Monthly Archives

November 2023

Our view on the Autumn Statement

By | Budget

National Insurance

The headline announcement in the Autumn Statement was the reduction in the main rate of Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (NICs) paid by an employee. Whilst speculation had mounted prior to the Statement that the cut to NICs would be 1%, Jeremy Hunt extended the cut to 2%, reducing the main rate (i.e. the rate payable on earnings between £12,570 to £50,270) from 12% to 10%. This will take effect from 6th January 2024 and provide a maximum saving of £754 per annum.

From the perspective of pension contributions, many employers now offer Salary Sacrifice arrangements, which provide NICs savings for both employers and employees. The reduction in the main rate of Class 1 NICs does slightly reduce the benefit achieved from a Salary Sacrifice arrangement; however, such an arrangement remains a tax-efficient way to structure regular pension contributions.

For the self-employed, Class 2 contributions have been abolished for those with profits above £6,725 a year. The main rate of Class 4 contributions has been reduced from 9% to 8% on profits between £12,570 and £50,270. Employer rates of NICs remain unchanged at 13.8%.

Extended support for VCT and EIS

The Statement confirmed continued support for Venture Capital Trust (VCT) and Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) until 2035, which is welcome news. VCT and EIS were previously subject to a “sunset clause” which would have ended tax relief on investment in new VCT and EIS shares in 2025. The announcement provides clarity to the sector and continues to underline the Government’s intention to support small and growing businesses with funding through tax efficient investments.

Pension rules clarified

Following the announcement in the Spring Budget 2023 that the Lifetime Allowance for pension savings is to be abolished, the Treasury and HMRC have provided further guidance on how the new regime will operate from 2024/25. The most important clarification was in respect of the tax treatment of funds in a Defined Contribution pension, where the member dies before the age of 75. Subject to confirmation in the Finance Act, it appears that annuity and drawdown income payable to nominated beneficiaries will remain tax-free beyond 6th April 2024.

IHT – no change…yet

Despite significant press speculation in the run up to the Autumn Statement, no announcements were made to alter the current Inheritance Tax (IHT) rules. Treasury receipts from IHT continue to grow year on year, and reducing or abolishing IHT would leave a gap in the public finances that would need to be filled elsewhere. It therefore remains the case that careful planning is needed to consider whether any mitigation to reduce or eliminate exposure to IHT is required.

Given that there is at least one more Budget before the next general election, we would not entirely rule out changes to IHT next year; however, it is likely that families will still need to consider and plan ahead to ensure that intergenerational wealth is cascaded in a tax-efficient manner.

ISA changes

Whilst some of the more radical changes that the Government could have made to Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) have been left out of the Autumn Statement, some useful adjustments have been made to the ISA rules from April 2024. From the next tax year, investors and savers will be able to open more than one ISA of each type in the same tax year. Under current legislation you can only open one ISA of each type (i.e. one Stocks and Shares ISA and one Cash ISA) in a tax year, and the new rules introduce interesting opportunities to split Stocks and Shares ISAs across different providers, or save into both a fixed rate and a variable rate Cash ISA with different deposit takers. It will also be possible to arrange partial ISA transfers from contributions made in the current tax year.

The total ISA allowance remains at £20,000 and this is the hard cap on contributions across all different ISA types in a single tax year. This is slightly disappointing, given the fact that the ISA allowance has remained at £20,000 since the 2017/18 tax year, and inflation has eroded the real value of the ISA allowance over time. Junior ISAs will continue to have a £9,000 limit per tax year.

State Pension

The “triple lock” on State Pensions remains in place and therefore State Pensions will increase by 8.5% from next April, as this was the published rate of average earnings growth in September 2023. As a result, the full New State Pension will increase to £221.20 a week from April, or £11,541.90 per annum.

Those in receipt of State Pension will need to consider the effect of fiscal drag on other income they receive such as personal pension income, or savings or dividend income above the Personal Savings and Dividend Allowances. As the bands for Income Tax are frozen until 2028, the increase in State Pension may well push more income into the basic rate, and potentially higher rate, tax bands. It would, therefore, be sensible to consider using tax allowances where possible to shelter investment and savings income.

Planning Opportunities

The Autumn Statement provided clarification on the pension rules that will apply from 6th April 2024, and also ended some of the uncertainty around the long term future of VCT and EIS investments. The measures announced may also present some useful opportunities in the way ISAs are structured from the next tax year; however, with tax bands still frozen, it would be sensible to review the tax-efficiency of existing investment portfolios. Speak to one of our advisers to discuss your financial planning requirements in light of the Autumn Statement.

Trust investment decisions

By | Trusts

Whether a trust is created through a will, or established through a lifetime gift, the trustees will need to take a number of important decisions when a trust commences. One of the key decisions is how the trust funds are to be invested. By way of reminder, the Trustee Act obliges trustees to seek advice at this stage, unless the trustees feel advice is not necessary (due to the value of the trust fund) or if the trustees feel they have the necessary expertise to reach the decisions themselves.

Deciding on a trust investment strategy

The trustees need to have the interests of the beneficiaries at the heart of each and every decision reached. This extends to the initial assessment of the terms of the trust, where trustees need to understand the purpose of the trust, which will help define the investment objectives. For example, trustees will need to consider whether the trust needs to provide an income to a beneficiary, or if the target is to achieve capital growth, and how long the trust is likely to be in place for.

In addition, any specific terms included within the trust deed need to be considered together with any investment limitations. A good example of such a limitation would be where a will trust leaves funds for a beneficiary upon trust, until they attain the age of 18. If the beneficiary was aged 17 at the time the trust was created, the trustees are likely to reach a different conclusion as to the most appropriate investment approach than if the beneficiary was aged just 2 at the creation of the trust, as the time horizon for investment is very different.

One of the key principles of the Trustee Act is to ensure that the investment strategy is suitable for the purposes of the trust in question. This places the onus on trustees to ensure that the level of risk adopted is sensible, and that the investments provide adequate diversification across a range of different assets.

Another important aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the need to consider the tax treatment of the investments held within the trust. Trusts generally suffer a punitive rate of Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax, and setting up an investment portfolio in a tax-efficient manner can make a substantial difference to the overall net returns received by the beneficiaries.

Reviewing trust investments

Once an investment strategy has been established, there is a statutory requirement for trustees to review the trust investments. Trustees cannot simply establish an investment portfolio for the trust and then neglect to carry out regular reviews, as this could well be seen as dereliction of duty. There are many reasons why investments need to be reviewed regularly; investment performance can vary over time, and the trustees need to make sure that the investments held by the trust perform well compared to other investments of similar risk.

Furthermore, investment market conditions change regularly, and as the last three years has demonstrated, market sentiment can swing from positive to negative quickly in response to global events. As market and economic conditions change, the trust investment strategy will need to adapt to the prevailing conditions, and arranging a regular review can help trustees make decisions to change the investment strategy if necessary.

In addition to the requirement to review investments regularly, trustees also need to make sure that they keep good records of the decisions reached for audit purposes.

Powers of delegation

Trustees cannot ask another to step into their shoes when it comes to important decisions about the distribution of trust assets, or their fiduciary duties; however, trustees can delegate the management of trust investments to a professional, who acts as an agent of the trustees. It is important that this appointment is made under a formal agreement and the boundaries of the investment management agreement need to be clearly defined.

It is often the case that trustees will appoint investment managers who act under a discretionary agreement. This is where the investments are reviewed and changed regularly by the investment manager, without approaching the trustees for their prior approval. This type of arrangement can reduce the onus on trustees to respond to recommendations made by the investment manager, and ensure that the recommended changes are made in a timely manner.

FAS Trustee Service

The FAS Trustee Service aims to provide trustees with a comprehensive advice and review service, which enables trustees to meet their obligations under the Trustee Act.

When we first meet with trustees, we discuss the trust deed in detail and look at the important considerations that the trustees need to take into account. When devising an appropriate investment strategy, we can look at a range of options open to the trustees, and provide independent advice on the asset allocation together with other considerations, such as the amount of funds trustees should retain as cash. We also can provide advice on the most tax-efficient solution, based on the precise circumstances of the trust.

Our comprehensive review service provides trustees with peace of mind, as a thorough review of the trust investments is carried out at pre-determined intervals. We meet with trustees to discuss the investment performance, and other factors relevant to the trust, which can assist trustees in their decision making. We follow-up each meeting with a detailed written report, helping trustees in their compliance with the Trustee Act.

If you are a trustee of a new trust, speak to one of our experienced advisers about the FAS Trustee Service. Likewise, if you are a trustee of an existing trust, and haven’t reviewed the trust investments for some time, then contact us to carry out an independent review of the existing arrangements.

Going big in Japan?

By | Investments

For many years, Japan has been considered as “tomorrow’s story”, where there is much promise, but returns disappoint. That is until this year, where the Japanese Equities market has shown considerable strength. There is good evidence to support further outperformance; however, investors would be well advised to look to the past to understand why Japanese markets have struggled over an extended period, and the steps that policy makers need to take to avoid treading a similar path in the future.

Learning from history

The Japanese stock market has endured over 30 years of underperformance, following a significant economic bubble that formed in the late 1980s. At the time, Japan was growing more rapidly than many Western economies, and spurred on by lax monetary policy and growing investor appetite,  the Nikkei 225 – the most widely reported stock index in Japan – increased from an index value of 13,000 in 1985 to reach a high of 38,915 in December 1989. Across the board, asset prices rose, with the bubble spreading to other asset classes, such as real estate, where values of stocks and property reached overly optimistic levels of valuation.

Asset bubbles tend to end in a disorderly manner, and following the boom, the Nikkei 225 fell heavily in the early 1990’s. Following rapid acceleration during the previous decade, the Japanese economy moved into an extended period of low growth, due to the lingering effects of the asset bubble. The Bank of Japan moved to reduce interest rates to near zero, a level at which rates have broadly stayed ever since, in an attempt to reignite economic growth.

Economics and demographics

One of the reasons why Japan’s economic performance has been an outlier, when compared to other Western economies, are the demographics of the Japanese society. Population levels in Japan are in decline, and the World Economic Forum reports that more than 1 in 10 people in Japan is aged over 80. This has helped keep a lid on domestic consumer demand and there has been a tendency for the population to save, and not spend, despite receiving little in the way of interest. As the population ages, those in working age could see wages increase, leaving consumers with more money in their pockets to spend.

Deflation has been a constant threat that the Bank of Japan have had to deal with. Elevated inflation around the World has been seen as an enemy over the last two years, and whilst high levels of inflation generally harm economic prospects, extended periods of zero inflation, or deflation, have a similar negative effect.

The last year has, however, seen a change in fortune for the Japanese economy. Partly due to the global effects of the pandemic, Japan has seen the first significant bout of inflation for decades, with inflation rising from close to zero in early 2022 to reach 4.3% in January of this year. Whilst inflation has now moderated to stand at 3% in September, the return of meaningful inflation is welcome news and may see domestic demand increase and consumer confidence grow.

Regulatory reform

In addition to the welcome return of modest levels of inflation, Japan is embarking on a number of initiatives to boost investor demand. Traditionally, Japanese companies have been keen to hold large amounts of cash on their balance sheets, and regulators have announced measures to encourage these companies to return funds to shareholders, in the form of increased dividends or share buybacks. There have also been announcements improving the tax breaks offered to encourage Japanese households to move away from traditional cash savings and invest in their economy through share ownership.

Valuations are attractive

When using recognised metrics, Japanese Equities appear to be attractively valued when compared to most other global markets. This may well see a spark in overseas buyer interest, after many years where investors have been reluctant to hold significant allocations to Japan. Indeed, Wall Street veteran Warren Buffett’s announcement that he intends to increase allocations to Japan in April was seen by some as an endorsement of the value in Japanese Equities.

Artificial Intelligence and advanced manufacturing have been drivers of global markets over the last 12 months, and Japan is well placed to benefit from the quest to achieve further automation of human tasks, given the nation’s strong history in areas such as robotics. Japan also has a number of companies who provide solutions that can meet demand for a more energy-efficient and greener future, such as Toyota and Honda.

The importance of diversification

There are several reasons that support the view that Japanese Equities look attractive; however, risks do remain, and whilst the regulatory reforms may prove helpful, there is still significant pressure on central bankers to steer a successful course as inflation slows around the World. This is why we recommend allocations to Japan are held as part of a diversified investment portfolio, which is an important method of controlling investment risk. Allocating funds to different regions, where performance does not necessarily correlate, and to different asset classes – such as Government and Corporate Bonds and Alternative Investments – can help reduce overall portfolio volatility.

Speak to one of our experienced financial planners to discuss the asset allocation of your portfolio.

The role of a trustee

By | Trusts

Trusts can be very useful vehicles that can help manage assets. Unfortunately, many people find trusts confusing and daunting, and acting as a trustee carries significant levels of responsibility.

What is a trust?

In simple terms, a trust is an arrangement where assets are held and managed by an individual or individuals (known as trustees) on behalf of another individual or individuals (known as beneficiaries).

Trusts can be created for many different reasons and to suit different purposes. Many trusts are created in a will, whereby the will instructs the trustees to look after funds for another person or group of people. Some trusts are created by an individual when they are alive, with a view to passing on assets to help reduce tax. Other trusts are established when an individual is incapacitated or too young to look after the funds themselves.

The role of a trustee

Whatever the trust arrangement that has been established, each trust needs to have at least one trustee (although it is desirable to have at least two). The trustees have legal responsibility for the funds held in trust, and have a duty to manage the assets held in trust and ensure that the trust meets its purpose and objectives.

Trustees owe a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, to act honestly, in good faith and with loyalty. Every decision made by a trustee needs to be made in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Trustees also need to act unanimously when reaching decisions in relation to the trust assets.

A trustee may be appointed in a will, and it is normally the case that the executors of the will automatically become trustees of any trusts created by the will. When a trust is created during an individual’s lifetime, the person creating the trust (known as the “settlor”) will need to choose the trustees who will carry out the role. Many opt to appoint family members or friends to act as trustees. This may prove beneficial as the family member or friend may well have good knowledge of the family’s circumstances; however, the individual taking up the role may not have any experience of the legal obligations placed on them, or the time that will be taken in fulfilling their duties.

An alternative to appointing a family member or friend is to appoint a professional trustee, such as a Solicitor. By appointing a professional trustee, this will ensure that an impartial, experienced individual is handling the decisions on behalf of the settlor.

Getting guidance on acting as trustee

For those who are appointed as a trustee in a will, or an individual appointed as trustee of a lifetime settlement, it is important to fully understand the purpose of the trust and seek guidance on the specific requirements, in particular in relation to assets held by the trust. These will be contained in the will (in the case of a trust created on death) or in the trust deed for a lifetime trust. This will set out the specific instructions that the trustees must follow and can cover a number of aspects, from how monies are to be held, the investment powers that the trustees have, and when funds should be paid to beneficiaries. It can also provide directions as to how income generated by assets held in the trust is to be dealt with. When a trust contains residential property, trustees may have further duties to comply with, such as ensuring that the property is adequately insured, and maintaining and repairing the property.

Trust investment powers

Most trusts provide the trustees with wide investment powers, which leaves the trustees with a decision to reach when deciding how trust funds are invested. Under the Trustee Act, trustees have a duty to obtain proper advice before making a decision, unless the trustees reach the conclusion that there are exceptional circumstances where advice is not needed. This could, for example, be where the amount of money left in trust is considered to be too small to warrant advice; however, this judgement call needs to be made by the trustees’ themselves.

FAS Trustee Service

At FAS, we have considerable experience in providing independent investment planning and advice to Trustees, through our Trustee Service.

We appreciate that the precise requirements of each trust will be different, and we therefore initially take the time to fully review the trust documentation to understand the terms of the trust and highlight the important considerations. We can manage Trust investments on an advisory or discretionary managed basis, with all investment decisions made by our experienced in-house Investment Committee. The majority of trustees choose our discretionary managed service, as this ensures that the trust investment portfolio is reviewed and rebalanced at least four times a year. This also helps reduce the amount of administration involved when making changes to the trust portfolio.

Given that the Trustee Act requires trustees to review a trust regularly, we carry out an in-depth review at pre-determined intervals. This comprehensive review covers the investment performance, matters relating to the trust and ensures that the trust portfolio can readily adapt to any change in circumstance. These regular reviews, and follow-up reports, can also assist the trustees in their audit trail to demonstrate their compliance with the requirements of the Trustee Act.

If you have been appointed as a trustee, or wish to review an existing trust, speak to one of our experienced advisers.