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In the UK, everyone is taxed as an individual, but social security benefits, including Tax Credits and Universal Credit, are awarded on the basis of the family's total income. Child benefit is also withdrawn based on the income of the higher earner of a couple, irrespective of who claimed it.

Families with an unequal distribution of income will often pay more tax than couples who earn enough each to cover their basic personal allowance (£11,500 for 2017/18) and the basic rate band. The thresholds for restricting child benefit (£50,000), personal allowance (£100,000) and pension annual allowance (£150,000) all operate for the individual, so disadvantage families where the income is concentrated in one person's hands.

Consider the Browns – they have two children and claim child benefit. In 2017/18 George Brown earns £86,000 and pays higher rate tax, but Sally Brown has no income. Because George's income is over £60,000, the family's child benefit is clawed back from him as a tax charge.

In contrast, John and Joy Green each earn £43,000, so they keep their child benefit, and pay less Income Tax as their highest marginal tax rate is 20%. Both Greens make use of their full personal allowance and basic rate bands.

Roger and Rose are in a worse tax position. Roger's total income is £160,000 and his employer contributes £40,000 into his pension scheme. Roger and Rose have no effective personal allowances as Rose has no income to set her allowance against, and Roger's personal allowance is entirely withdrawn as his income exceeds £123,000.
Roger is treated as having income of £200,000 (£160,000 + 40,000) for pension relief purposes. His pension annual allowance is therefore reduced to £15,000, so he suffers an annual allowance charge at 45% on £25,000 of pension contributions.

These examples show that it makes sense to transfer some income from the higher earner to the lower earner in order to take advantage of the personal allowance, lower tax bands, and to avoid the clawback of allowances. This is not always easy to do, but the following methods are possible:

• An outright gift of savings and investments which produce taxable income
• Putting savings and investments into joint names and sharing the income
• Employing the spouse or partner in a business
• Taking the spouse or partner into partnership

HMRC can challenge some of these if they think the transfer is not genuine – it's important to take advice to be sure that the plan will work.

Action Point!
Can you transfer income to reduce your family's tax and save your allowances?

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Clarke Nicklin House, Brooks Drive, Cheadle Royal Business Park, Cheadle, Cheshire, SK8 3TD. Registered Number OC309225.
The firm is registered to carry on audit work in the UK & Ireland. Details about our audit registration can be viewed at www.auditregister.org.uk under reference number C001178544. The professional rules applicable are the Audit Regulations and Guidance which can be found at www.icaew.com/regulations, and the International Standards on Auditing (UK and Ireland) which can be found at www.frc.org.uk/apb/publications/isa.cfm.