Concerns Over Labour's 'Death Tax'

As the general election looms, the government’s proposals for a 10% death tax, levied on the middle classes to service care for the elderly, has brought fears of financial anguish amongst the 17 million families eligible for the hike.

Families would be forced to pay 10% on estates worth over £500,000 when relatives die, to service the social care bills of the nation’s elderly.  Coupled with existing inheritance tax rates, the new “death tax” is proving a major point of contention in the election race.

While not set in stone, last week the government’s Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, refused to rule out the changes, stating that he is “still debating the options”.

Initial proposals would have seen a flat rate £20,000 levied on estates upon death, but outrage from opposition parties means the government has re-evaluated the idea, while refusing to discount a compulsory levy based on estate value.

The proposed reforms are designed to end the current lottery under which some people lose their homes and life savings, if they spend lengthy periods in residential care. Currently, the average pensioner can expect to spend £30,000 on care if needed.

In return for the increased taxation, every person over 65 would be guaranteed a free residential care home place, and Mr Burnham set out three main options for financing the scheme:

• a 10% levy to be paid from an estate on death;
• means-tested amounts to be paid across the whole of retirement; or,
• the option of deferring pensions for three years to pay into a new National Care Service.

Speaking at an Age Concern and Help the Aged conference, Mr Burnham claimed that forcing the nation to pay for elderly care out of general taxation is “not fair to the working age population”.

But critics have accused the government of penalising those that have saved their entire life, who may not even need to enter social care.

Mr Burnham is expected to set out solutions for elderly care in early April.

Edward Rees is a Partner and head of the private client department, he has this to say:  “Nobody likes the state to get their hands on more of their capital than absolutely necessary. I know most of my clients find it particularly galling that they have been told by successive governments to be good citizens and to save, but then see nothing but assaults on (or potential threats to) their capital base.

It’s all so disjointed: On the one hand the government says it wants us to “save” but we are given little real incentive to do that. In fact, over the last 10 or so years the government has smiled on an environment where we have all been encouraged to spend, spend, spend - to the extent of treating our homes like ATM machines. On the other hand, when we do build a base for our future comfort (and make the mistake of not completely exhausting it before we die), our estates face IHT at 40% on value over £325,000 if we’re single, and £650,000 if married or registered civil partners. That all comes on top of the income tax, capital gains tax, national insurance contributions and VAT that we have paid throughout our lives!

Having said all that, we are an aging population and people expect quality care provision. However, the unpalatable reality is that care costs money. So, whichever way round you look at the issue, it’s either going to have be financed privately, by increased taxation, by some sort of compulsory insurance scheme, or by cutting services elsewhere. It’s certain that whichever option is adopted in the long term, it’s not going to please everyone. But that’s politics!

Three other things are also certain: 1) No political party is actually going to put things as starkly as that in their manifesto, they’ll either fudge the issue or dress it up; 2) If there is to be increased taxation, we, as consumers, should have a right to demand top quality service in return; and 3) We’ll do all that we can to help you forward plan for these sorts of contingencies – so, when announcements are actually made and things are more certain, watch this space.”