessment of the expected impact” of the changes in certain respects, which I will not list here but which are available in the Bill documents. New clause 4, tabled by John McDonnell and the hon. Members for Bootle, for Oxford East, for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Manchester, Withington from the official Opposition, also asks the Government to report on several similar issues to those covered in new clause 1.

The new clauses are unnecessary because they seek to force the Government to report on a narrowly prescribed set of issues, most of which have been considered during the detailed consultation that has already been completed and that I have outlined, ahead of new information becoming available. The Government are already committed to reviewing the measures and being transparent about the impact that they are expected to have.

It is worth giving Committee members a little more detail on these issues. First, the Government do not deem it appropriate to conduct reports that have been very narrowly constructed. A report focused exclusively on one aspect of the Government’s reforms to termination payments—the distribution analysis, for example—would miss other important aspects such as the impact on the levels of tax avoidance or the funding of public services.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that we should look at the impact on job creation and the ability of employers to create jobs, particularly on the day we learned that unemployment is at the lowest level of my entire lifetime? I was born in 1974.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary 2:15 pm, 14th May 2019

Absolutely. The figures reported by the Office for National Statistics this morning are further evidence of the jobs miracle we have seen since we came to power in 2010. It is important to place these changes and the impact they will have on working people in the context of the fact that, as my hon. Friend said, most of us in this room have never known such a buoyant labour market in our lifetimes—and long may it continue.

On the particular point of the reports, the Government feel it is more appropriate to look at those issues in the round and to take a balanced decision based on all the relevant factors. Secondly, the Government have already consulted on this measure in detail. We have published both the draft policy proposals and the legislation for scrutiny. We explicitly considered the impact on employers and individuals as part of the policy and our development.

We decided on an approach that protected those losing their jobs by, for example, retaining the important £30,000 exemption that we have extensively discussed and not seeking to change the position with respect to employee national insurance contributions, but at the same time simplified and aligned the system, reducing the incentives for manipulating payments. We believe we have considered this issue carefully and reached a balanced way forward.

I will add at this point that the policy costing for this measure, as we have already heard in interventions from my hon. Friends, has been signed off and certified by the independent OBR, and the methodology for that assessment is described in the Budget policy costings document. That shows the Government’s commitment to transparency and sound public finances.

Finally, the Government have already committed to keeping this measure under review, as new information may become available. The publicly available tax information and impact note, or TIIN, commits the Government to keeping the scheme under review through communication with taxpayer groups affected by the measure and through information collected from tax receipts.

As with all legislation, the Treasury is also required to carry out post-legislative scrutiny of Acts within three to five years of their implementation. As I outlined, I think in response to the question from the hon. Member for Oxford East this morning, the Treasury may well do that before that deadline; it would certainly be required to do so and to report to the Treasury Committee if it had not.

As part of the review process to meet those obligations, HMRC and HM Treasury will speak to stakeholders to gauge their views on how the policy is operating. There are well established lines of communication between HMRC and representative groups, as one would expect, that will provide the basis for a continuous review of the effect of this policy. I am sure that hon. Members will feed back to Ministers any concerns and thoughts regarding how the reforms are working in practice, and of course HM Treasury is always open to suggestions. I hope hon. Members will agree that those points make publishing a review on these matters unnecessary. However, it may also help if I respond specifically to the points raised about the impact of the new class 1A employers’ NICs liability.

I would like to make a number of important points in closing. First, no employee will receive a new tax charge as a result of the Bill. The Government have explicitly chosen not to charge employee NICs on the measure and to retain the £30,000 threshold.

Secondly, only about 20% of termination awards will be affected. As we heard this morning, the OBR expects that employers may react by lowering wages or accepting lower profits and has adjusted its forecast for salaries by 0.1% as a result. However, that is a negligible reduction and must be viewed in the context of record employment, record low levels of unemployment and record employment in all categories—disabled persons, women in the employment market, young people in the employment market and so on—a higher living wage, support to businesses through tax cuts such as corporation tax, and other important policy initiatives brought forward by this Government. Also, as the ONS pointed out this morning, wages are rising substantially above inflation.

Thirdly, as I noted in my letter to the Committee, and as I set out again in my answers to questions this morning, where employers face a new charge on termination awards, we expect this to be disproportionately on payments to higher-rate and additional-rate taxpayers, typically those who are in the top two or three income deciles.

Clause 1 will simplify the tax system, reduce the incentive to manipulate payment, and raise important revenue for our public services. As such, and with the reassurances that I hope that I have been able to give the Committee, I commend clauses 1 and 2.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Sir Henry. I thank the people who gave evidence today to the Committee; it was very helpful. I had something like 50 questions to ask. I was unable to ask them all, but I will relieve Members by saying that I will not ask them all now—possibly 45, but not the 50 that I had planned to ask.

Contrary to what the Minister says, we do not, through new clause 1, want to “force” the Government to do this, that or the other; we do, however, want them to come to Parliament and accept parliamentary scrutiny. There have been no amendments to any of the Finance Bill Committees that I have sat on; I think it is four in total. In the mother of Parliaments, we were unable to scrutinise those Bills properly and appropriately—my colleagues will remember several of them—because the Government have tried, and continue to try, to close down any scrutiny. It is very important to get that on the record.

As for the implication that if we do not agree to the proposals, it will somehow have an impact on job creation—that old chestnut—as I said recently on the radio and in other media, the same was said about giving the minimum wage to miners in 1913, and to agricultural workers in 1924. It was said when people started to get holiday pay in 1938. People said that equal pay for women and members of ethnic minorities would cause the economy to crash, and the same things are being said about the minimum wage. It is the old claptrap—I should not say that, in case it is unparliamentary, but that is what it amounts to—about this impacting on jobs.

Yes, we have the highest number of jobs since 1975, or since records began, as the Government keep telling us, but the context is that this is the most precariously placed workforce in decades. Zero-hours contracts abound, and regional imbalances—[Interruption.] Government Members mutter, but facts are a stubborn thing; facts remain facts. [Interruption.] They are facts; the Minister mutters that they are not. The reality is that a huge number of people are on zero-hours contracts, and huge numbers of people are working two or three hours a week. That is classed as employment. I am sorry, but it is not “employment” to that person, who is not getting any money, or to their family, who perhaps have to send their children to school without breakfast or lunch. Let us get that into context.

The hon. Member for Dudley South effectively said that we will now tax redundancy payments above a certain level. Only the Tories could make a virtue of taxing the redundancy payments of people who have lost their job. The Minister mentioned that the £30,000 figure had been the same since 1998, and said that it was the most generous such amount in—I don’t know—the known world. We do not want to make simple comparisons with other countries, because other countries have far more generous reliefs in other areas, so making a direct comparison with other redundancy figures, out of the totality of employment reliefs, is not appropriate.

The hon. Member for Walsall North mentioned the affirmative procedure. If the Government want to reduce the £30,000 limit—as they no doubt will want to, given that that is far too generous for people who have been made redundant and have lost their job—we will be able to vote on that. Perhaps that would, at least, give us a proper opportunity to debate the issue on the Floor of the House, which we have not been able to do. I mentioned our inability to amend the law in the last four, or possibly even five, Finance Bills. That is unprecedented in parliamentary history.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, if he wishes to peddle some more Tory twaddle.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

I thank the shadow Minister for giving way. His point is entirely bogus, because as the Minister made clear, and as he knows, the Bill concerns purely employers’, and not employees’, contributions, so it does not tax anybody’s redundancy payment.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what was admitted today: that still reduces people’s wages; that is what this comes down to. It could also give companies an incentive not to pay redundancy. I know that he wants to sweep those points aside as though they were irrelevant, but they are not irrelevant to a person who has worked for a company for 25 years and gets a redundancy payment that is taxed more greatly than they expected. That is the context in which I am raising these issues.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he accept that the maximum statutory redundancy pay, even for an employee who has worked for 25 years, is barely half of the threshold amount in the Bill, so they would not be affected, even indirectly?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

There we go again. It is the race to the bottom, isn’t it? We are always talking about a statutory minimum. That is what the Tories talk about all the time: the minimum. We do not want people living on the minimum; we want people to have a healthy, full-quality life. This is about the cumulative effect of the Government’s fiscal policies, not one isolated issue; it is about the totality. A person might have a job, but it might be a poor, insecure job. It is not just about having a job; it is about the quality and context of that job.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

That is a valid point, and the expert witnesses supported that this morning. If an employer is designing and costing a redundancy package—I do not know why we use the term “termination” in the Bill; why not say “redundancy”? —surely the additional tax and national insurance must be a factor, and that may well have an impact on the final figure that the employee receives. Government Members say that we have record levels of employment, but there is a report today that 4 million people in employment are living in poverty. That is a feature that we have not seen before, along with declining and stagnating wage growth levels.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The reality is that the only termination under the Tories is termination of the social and economic cohesion of this country. That is the termination that I am deeply worried about.

Another important point was raised. We always get the same old chestnut from the Conservatives. They say that their proposal will raise £200 million or £300 million —though they often do not raise what they say they will, because they are so incompetent at doing it—and that if we do not agree with it, we will have to find the money elsewhere. However, we have set out where we would find that money. It would not be from people getting redundancy payments; it would be people at the other end of the spectrum, who have significant amounts of money, or employers, who would have to cough up. We will get it from the people who are in the best position, psychologically and financially, to pay it.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

I think the hon. Gentleman was casting aspersions on this Government’s ability to collect taxes. My vague recollection is that our record is better than the Labour party’s. If that is so, what does he have to say about that?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:30 pm, 14th May 2019

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised that. Perhaps when we have a little chat in the Tea Room I will give him a copy of the letter from the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, to the Chancellor, setting out not our plans, but what Labour has done in the past on tax enforcement. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that they did not work. He should try telling that to taxpayers, who, as a result of Labour’s proposals over the best part of 15 years, raised billions upon billions of pounds, which went into public services. I will send a copy of the letter to the hon. Member for Walsall North, in case I do not bump into him in the Tea Room. I do not think the Chancellor replied; I cannot possibly think why.

Moving on to the substantive issue—[Interruption.] I do not mind a little bit of chuntering from Government Members, but if they made it at least marginally coherent, so that I could hear it, that would be really helpful. The Opposition’s new clause 4 would require the Government to review the impact of class 1A national insurance contributions on termination awards. The review would include:

“(a) an assessment of the impact the new Class 1A liability has on the level of termination payments workers receive;

(b) an assessment of the impact the new Class 1A liability has on employers;

(c) a distributional analysis of the new Class 1A liability; and

(d) anything else the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

We are being very generous, and are giving the Secretary of State lots of room for manoeuvre in reporting to us on these matters.

As we stated on Second Reading, the condensed Bill before us is a shadow of its former self, standing at just five clauses. In fact, if it was a person, it would resemble a skeleton. The Government’s timetable for the Bill has been determined by the internal politics of the Conservative party—that is the reality; it is as simple as that—rather than an honest assessment of the time needed to scrutinise the measures properly.

The origins of the new class 1A contributions charge levied on termination awards can be traced, as Members know, to 2013, when the Office of Tax Simplification published its interim report, “Review of employee benefits and expenses”. Following the publication of the final report, the Government consulted on the proposed NIC changes and announced their intention to introduce the measure in the 2016 Budget. Two and a half years later, we are finally scrutinising the Government’s NIC reforms to termination awards.

The tax and national insurance treatment of termination payments remains a sensitive topic to workers and employers alike. As I said on Second Reading, employees facing redundancy often consider this final payment an evaluation of the work they have done for their employer. Termination or redundancy payments therefore have both an emotional and financial significance; the financial significance is sometimes slightly out of proportion, but there is nevertheless a relationship.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

The hon. Gentleman is right about the psychological impact of redundancy payments. Does he therefore agree that we should celebrate from the rooftops that unemployment is at its lowest level since 1974?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I celebrate anybody getting a proper, secure, well-paid job. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman should not expect me to celebrate somebody getting a job on two or three hours a week, and he should not expect me to celebrate the fact that £30 billion-worth of tax credits are going to subsidise people in poorly paid jobs, when only 20 years ago that was £1 billion. Don’t ask me to celebrate that. Let us have the full picture. Yes, I always celebrate when somebody gets a decent well-paid, well-trained job with good terms of employment, but no, I do not welcome poorly paid, less well-trained jobs. I am sorry, but I cannot. But for the record, yes I welcome job creation—well-attuned job creation.

To get back to termination payments and their emotional significance, the amount awarded is often determined by painstaking and careful negotiations between managers and trade union representatives. A good employer might offer a generous termination payment to an employee as a sign that it is not a judgment on the intrinsic worth of the staff who are leaving, even though they have had to make them redundant. The job losses might be because of the Government’s economic policies.

The Government’s rationale for the introduction of a new class 1A employer NIC charge, which will be levied at 13.8% on termination awards above the £30,000 threshold, is to do with ease and simplification. In its “Review of employee benefits and expenses: final report” in 2014, the Office of Tax Simplification stated that

“many employers are unclear about which parts of a termination package qualify for the exemption” from tax and national insurance. I stand to be corrected, but I am not sure whether we got a significant amount of clarity on that today.

Additionally, Ministers have cited the opportunity for well-advised employers to avoid paying the right amount of tax and national insurance on termination payments as justification for wider reform. However, neither the Office of Tax Simplification nor Treasury Ministers have been able to provide figures on the number of employers who have taken advantage of the existing loophole, nor of the amount lost to the Exchequer as a result of that. That was probably confirmed today—we do not know.

Despite the many claims of Ministers about the desire to simplify the tax and national insurance treatment of termination awards, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and other tax experts have raised concerns around the lack of information in the Bill about how this new class 1A charge will be collected. We did not get a great deal of clarity on that today. Currently, Ministers plan to leave it up to secondary legislation, as alluded to earlier. That is not only a break from normal practice, but looks set only to confuse employers even more, rather than simplifying the national insurance treatment of termination awards. The people who came to speak to us today were probably a bit too polite to say that.

The provision will also add additional administrative burdens to HMRC at a time when it is hamstrung by what can only be described as the disastrous reorganisation of their estate by the Government—my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East has been involved significantly with that—the introduction of Making Tax Digital, which has added to the problem, and of course the preparations for a no-deal Brexit, which have compounded it even further. Taken in the round, that is a challenge.

So what is the rationale for the introduction of this new NIC charge on termination awards, if not to make things less confusing for employers or to tackle tax avoidance, which is supposedly rife? I suggest that the Government’s rationale is wholly to do with the revenue they expect to raise, and is little more than an attempt to increase national insurance receipts for the Exchequer, while shying away from any major tax or national insurance policy change. I think that there was an acknowledgement of that today. This is just one element of what should have been a wider examination, as set out in the press release to which I referred, on 16 November 2016. This is certainly the opinion that the Office of Tax Simplification advocated in its 2014 report, in which it stated that a new NICs charge could raise revenue for the Exchequer and offset the costs of any tax treatment change affecting termination payments.

The report went on to concede that the policy was likely to lead to increased employer NIC costs and to individual employees receiving reduced termination payments, as employers would be unlikely to increase their redundancy budgets. Similarly, the Government’s own impact assessment notes that this measure will present an “additional cost to employers” that will be

“reflected in lower wages and profit margins with a reduction in total wages and salaries of 0.1%” within the first year of its adoption. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East clarified that with the Minister in today’s evidence session.

To put it simply, this new NICs charge will lead to added costs to employers, some of whom will be small and medium-sized business owners, and less generous termination payments to employees as a result. At the same time, the Treasury has downgraded its forecast of the likely amounts this new charge will raise for the Exchequer from £485 million to £200 million a year. I am sure the Minister would like to provide clarity on that.

This issue goes to the heart of new clause 4, which seeks a review of the measure’s impact on the level of termination payments that employees receive and the cost to employers, and a distributional analysis of this new class 1A charge, which Treasury officials said had not been done. On the ground, it might have been too complicated and the cohort may not have been large enough under the circumstances. Given the likely cost to employers of falling workers’ wages and termination payments, as well as the Government’s shrinking forecast of the amount of revenue the charge would raise, surely it makes sense to pause and gather further information before proceeding. After all, the Office of Tax Simplification noted in its original report that if Ministers were to follow its recommendations for a new NICs charge on termination awards, more data on the potential winners and losers would be needed. We were not able to establish who they were today. I specifically asked that question and could not get an answer. It was like an aggregate amorphous statement.

Sadly, Ministers have not provided that information, despite having years to do so. Treasury Ministers have refused to undertake a distributional analysis, citing the cost or that the cohort is not large enough as excuses, and they are still unable to provide credible figures on the number of workers who receive statutory redundancy payments versus those who receive non-statutory payments. Uncertainty also remains about whether the Government will seek to lower the £30,000 threshold at a later date through primary legislation or secondary regulations. The Minister said they have no plans to do this, but we already raised this issue during consideration of a previous Finance Bill—in fact, I think I raised it. The question was, “If you have no intention of doing it, why introduce legislation to do it and why introduce it through the process of secondary legislation?” If it were me doing that, I would not be banking a piece of legislation unless I intended to use it. That is the case here; the Government will use this. Otherwise, why take up parliamentary time to do so? If they are taking us on a run-around to fill time, that too is inappropriate.

New clause 4 seeks a review of the proposed class 1A charge, focusing on its impact on workers’ wages, on termination payments, added costs for employers and a distributional analysis of the measure. Without such a review, which will provide a wealth of information and further evidence of the likely effect on wages, termination payments and employers, the Opposition will not support this part of the Bill.

I will comment later on new clause 3, but at this particular point, that is all I want to say. I may ask questions of the Minister in due course.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

I apologise—I expected to be called before the Opposition spokesperson on this section. I will do my best not to repeat things that he has said, but if I do, I shall try to do it in a different way at least.

It is good to be part of a Bill Committee that has taken evidence. We do not take evidence on Finance Bills and we are less knowledgeable and less good at scrutinising the information provided to us as a result. I hope the Minister agrees that the evidence sessions were incredibly useful this morning, even though he was in the hot seat and had questions asked of him. It meant that we will ask fewer stupid questions during this part of the scrutiny process, as well as being in a better position to drill down on some of the issues raised by different individuals.

I will talk about a few things, including new clause 1, which is in my name, and the Opposition’s new clause 4, as well as discussing clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill more generally, all of which we are considering in this part of our scrutiny. The first part of new clause 1 is very similar to new clause 4. It asks for the report to include the amount of money that individuals receive in termination payments. The Minister suggests that clauses 1 and 2 are a narrow part of the Bill, but for most of our constituents, they are the most important part, as they concern the amount of money people will receive, should they be in that unfortunate situation. That is what they will care about; they will not care so much about how much money the Treasury gets from this change to the policy. What affects their daily lives will be the thing that is incredibly important to them. I am pleased that both we and the Opposition have proposed the same thing in our new clauses.

The second part of new clause 1 asks for the report to include the average net value of termination payments. It is important to look not only at what the OBR says about the overall change in wages as a result of the changes, but the average net value and the changes to that.

The last thing I have asked for in new clause 1 is for the report to look at the number of business start-ups using termination payments as funding in their first year in each region of the United Kingdom and the impact the clauses will have on that. An awful lot of people use termination payments to begin a new business. The Minister is talking about increases in the number of people employed, but we would not see those increases if we did not have new businesses starting and people having the funding to start them. As we know, it is difficult to get bank loans, for example, for many of these things, and a number of businesses are started on the basis of the redundancy payments that people receive. That is important.

The Opposition have tabled new clause 4, which I entirely support. The first part is exactly the same as what we have put forward, it is just in different language. The second part looks for an assessment of the impact that the new class 1A liability will have on employers. That came out clearly in the evidence session this morning. The OTS and the CIOT said that the Bill is not a simplification for employers. Some employers currently have no liability for class 1A national insurance contributions because they deal only in cash and do not deal in benefits in kind. They will be brought into the class 1A situation and will have to pay that liability. For a number of those employers, that may be for the first time.

The other issue for employers is that the Government have chosen to put termination awards as a class 1A liability and to do collection in real time, rather than at the end of the tax year. That is not the way that any other class 1A contributions are paid. It is, however, the way that other pay-as-you-earn contributions, for example, are paid. My understanding from the evidence given this morning is that the Government could have chosen to have termination awards as class 1 contributions, not class 1A contributions, with employee contributions exempted in the same way that those for pensioners are exempted. That would have been a much clearer situation for employers than deciding to do it as a class 1A liability. An awful lot of employers will have a liability as a result of these changes, whereas far fewer would have liability if it was a class 1 liability.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:45 pm, 14th May 2019

I did not want to stop the hon. Lady in her flow, but on her earlier point, I was at a meeting yesterday with many people from the defence industry and in particular the aircraft industry. One Member who does not sit on the Opposition Benches indicated that when a large aerospace manufacturer closed down in his constituency, thousands of small businesses—or at least one or two thousand small businesses—arose as a result of those people getting redundancy payments. That goes to the heart of the hon. Lady’s point about the potential impact of the reduction in the amount of money people will get from redundancy payments.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

I absolutely agree. I was thinking specifically of the toastie shop in Aberdeen that does unbelievable toasted cheese sandwiches. Members should look at its Facebook page; it is called Melt and it is absolutely amazing. It sells toasted cheese sandwiches with all your calories for a week in one sandwich. That business was started by a woman who had been made redundant. A lot of people in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have been made redundant because of the recent crash in oil and gas prices, and they have been starting new businesses as a result.

I am particularly concerned that any change might stifle the growth of new businesses. I asked the Treasury this morning whether it has figures on the number of new businesses started with termination payments. It does not. It is very difficult for the Treasury to say that this will not have an effect—to be fair, it has not said that, but it cannot because it does not have the quantifiable numbers and cannot project them; it appears not to be keeping track of the information.

Lastly, on Opposition new clause 4, the shadow Minister has also asked for a distributional analysis of the new class 1A liability. Again, it is incredibly important for us to have that information.

The Minister suggested that the Treasury is trying to be as transparent as possible. To be fair, this is one of the more transparent Bills, with more consultation than some of the other Bills that we have seen. The issue is that the information that we are provided with, and that is in the public domain, is not good enough for us to be able to make reasonable judgments about the effect of the policy. It is all well and good for the Minister to say that it will generate £200 million and that we would have a £200 million hole in the Budget. The OBR has verified that figure, but the reality is that we do not have enough of the drill-down information on the people who will be affected.

All of us on this side of the Committee are concerned about the reduced amount that employees will receive. It would have been sensible for the Treasury to have come armed with some kind of projection around that. That would have stopped us from asking all these questions. We might have criticised the figure and said that the measure should not be taken forward, but we would not be having this debate if the Treasury had come forward with detailed figures.

The Minister has spoken in favour of clauses 1 and 2, but for a huge number of employers they do not represent a simplification when it comes to dealing with the tax system. This is a revenue-raising measure and it is about closing a loophole. I am not criticising the Treasury for either of those things, but it has badged the change as a simplification when the two principal things that it tries to do are not that, but revenue raising and closing a loophole; we would have had a very different discussion if the Treasury had made that clear rather than said that it was all about simplification.

I completely agree that the measure came from an Office of Tax Simplification report, but that did not say that class 1A contributions had to be used to achieve this end. That may not be the best possible way to progress. I have already spoken about class 1A. It could have been done in a class 1 way, which would have been clearer for employers to understand.

On collection methods, I have real concerns about this being a real-time collection measure. Less than a year out from implementation, employers may not be aware of the correct computer system or understand correctly how it will work. Obviously, if an employer is making future projections, it is going to be looking at what upgrades it will need for its IT system and be planning that as far in advance as possible. On top of all the uncertainty of Brexit, the Government are adding more complexity and future uncertainty: they are not able to say, “This is exactly how the real-time collection measure will work.” They are not able to provide that information to businesses far enough out.

Finally, on the “negligible” reduction, as the Minister described it, of 0.1% on wages, I should say that we are seeing incredibly high levels of in-work poverty. Not a surgery or a day goes by without working people getting in touch with me to say they cannot live on the amount of money they receive. I get such correspondence on a regular basis, as I imagine do all MPs across the House.

The Minister spoke about the national living wage, which is not a living wage and is not for those under 25. As the shadow Minister said, the Government do not want to allow under-25s a wage they could vaguely live on, just in case there are fewer of them employed. I do not think there is any evidence to show that is likely to be the case. It does not cost any less to live at 24 than at 26.

A 0.1% reduction in wages for people who are literally living on the breadline and having to choose between feeding their children and heating their homes cannot be swallowed up by some families. The Government say they are quite happy with a 0.1% reduction in wages as long as they get £200 million in the Treasury’s coffers. I do not think that is a sensible way to play these things off. I do not think the measure is worth the £200 million if it means more families in poverty and destitution as a result.

The 0.1% might sound very small but, for someone living on not very much money it can be the difference between being able to feed the kids and not being able to. There are a number of issues with this measure, both technically and with the stance that the Government have chosen to take on it.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I do not intend to repeat all the comments that I made earlier, which I think answered a lot of questions that were put to me. I will try to summarise some of the arguments made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North. She made a point that came up in questioning around the choice of class 1A, which a number of members of the Committee have raised. We are clear that this is the right choice. We gave the matter careful consideration. There are a couple of central arguments. The choice of class 1A and, therefore, payment in real time was central to alignment with income tax. If we want to have greater alignment and simplicity, that is the way to deliver it.

Secondly, as we heard in evidence this morning, class 1A is a category of national insurance contributions that focuses on the employer. Because we have chosen not to introduce this from an employee NICs perspective, that was the most logical category.

As the hon. Lady and others have mentioned, if there were an intention in future to add employees’ national insurance contributions, one would perhaps have chosen class 1 national insurance as the most logical. By choosing class 1A, we made a clear statement that we had no intention of doing that. This is purely focused on the payment from the employer in respect of national insurance contributions.

Finally, as we may come on to later in the passage of the Bill with respect to sporting testimonials, for those individuals giving money to charity it is important for the contribution to be paid through class 1A, because that is the class of national insurance contributions that payroll giving uses. Had we chosen class 1 national insurance contributions, that route would have been closed; if we had wanted to protect charitable giving, we would have had to make alternative arrangements. There were a number of reasons, logical when they are thought through, why we reached this conclusion.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

That is a useful clarification around class 1A and payroll giving that I had not quite understood this morning. If the Minister is saying that class 1A is eligible for real-time payments rather than collection at the end of the tax year, does he intend to move to a system where all class 1A is eligible for payment in real time and not at the end of the tax year?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

We do not have any plans to do that, but this measure is designed with termination payments in mind. The Bill does not make any changes elsewhere—other than, obviously, to sporting testimonials. We are trying to provide the greatest degree of alignment with the income tax changes that we have made, and the choice of class 1A enables us to deliver that. If we had chosen a different class, there would have been a greater degree of misalignment. I hope that the hon. Lady will consider those thoughts.

We have already debated at length the issue of whether this was a rushed Bill. I think that argument is difficult to support, on the basis that the policy decision has been around since 2015, consulted on, restated in multiple Budgets, and debated as part of two Finance Bills. The argument that this is a rushed policy decision cannot be sustained. We are bringing this Bill forward at this point so that, assuming it passes through both Houses as soon as possible, there is good time for practitioners in the accounting profession and employers to make the necessary changes to software packages and so on.

We will take seriously the communication that we will do through HMRC. As the Minister, I will follow that up to ensure that employers are properly communicated with and have sufficient guidance to make the changes.

The hon. Lady asked again about the statistics on the number of individuals in receipt of a termination payment who go on to set up a small business. We do not collect that data; we do not know what path someone chooses to take after they have been made redundant or had their employment terminated and received a termination payment. It is not an easy statistic to collect, because it is not easy to follow an individual’s path further on to determine what they chose to do next in their career. We simply do not have that information.

As I said in answer to the hon. Lady’s question this morning, I have looked at some studies. Some look nationally at the number of individuals who chose to set up a small business following the spike in unemployment after the financial crash. Others are particular studies of certain areas—for example, I have recently seen one about individuals in Teesside who chose to set up small businesses as a result of losing their jobs when the SSI steelworks was closed. However, those studies are not produced by the Government, although some are produced by organisations that the Government support and endorse, such as the Startup Institute. That is not the perfect answer to the hon. Lady’s question, but she could look at some of those studies if she wanted.

There has been a debate about distributional impact. I have already made this point on a number of occasions, but it is worth restating that this is not likely to have a significant impact on those who are on low or middle incomes. Some 80% of people in receipt of a termination payment are not going to be affected by these measures; only 20% will be. That 20% will primarily be higher rate taxpayers or payers of the rate beyond that, in the top two or three deciles of income. Those affected really are those in receipt of larger termination payments.

There was a question about the degree of information put into the public domain; actually, we have put quite a lot out. I said this morning that we have modelled this, and I believe that about 72,000 termination payments will be impacted per year. Our modelling also suggests that the average payment that will be affected by this measure is £61,000—a significant size of termination payment. We are not talking about individuals on low salaries.

I now turn to some of the questions raised by the hon. Member for Bootle, most of which I think I have answered in the past. I reject the suggestion that this Bill has been rushed, or that there has not been a high degree of scrutiny; I think that there has been, and that we have put out as much information as was required.

The discrepancy between the £400 million a year figure and the £200 million one that we have been citing today was already referred to this morning, but the hon. Gentleman has asked about it again. As I think was said by my officials this morning, that discrepancy arises from the fact that the £400 million figure includes the income tax changes that have been legislated for separately. The £200 million figure is exclusively for the NICs changes.

The wider point raised by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, about why we as a Government chose to take forward a reduced set of national insurance reforms than was originally envisaged, is worth discussing briefly. We as a Government, like others before us, have been interested for some time in how we could reform national insurance; it is an area of the tax arena ripe for reform and further simplification. However, as we heard in evidence this morning, those simplifications are inherently complex and involve both winners and losers.

The original proposal to abolish class 2 national insurance created a small tax advantage for a large number of individuals: about 3 million self-employed people would receive a reduction of just over £100 a year in taxes paid. However, it would have created a substantially higher rate to be paid by several hundred thousand self-employed people who earned less than £8,000 a year.

On balance, thinking carefully about the consequences, we took the view, which I hope would be supported by Members from both sides, that a very modest tax break for 3 million people was outweighed by the cost of a significantly increased rate of national insurance for low earners. That was announced in September last year, and there was relatively little comment thereafter; I think most people agreed that it was a sensible and fair decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.