IHT: To Abolish or Not in the Upcoming Spring Budget? 


As the Spring Budget 2024 approaches, the perennial question of whether Inheritance Tax (IHT) will be abolished, revised, or remain unchanged is once again on the lips of taxpayers, and financial analysts alike. In my view, while some are hopeful for its complete abolition, it seems more plausible that we will see a reduction in rates from 40% to 20%, or perhaps an increase in allowances. The prospect of scrapping IHT altogether, though not entirely unfounded, appears less likely when one delves into the financial and political implications of such a move. 

The Persistent Echo of IHT Reform in Financial Sagas 

The notion of IHT reform has consistently floated around in fiscal dialogues, emerging with renewed vigour around the time of each Budget announcement. From my perspective, the persistent resurgence of this topic is no accident. It’s a reflection of the growing discontent among individuals, and families who feel the pinch of what is often viewed as an unfair levy on the assets and hard-earned wealth of the deceased. Inheritance tax generated £7 billion for HM Revenue & Customs in the last tax year alone, therefore, with the spectre of an election casting its shadow, politicians are now more attuned to the public’s sentiment, making this the most opportune moment for a significant shift in IHT policy. 

My experiences and observations lead me to believe that the emotional resonance of IHT, commonly dubbed the ‘death tax’, adds a unique weight to the debate. Unlike other forms of taxation, IHT strikes at a profoundly personal moment, often compounding the grief of loss with financial strain. This emotional underpinning makes the call for reform much louder and more poignant, imbuing it with a sense of urgency that other fiscal reforms might lack. 

However, despite the compelling narrative for change, the reality of navigating IHT reform is fraught with complexities. IHT isn’t just a line item in the nation’s budget; it’s intertwined with the fabric of our tax system and the principles that underpin it. The intricacies of valuing estates, coupled with the exemptions and reliefs already in place, paint a picture of a tax mechanism that is as complex as it is contested. This complexity is perhaps a significant factor that has deterred past attempts at sweeping reform, leaving us in a state of continual speculation. 

As we edge closer to the Spring Budget 2024, the air is ripe with anticipation and a fair degree of speculation. While the heart of the matter lies in addressing the perceived inequities of IHT, any meaningful reform must navigate the labyrinth of fiscal responsibility, public sentiment, and the practical realities of tax administration. It’s a delicate balance, one that requires a nuanced understanding and approach to ensure that the spectre of IHT reform doesn’t simply linger but moves towards resolution in a way that reflects the complexities and sensitivities involved. 

The Economics of Abolishing IHT: Feasible or Fanciful? 

At first glance, the idea of doing away with Inheritance Tax (IHT) might strike many as a straightforward, if not entirely simple, proposition. Considering the scale of the Treasury’s anticipated tax revenue – hovering around the £1 trillion mark for the 2024/5 tax year – the near £6 billion generated from IHT in just the first nine months of this fiscal period could be perceived as negligible. This viewpoint posits that abolishing IHT could be an economically feasible measure, one that wouldn’t cause a significant dent in the Treasury’s vast coffers. 

However, when I delve deeper into this matter, the broader economic ramifications of such a move reveal themselves, bringing to light the complexities and nuances of fiscal policy that go beyond mere numbers. The potential abolition of IHT isn’t just a question of whether the Treasury can afford to forgo this revenue; it’s also about the messages we send regarding wealth distribution and the principles that guide our tax system. 

From my perspective, the economic feasibility of scrapping IHT isn’t as clear-cut as it may appear. Yes, on a macroeconomic scale, £6 billion might seem a small sacrifice for a significant tax reform that could alleviate the burden on countless families. Yet, we must consider the cumulative effect of such tax decisions, not just in terms of immediate financial impact but in the precedent it sets and the societal values it reflects. Abolishing IHT could be interpreted as a move towards leniency on wealth accumulation and transmission, sparking debates on fairness and equity within our tax system. 

Furthermore, it’s essential to understand that the economic implications of tax policies extend beyond their direct financial outcomes. They shape perceptions, influence behaviour, and impact the social fabric. A decision as weighty as abolishing IHT demands a thorough evaluation of not just its fiscal feasibility but its broader economic and societal consequences. 

The abolishment of IHT would also have a significant impact on capital gains as we know it. In the current set up IHT is paid on the value of the assets held by an estate. The beneficiaries of that estate then receive the assets at the current market value. This helps significantly when the beneficiaries then come to sell these assets as their deemed purchase price is a more realistic value. Often if the asset is sold in a relatively short period of time after obtaining it then there is little to no capital gains tax to pay. It stands to reason that if IHT is abolished then this current arrangement of revaluing assets will be abolished with it. This means that many individuals who obtain assets from say their parents could be looking at receiving that assets at a considerable lower value if their parents had held that asset for a lengthy period of time. This in turn means that the individual will then have an extremely large capital gains liability when it comes to selling. Furthermore on the basis that the asset will only continue to increase in value in time this problem will only be exacerbated the longer the asset is held. In short the abolishment of IHT could mean more problems than what already exists could be created. 

In light of these considerations, the idea of completely abolishing IHT, while appealing in its simplicity, unravels into a tapestry of economic and ethical complexities. The more I ponder this, the more I am convinced that the path forward likely involves reform rather than outright abolition—modifications that recognise the tax’s emotional and financial weight while striving for a fairer and more equitable system. 

A More Likely Outcome – Reduction, Not Abolition 

In considering the possibilities that the Spring Budget 2024 might unveil, my reflections steer me towards anticipating a reduction in IHT rates over an outright abolition. The sentiment towards IHT, especially amongst those directly affected, has always been one of apprehension and, in some cases, distress. The financial burden it places on families during times of grief is substantial. Therefore, reducing the current rate of 40% to a more manageable 20% seems to me a measured and thoughtful approach, one that could alleviate some of the financial strain whilst retaining the tax’s structural integrity. 

This standpoint, I believe, represents a compromise that acknowledges the public’s growing dissatisfaction with the tax, yet respects the economic framework it operates within. It’s about finding a middle path that respects the principle of taxation whilst responding to the real-world impact it has on individuals and families. A reduction in the rate would not only lessen the tax load but would also signal a government that is responsive to the concerns of its citizens, adapting its policies in recognition of changing social and economic landscapes. 

From a political standpoint, the move could be seen as a savvy one. In the context of an election looming on the horizon, politicians are undoubtedly keen to curry favour with the electorate. A radical proposal such as the complete scrapping of IHT might be perceived as too drastic or financially imprudent. In contrast, a reduction in rates could be positioned as a reasoned response to public sentiment, a gesture of goodwill without compromising fiscal stability. 

In my experience, small adjustments can often lead to significant shifts in public perception. A reduction in IHT rates would not only bring immediate relief to those affected but could also pave the way for future reforms. It’s a step that recognises the emotional and financial weight of the tax, aiming for a fairer system that balances the needs of the Treasury with those of the taxpayers. 

In essence, advocating for a reduction rather than an abolition of IHT rates is, to my mind, a realistic and beneficial outcome of the upcoming Spring Budget. It’s a change that would resonate deeply with many, bringing a sense of relief and perhaps a modicum of justice to a system often viewed as punitive. 

The Possibility of Increased Allowances 

Exploring the landscape of potential IHT reforms further, my thoughts gravitate towards the prospect of increasing the nil-rate band, a change that could inject a considerable degree of fairness into the current system. Presently, the threshold sits at £325,000, a figure that has, rather frustratingly, not budged for a considerable span of time. This stagnation has not kept pace with the growth in property values or the general inflation rate, leading to a situation where more estates find themselves caught within the IHT net than perhaps ought to be. 

The idea of raising this threshold is not just a matter of numbers on a balance sheet; it’s about aligning our tax policies with the economic realities of today. By increasing the allowances, the government would be taking a tangible step towards acknowledging the financial pressures that many families face, particularly in a climate where property values have soared beyond what many could have anticipated. 

Such an adjustment would serve dual purposes. Firstly, it would alleviate the IHT burden for a significant number of estates, directly benefiting families by either reducing their tax liability or exempting them altogether. This in itself would be a considerable relief, lightening the financial load during times of loss. Secondly, and perhaps more subtly, it would signal a move towards a tax system that is perceived as more equitable and in tune with the times. 

Adjusting the nil-rate band upwards would demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the public’s concerns, illustrating that the government is responsive and willing to adapt its policies in the face of evolving economic landscapes. It’s a measure that could soften the blow for those affected by IHT, without necessarily upending the tax’s structure or its contribution to the Treasury. 

From my perspective, the increase in allowances represents a balanced approach to reforming IHT. It’s a thoughtful compromise that acknowledges the need for change without resorting to the more radical, and perhaps less palatable, option of complete abolition. In advocating for this adjustment, I see a path forward that respects both the fiscal responsibilities of the government and the financial realities of the families it serves. 

If you have any questions with regards to this article, or need help with Inheritance Tax Planning, or any other tax queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.