Clause 28 - Qualifying care relief: increase in individual’s limit

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16 May 2023.

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

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The clause makes changes to support foster carers by increasing the amount of income tax relief available to them and ensuring that that relief stays at an appropriate level over time in line with inflation. We are nearly doubling the qualifying care relief threshold, which will give a tax cut to a qualifying carer worth an average of £450 a year. I know that hon. Members are particularly interested in supporting foster carers, who are real public servants, in looking after looked-after children.

Qualifying care relief has been unchanged since 2003. Many carers are now paying income tax on payments intended to represent the additional costs of fostering that qualifying care relief was intended to exempt. Minimum fostering allowances are set to rise by 12.4% in this financial year, and with current tax threshold freezes, current qualifying care relief levels are expected to push approximately 1,500 carers into tax, which could disincentivise care. We are seeking to reflect the higher allowances that are paid to carers and the higher costs of caring compared with when the relief was set originally. By linking the value of the relief to inflation, the measure will also help to ensure that the level of qualifying care relief remains appropriate over time, supporting carers now and in the future. This will help to provide a greater financial incentive for carers to join or stay in the care industry, improving the recruitment and retention of carers in the future.

The measure increases the amount of income tax relief available for foster carers across the UK and shared lives carers using qualifying care relief from £10,000 to £18,140 per year, plus £375 to £450 per week for each person cared for. Those thresholds will be index linked to the consumer prices index. That will benefit more than 33,000 individuals who receive care income in respect of foster caring and other types of care and who currently submit self-assessment returns; such people look after an estimated 58,000 foster children.

We expect to take most care income out of tax by providing a higher level of relief. It will have simplification benefits, because it will allow more carers to use the simpler method of completing their self-employment pages on their self-assessment return. I hope that that will be a welcome improvement to the tax position of foster carers and shared lives carers. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

As the Minister says, the clause increases the annual amount of care income that a recipient of qualifying care relief will receive that is not subject to income tax. Furthermore, the clause provides for the annual amount to increase in subsequent tax years in line with CPI. We know that qualifying care relief allows carers who look after children or adults, including foster carers, shared lives carers and kinship carers, to receive certain payments tax free, up to an annual limit. We know that the annual limit comprises a fixed amount for each household, plus a weekly amount for each child or adult being cared for.

Qualifying care relief is a tax simplification providing specific tax relief for care income as a replacement for apportioning and calculating full deductions for expenses. The relief allows carers to keep simpler records for their care activities and to use a simpler method of filling in the self-employed pages of their tax returns, as the Minister mentioned. We recognise that the clause increases the fixed and weekly amounts making up the annual limit to bring more carers out of income tax and simplify their tax reporting responsibilities. It also introduces CPI indexation.

We welcome the fact that the clause could provide a greater financial incentive for carers to join or stay in the care industry, potentially improving the recruitment and retention of carers in the future, so we will not oppose it.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

First, given the inflation that we are facing, it is incredibly important that people who are caring, and taking on caring responsibilities, can afford to do so and are not forced to stop because of an impact on their income. This is a positive step. A not insignificant number of those who are cared for face a specific issue, such access to special diets, for which inflation has increased much more than even for food inflation. Individuals caring for anybody who is on a special diet will have seen a differentially large impact on their household spend specifically as a result of having to cater for those special diets. The changes being made therefore could not have come at a better time.

It is also positive to hear recognition for kinship carers, who are so often missed out in conversations about caring, even if people are taking on a formal role as kinship carers. We could not do without the significant amount of work that kinship carers do, so I am pleased, having previously had to argue in my council role for similar benefits for kinship carers as those that foster carers were receiving, that the Government have as a matter of course included kinship carers in the qualifying care relief, and ensured that the changes being made extend to them.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I think that this measure will be welcomed across the Committee. As the Minister said, no one will vote against it. All of us know locally, from our constituency advice surgeries and our general work, the pressure that the entire care system is under. We know many of the things that are wrong with it and difficult in it, and how crucial it is to try to get it right, not least for the life opportunities of those people who are caught up in the system.

In the context of a welcome change, could the Minister explain the decision to index to CPI rather than RPI? The retail price index takes into account the costs of rent or housing in a way that I would have thought was directly relevant in this context. Why was it decided to use CPI rather than RPI for future indexation?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We use CPI across the board. What we have tried to do is bring the value of the QCR back to its intended level. As I said, it had not changed since 2003. Index linking protects its value to foster carers in the future, so that a future Finance Bill Committee does not have to consider a similar uprating in the future.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I thank the Minister. It is obviously a good thing that there will be indexation. In fact, I was talking about the lack of indexing when we were talking about the freezing of tax thresholds earlier, so I understand that point.

However, I am asking a very technical, specific question about why the Government are using CPI rather than RPI. RPI includes the cost of housing, and the cost of rent, or whatever, for the place where the caring is being done seems to me to be a relevant cost in this context. Indexing to RPI would actually be a better way of representing and indexing those costs going forward. I am asking: why CPI, rather than RPI?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is because that tends to be our measure across the board. I take the hon. Lady’s point about housing, but if someone needs help with the cost of housing, depending on their income levels, there are other ways in which they can get help from the state for that. This relief was specifically to reflect the extraordinary public service that families across our constituencies provide in helping those most vulnerable of children.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill