Tax Credit & Universal Credit: impact of announced changes

Summer Budget 2015 included proposals to reduce the income threshold for tax credits – the amount families can earn before their award starts to reduce – and to increase the “taper” – the rate at which tax credits are withdrawn as family income increases – from 41% to 48%.  The changes were to have taken effect from April 2016, and were expected to deliver savings of around £4.4 billion in 2016-17. Commons Briefing Paper CBP-7300, Tax Credit changes from April 2016, gives details.

On 26 October the Government was defeated in the House of Lords following a debate on the regulations to implement the changes. The Chancellor is expected to set out alternative plans in the Autumn Statement on 25 November.

Using “ready reckoners” developed by the Library – calculators that, when a family’s circumstances are inputted, output the benefit and tax credit awards for which they qualify – we can replicate and expand upon examples families presented in the Summer Budget Red Book to investigate what the impact of any such changes on these families might be.

In this, the first of two blog pieces, we explore how example scenarios provided in the Summer Budget Red Book can be replicated and the assumptions made to produce these calculations.

Table 1.8 of the Summer Budget 2015 Red Book

In response to concerns about the impact of the tax credit changes, Ministers cited examples of families who would be better off as a result of the overall package of changes announced in the Summer Budget. For example, in a BBC interview on 5 October, the Prime Minister sad that a typical single earner couple working 35 hrs a week on the National Living Wage (NLW) would be around £2,400 better off.

This figure is based on Table 1.8 of the Summer Budget Red Book, which shows the illustrative impact of the personal tax, welfare and NLW changes up to 2020-21. It shows that the net income of a single earner family with 2 children, working 35 hrs a week on the NLW would, on the basis of the assumptions made, receive a cash terms boost of around £2,480 from 2015-16 to 2020-21.  Crucially, the figures for 2020-21 assume that, for those families in the relevant income range, Universal Credit is claimed rather than existing “legacy benefits.”

Full details of the calculations below are available from the spreadsheet attached to the Library briefing paper Tax Credit changes from April 2016.

Measures announced in the Summer Budget 2015

The Summer Budget 2015 announced several measures that will affect the income of families. These included:

  • Personal Allowance – It is the Government’s ambition to increase the Personal Allowance to £12,500 by 2020.
  • National Living Wage – From April 2016 a “National Living Wage” (NLW), available to adults aged 25 and over, is to be introduced at £7.20 an hour. The intention is to increase the NLW so that it reaches 60% of median hourly wages by 2020. Based on Office for Budget Responsibility estimates, the NLW would rise to £9.35 an hour by April 2020.
  • Four year freeze of most working age benefits – Most working-age benefits and tax credits to be frozen at 2015-16 rates for four years.
  • LHA rates frozen – Local Housing Allowance rates, used to calculate the Housing Benefit for those renting in the Private Rented Sector, to be frozen in most areas for four years.
  • Tax credits – The Government proposed to reduce the income threshold over which the tax credit award of in-work families in receipt of tax credits is tapered from £6,420 to £3,850. The Government also proposed to increase rate at which awards are tapered from 41% to 48%.
  • Universal Credit: work allowances cut – The level of earnings at which UC awards start to be withdrawn will be reduced to £4,764 for UC claimants without housing costs and to £2,304 for those with housing costs read here. Work allowances will be removed altogether for non-disabled dingle claimants without children.

Full policy costings for all these measures – including £4.6 billion of savings from TC and UC changes – are detailed in table 2.1, “Policy Decisions”, of the Summer Budget 2015. Alternatively, see the Budget’s accompanying Policy Costings document.

Assumptions made in the Treasury’s Table 1.8

A series of assumptions have, as is necessary in any attempt to project a family’s net income, been made to produce the figures in Table 1.8. The Table:

  • Assumes all families are in Private Rented Accommodation and, where appropriate, receive Housing Benefit based on the average LHA rates for England.
  • Shows net income before rent has been deducted. LHA rates have been frozen in most areas until 2020-21.
  • Assumes that families receiving “legacy benefits” in 2015-16 (such as JSA, tax credits and Housing Benefit) are moved on to Universal Credit by 2020-21. Universal Credit is a new benefit which is to replace a range of existing benefits and tax credits for working age families. The Government expects rollout to be complete by 2020-21.
  • Takes the National Minimum Wage in 2015-16 to be £6.70 an hour (the NMW was £6.70 from October 2015, prior to that is was £6.50).

Impact on example families with housing costs

Figure A, below, shows the illustrative impact of Summer Budget 2015 measures on selected households. The first six families shown are those included in Table 1.8 of the Summer Budget. Table 1.8 also includes calculations for an “Out of work couple with children, subject to benefit cap”; we have not included this family. In addition to those families illustrated by the Budget we have included a seventh, a lone parent family with two children earning £20,000 (gross income) per annum.

The columns highlighted in blue (2015-16 data) and red (2020-21 data) approximately reproduce calculations shown in Table 1.8. In some cases our estimates differ from those presented by the Budget; this is due to rounding. For example, the Summer Budget showed a single earner couple working 35 hrs a week on the NLW will be around £2,480 better off in 2020-21. Alternatively, Library calculations estimate this family’s net income will be around £2,495 greater, in cash terms, in 2020-21.

Blog 1 Figure A

Figure A allows us to examine the impact of combined Summer Budget measures on these selected families, below.

The following series of charts shows the change in each family’s net income in years 2016-17 to 2020-21 compared to net income in 2015-16. Net income is represented by a white marker. If this marker is above the Y-axis (that is, above £0) in any given year this represents an increase in net income compared to 2015-16. Charts A – G also break down this change in net income into its component parts to show change in tax credit award, Child Benefit award, Housing Benefit and net earnings, taking account of any direct impact of the NLW. Note that all figures in these charts are in cash terms.

A – Dual earner family

Blog 1 Chart A

Compared to 2015-16, in 2020-21 this family would:

  • Receive £2,348 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Receive £3,983 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if they remain on “legacy benefits”.
  • Receive £7,933 more in net earnings.
  • Have a net income £5,585 greater in cash terms if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Have a net income £3,950 greater in cash terms if they remain on “legacy benefits”.

Compared to 2015-16, in 2016-17 this family would:

  • Have a net income £621 less in cash terms.
  • Receive £3,670 less in tax credits.
  • Receive £1,153 more in Housing Benefit.

Housing Benefit is calculated from a family’s combined net earnings and tax credit award. Therefore if there is a reduction in the tax credit award of a family in receipt of Housing Benefit, but not already receiving their maximum Housing Benefit award, there will be a corresponding rise in their Housing Benefit award (though note this will not offset any reduction in tax credits in full).

B – Part time second earner

Blog 1 Chart B

Compared to 2015-16, in 2020-21 this family would:

  • Have a net income £6,962 greater in cash terms.

Compared to 2015-16, in 2016-17 this family would:

  • Have a net income £1,345 in cash terms.

Note this family was not receiving either tax credits or Housing Benefit in 2015-16 and will not do so in 2020-21.

C – Single earner family

Blog 1 Chart C

Compared to 2015-16, in 2020-21 this family would:

  • Receive £1,472 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Receive £3,601 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if they remain on “legacy benefits”.
  • Receive £3,967 more in net earnings.
  • Have a net income £2,495 greater in cash terms if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Have a net income £366 greater in cash terms if they remain on “legacy benefits”.

Compared to 2015-16, in 2016-17 this family would:

  • Have a net income £448 less in cash terms.
  • Receive £2,228 less in tax credits.
  • Receive £831 more in Housing Benefit.

This family’s net income remains, in cash terms, below its 2015-16 level each year until 2020-21 when, if transferred on to UC, net income is £2,495 greater in cash terms than in 2015-16. If this family remains on “legacy benefits” their net income is £366 greater in 2020-21, a real terms fall of 7%.

In each year 2016-17 to 2020-21 rises in Housing Benefit to some extent offset tax credit reductions.

D – Working lone parent

Blog 1 Chart D

Compared to 2015-16, in 2020-21 this family would:

  • Receive £2,385 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Receive £3,703 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if they remain on “legacy benefits”.
  • Receive £3,967 more in net earnings.
  • Have a net income £1,582 greater in cash terms if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Have a net income £264 greater in cash terms if they remain on “legacy benefits”.

Compared to 2015-16, in 2016-17 this family would:

  • Have a net income £448 less in cash terms.
  • Receive £2,228 less in tax credits.
  • Receive £831 more in Housing Benefit.

 E – Single adult

Blog 1 Chart E

Compared to 2015-16, in 2020-21 this adult would:

  • Receive £1,997 less in benefits & tax credits.
  • Receive £3,967 more in net earnings.
  • Have a net income £1,969 greater in cash terms.

Compared to 2015-16, in 2016-17 this adult would:

  • Have a net income £143 more in cash terms.
  • Receive £539 less in tax credits.
  • Receive £266 less in Housing Benefit.

Note that this adult’s tax credit award is reduced to £0 in 2016-17 as a result of measures announced in the Summer Budget 2015. Also, as net earnings rise this adult’s Housing Benefit award falls each year till it falls to £0 in 2019-20. This adult would not receive “legacy benefits” or Universal Credit in 2020-21.

F – Out of work couple

Blog 1 Chart F

Assuming this family receives JSA, maximum Housing Benefit for a privately rented 2 bed accommodation and the maximum tax credit award for which they are eligible, their income will remain £17,646 for years 2015-16 to 2019-20 (this also assumes that both parents remain out-of-work). In 2020-21 their net income will be around £17,980 under both Universal Credit and current “legacy benefits”.

G – Lone, working parent with two children

This family, the Library’s additional example, is a lone parent with two children working 35 hours a week and earning £20,000 a year. For simplicity we have assumed this wage remains constant (in cash terms) across the course of this Parliament.

Blog 1 Chart G

Compared to 2015-16, in 2020-21 this family would:

  • Receive £686 more in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Receive £654 less in benefits (inc. Child Benefit) & tax credits if they remain on “legacy benefits”.
  • Receive £430 more in net earnings.
  • Have a net income £1,116 greater in cash terms if moved on to Universal Credit.
  • Have a net income £224 less in cash terms if they remain on “legacy benefits”.

Compared to 2015-16, in 2016-17 this family would:

  • Have a net income £736 less in cash terms.
  • Receive £2,184 less in tax credits.
  • Receive £1,368 more in Housing Benefit.

Note that this family’s net income remains, in cash terms, below its 2015-16 level in all years 2016-17 to 2020-21 if the family remains on “legacy benefits”. If they remain on “legacy benefits”, this family’s net income will fall by 9% in real terms in 2020-21 compared to 2015-16. Their net income will rise by £1,116 in cash terms if they move onto Universal Credit, a real terms fall of 4%.

Impact on example families without housing costs

A reduction in tax credits is partly offset by a corresponding rise in Housing Benefit for families in receipt of a Housing Benefit award but not already receiving their maximum amount. As explained above, this in the case for families A, C, D, E and G in Figure A.

Families not in receipt of Housing Benefit will not experience this offsetting effect. Figure B, below, shows the net income families without housing costs in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2020-21. Note that figures for 2020-21 again assume families previously in receipt of “legacy benefits” have been transferred onto Universal Credit.

Blog 1 Figure B

 

Picture Credit: Ian Duncan Smith by Number 10, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)