Another Autumn Budget deferred

After heavy hinting from the Treasury for some weeks, the expected Autumn Budget has been pushed into spring 2021, with tax rises on the cards.

Since the March Budget and through to August, the expectation was that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, would introduce his second Budget this autumn. Such timing would have restored the cycle of a Spring Statement followed by an Autumn Budget after it broke down last year in the lead up of the general election.

With intense speculation around tax rises to pay for the raft of Covid-19 support measures, the first serious clue to a possible Autumn Budget delay emerged on 8 September, when the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) slipped out a statement about its review of capital gains tax (CGT), which had been commissioned by the Chancellor in July. The statement announced the response deadline on the technical part of the OTS consultation would be deferred by four weeks, to 9 November. This was a surprising move as the OTS CGT report was expected to feed into the Autumn Budget.

Soon after, the Chancellor himself issued a brief written statement saying he had asked the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to prepare an economic and fiscal forecast ‘to be published in mid-to-late November’. The vagueness surrounding the timing was evident, as the OBR report is produced alongside the Budget and incorporates costings for Budget measures.

What had started to look inevitable was confirmed on 24 September when the Treasury cancelled the Autumn Budget. The Chancellor will still have a set piece event towards the end of the year; not only is there the OBR report to present, but Mr Sunak must also publish a Spending Review. The latter was also a victim of the general election and ought to have been produced a year ago to cover the three years from April 2020. Instead, the then Chancellor published a one-year Spending Round. Given the pandemic uncertainties, it is likely that Mr Sunak will take a similar short-term view, rather than introduce a multi-year plan.

The postponement of the Autumn Budget does not mean the spectre of tax increases has also evaporated. The level of government borrowing (£174 billion in the first five months of 2020/21) makes tax rises virtually inevitable. However, the Chancellor has afforded you more time to plan and take action in areas such as CGT and pension contributions.

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