Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Despite the Budget - minimise your tax". (How?)

"5 ways to lower your revenue bills" - These are headlines on the 'Your Money' page of today's Daily Telegraph. The online version seems to be a different list titled: 'How to cut your tax bill'

Two things struck me about the print edition. The first was that someone had almost certainly changed the title from "5 ways to lower your TAX bills" - which is presumably the list that the journalist was asked to construct. The second was how inapplicable to most people were the five tips. And in this respect the Telegraph is no different to most other papers that I see.

Of the 5 tips, 2 were related to reducing tax on savings, one encouraged more pension savings, one was only relevant for people making significant capital gains and the final one related only to people who have stopped working or who don't pay any tax.

The tips are fine so far as they go but they're hardly mainstream in my view.

How does this happen? Is it really that there is nothing that the average reader can do to reduce their tax bills?

I assume that the Editor asks someone to get an uptodate list as this should be of interest to readers. Journalists then call up friendly tax accountants and tax specialists and ask for some generic ideas. I've contributed to such lists in the past and I also frequently assist journalists who need practical and commercial insights into our tax system.

Most of the points in the online version of the article appear to have been contributed by IFAs rather than by tax advisers. Most strange.

If I'd been asked about compiling such a list this week I would have suggested that the problem arises from trying to compile one generic list. I'd say that, in theory, at least 4 are required. One for employees, one for the self employed, one for those who run their own company (which is not the same as running a self employed business) and one for the Retired and savers. If you want a generic list that is of little real benefit then by all means repeat the age old tips about checking tax codes (without giving any tips as to what to look for when you check them) and the old favourite of holding investments jointly with your spouse - only relevant to a sub-set of married readers.

The telegraph is not alone in publishing such standard lists; Equally, there's no need to get 'clever, clever'. Having said that there is in fact very little that most employees can do to reduce the tax on their employment income - it's more a question of just checking that there are no mistakes being made. And that's the other problem, who'd want to publish tips lists that alienate the majority of readers by saying that your tax bills are pretty fixed but here are some tips for the self employed and those running their own companies?

Just to be clear, I'm certainly not thinking about including anything that could be termed abusive. But I do frequently hear about people who are paying more tax than they need to because of simple oversights or a lack of understanding about the tax system.

Maybe members of the Tax Advice Network should construct such lists and I could offer them more widely through the taxbuzz blog. Anyone interested?

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