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Employment Allowance (Care and Support Workers) Regulations 2015

Volume 759: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Employment Allowance (Care and Support Workers) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, I am pleased to introduce the two regulations and the order standing in my name on the Order Paper. I can confirm at the outset that the provisions in them are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The changes to the NICs rates and thresholds and the extension of the employment allowance covered by these three instruments were announced as part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 3 December last year. In the Budget on 23 March 2011, we announced that for the duration of this Parliament the basis of indexation for most NICs rates, limits and thresholds would be the consumer prices index instead of the retail prices index. I can confirm that the basis of indexation used to calculate the changes follows that approach. The exceptions to this are the secondary threshold and the upper earnings and upper profits limits.

I will start with the Social Security (Contributions) (Limits and Thresholds) (Amendment) Regulations. These are necessary in order to set the class 1 national insurance contributions lower earnings limit, primary and secondary thresholds and the upper earnings limit for the 2015-16 tax year. The class 1 lower earnings limit will be increased from £111 to £112 per week from 6 April this year. The lower earnings limit is the level of earnings at which contributory benefit entitlement is secured. However, NICs do not need to be paid by the employee until earnings reach the primary threshold.

The class 1 primary threshold will be increased from £153 to £155 per week from 6 April. The secondary threshold is the point at which employers start to pay class 1 NICs. In line with the commitment in Budget 2011, this is being increased by RPI from £153 to £156 per week.

From this April, the income tax personal allowance for people born after 5 April 1948 will be increased above indexation from £10,000 to £10,600, and the point at which higher-rate tax is payable will be increased from £41,865 to £42,385 in the 2015-16 tax year. As I mentioned, the upper earnings limit is not subject to CPI indexation. This is in order to maintain the existing alignment of the upper earnings limit with the point at which higher-rate tax is paid. The upper earnings limit will be increased from £805 to £815 per week from 6 April.

Employers have to pay NICs at 13.8% on earnings above the secondary threshold. In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a zero-rate earnings band for employers’ NICs for earnings of employees under the age of 21 from 6 April. The introduction of the zero-rate earnings band for employees under the age of 21 is expected to benefit about 340,000 employers, helping to support the jobs of almost 1.5 million young people currently in employment.

The zero-rate earnings band applies only to earnings up to the equivalent of a new threshold called the upper secondary threshold, which is to be set at the same level as the upper earnings limit for the 2015-16 tax year. These regulations introduce the upper secondary threshold and set it at the same level as the upper earnings limit of £815 per week from 6 April.

Finally, these regulations also set the prescribed equivalents of thresholds and limits that I have mentioned for employees paid monthly or annually. Apart from the introduction of the zero-rate earnings band for employees under the age of 21, there will be no other changes to NICs rates in the 2015-16 tax year. Employers will continue to pay contributions at 13.8% on all earnings above the secondary threshold. Employees will continue to pay 12% on earnings between the secondary threshold and the upper earnings limit, and 2% on earnings above that.

The social security order sets the class 3 contribution rate for those paying voluntary contributions and the class 4 profits limits for the self-employed, as well as providing for a Treasury grant.

Starting with voluntary class 3 contributions, the weekly rate will increase from £13.90 to £14.10 a week for the 2015-16 tax year. Moving on to the self-employed, today’s order also sets the profit limits for class 4 contribution liability. The lower profits limit on which these contributions are due will increase from £7,956 to £8,060, in line with the increase to the class 1 primary threshold.

At the other end of the scale, the upper profits limit will increase from £41,865 to £42,385 for the 2015-16 tax year. This is to maintain the alignment of the upper profits limit with the upper earnings limit for employees. The changes to the class 4 limits will ensure that the self-employed pay contributions at the main class 4 rate of 9% on a similar range of earnings as employees paying class 1 contributions at the main rate of 12%. Profits above the upper profits limit are subject to the additional rate of 2% in line with the 2% paid by employees on earnings above the upper earnings limit. For completeness, I mention that the weekly rate of class 2 NICs, which are also paid by the self-employed, will increase from £2.75 per week to £2.80 per week from 6 April.

From 6 April, class 2 contributions will be due only if taxable profits for the 2015-16 tax year are at or above the small profits threshold of £5,965. This threshold replaces the class 2 small earnings exception and, along with the class 2 rate, was set in the National Insurance Contributions Act 2015.

The Government need to ensure that the National Insurance Fund can maintain a working balance throughout the coming year, which the Government Actuary recommends should be one-sixth of benefit expenditure for the year. The re-rating order provides for a Treasury grant of up to 10% of benefit expenditure to be made available to the fund for the 2015-16 tax year. A similar provision will also be made in respect of the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund.

Lastly, I turn to the regulations relating to the employment allowance for employers of care and support workers. The Government wish to support individuals and families with the cost of care. These regulations will allow employers of care and support workers to claim the NICs employment allowance. As a result, they will be able to reduce their employer NICs bill by up to £2,000 a year. Claiming the NICs employment allowance is quick and simple. Employers, or their agents, simply tick a box in their payroll software to confirm that they are eligible for the allowance and wish to claim, and their employer NICs liabilities will be reduced accordingly. Employers need to tick the box only once and this will be transferred to future years as well.

In the first six months since its introduction, the NICs employment allowance has already been enjoyed by more than 850,000 businesses and charities. We estimate that a further 20,000 employers of care and support workers will benefit from the extension of the allowance. I commend the order and regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations and order. This is something of an annual feast, and I commend him for the speed at which he read out his speech. The same three statutory instruments were debated yesterday in the Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee of the other place, where the Opposition put their traditional questions and got detailed responses. I am going to give everyone encouragement by saying that I do not intend to ask exactly the same questions to receive exactly the same answers. I commend the Commons report of the proceedings to anyone present who is interested in those detailed questions.

I have a couple of questions on the first of the three instruments that we are considering—the Employment Allowance (Care and Support Workers) Regulations. Three questions asked in the Commons were detailed in nature, but the fourth question asked by my colleagues in the other place was: why have the Government made this change? They introduced the NICs employment allowance to aid small businesses, and we did not oppose that. At the time, there was a debate about the care issue. The Government resolutely set their face against that but then, rather suddenly, they changed their mind. I am genuinely curious as to which road to Damascus the Government went down to come to this conclusion. It is not a conclusion that we particularly dissent from but we are interested in whether there is any further logic behind the reasoning.

As far as I can see, the only problem with these regulations is that the decision to make the change seems to have been reasonably recent. I worry a little, as do my colleagues in the other place, about the extent to which it might induce tax avoidance, which both sides of the House are firmly against. It seems to me that the simplicity with which this allowance can be claimed, as the Minister outlined, is essentially, in tax avoidance terms, also its intrinsic weakness. The difference between a personal servant and a care worker seems somewhat semantic. I have read the regulations, and of course the employer or the person being cared for has to fall within the definition in them. Nevertheless, those definitions could be rather nudged by people who are seeking to avoid NICs. I would value some further comment from the noble Lord as to the extent to which the Government expect this to be used for tax avoidance, because somebody is going to use it. It is inevitable that any new tax or national insurance regulation will be exploited by tax avoiders. Somebody will use it. What are the Government going to do to make sure that does not happen? What additional resource is that likely to cost HMRC?

The other thing about this is that, as far as I can see, it does not have an impact assessment and I am curious as to what the Government’s assessment is of the cost of this move. They estimate 20,000 may qualify for it and stress that it could be up to £2,000 per annum. I can do the arithmetic and I think that is £40 million per annum. I do not think there is an expectation that all will be at the maximum by quite a margin. I would value the Government’s estimate of the cost of this policy move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his welcome of these SIs. He asked me a number of specific questions. Why did the Government change their mind? We saw the error of our ways. We listened to our stakeholders and they thought that this was a very strong idea, so we decided, in line with our general commitment to reducing the cost of care and helping with care needs, that we would make this change.

The noble Lord asked whether this opens up a big new scope for avoidance. Given the scope of the change, we do not anticipate that it will really broaden the scope for avoidance. HMRC uses its routine compliance checks to identify and tackle potential avoidance and we have an anti-avoidance rule in the primary legislation. The incentive for avoidance here is relatively small and we think that the benefits of introducing the scheme more than outweigh any small potential for avoidance.

The noble Lord’s final question was about the cost. We estimate it will cost about an extra £10 million a year. I hope I have answered his questions and that he will now be happy to support the measures.

Motion agreed.