Regular readers may recall the first blog that I wrote for SIPPs Professional in December last year, entitled 'The law is a drag', which was subsequently also published here.
The principal focus of my ire was the time it took to get pensions legislation onto the statute books, whilst the freshly-unencumbered conservative government merrily ploughed ahead with their austerity plans, tapering the annual allowance and reducing the lifetime allowance - again – to £1 million, with effect from the start of this tax year.
"Faced with the date of Royal Assent moving ever further away, their process was dribbled out, one pension schemes newsletter after another, like a soap opera story-line, but bereft of cliff-hangers."
The first draft of the Finance Bill 2016 had just been tabled by George Osborne and in my blog I stated, (somewhat optimistically, with the benefit of hindsight);
“The Bill will…work its way through five House of Commons stages and five House of Lords stages, and should receive Royal Assent in July 2016.”
Wait for it . . .
Fast forward to now, and the reality is that the Finance Act 2016, (as it is now called), didn’t actually receive Royal Assent until 15 September!
Lurking within this 662-page tome is the final legislation underpinning Fixed Protection 2016 (FP16) and Individual Protection 2016 (IP16), as well as formally introducing a number of easements to the ‘pension flexibilities’ that were first announced in the March 2016 Budget.
Whilst accepting that the UK – and the conservative government in particular – have undergone largely unanticipated changes following the EU referendum decision in June, advisers and providers have had to caveat their advice and guidance to their clients for nearly half of the current tax year; given that this was based on draft legislation that was theoretically subject to change.
And although 'pity poor HMRC' is not a phrase that I use often, this ‘legislative drift’ served to impact on their process for individuals applying for FP16 and IP16. Faced with the date of Royal Assent moving ever further away, their process was dribbled out, one pension schemes newsletter after another, like a soap opera story-line, but bereft of cliff-hangers.
Initially, those wishing to apply for protection from 6 April 2016 had no option but to write a 'dear HMRC' letter, including set text provided by HMRC in advance. As the end of July drew nearer, with no sign of Royal Assent imminent, (because all the politicians had gone on holiday), they had no option but to launch their much-trailed online portal for FP16 and IP16 applications; even though the legislation permitting this, remained ‘on the drawing-board’.
This ‘cart-before-the-horse’ nonsense has to stop. We now have a new Chancellor in Philip Hammond, and a date for this year’s Autumn Statement of 23 November. Given that there was no ‘post-Brexit’ emergency budget - initially threatened by George Osborne as part of his 'vote yes' scaremongering – the opportunity is now there to return to a calm and sensible timetable, where legislation is already on the statute books ahead of any changes taking effect; thereby enabling advisers and their clients to make decisions, based on a ‘foundation of certainty’.
I, for one, do not want to be repeating this blog again in another year’s time.
This blog was first published on the SIPPs Professional website