Writing exclusively for Small Firms Focus, Matthew Jones of Chancery Pii dis-cusses the possible ramifications for small law firms of the chancellor’s latest budget

After so much recent talk about the difficulties facing the global economy, and with the threat of significant changes to the pensions regime already removed, many observers had predicted that George Osborne would be announcing little of note in this, his eighth budget. However, as usual, the chancellor had a few surprises up his sleeve, despite having to announce that the growth forecast for the UK economy has fallen to 2.0 per cent, down from the 2.4 per cent figure predicted in the Autumn Statement. Perhaps most notably for the general popu-lace - and shareholders in fizzy drink companies - he finally introduced the much-vaunted Sugar Tax, in an attempt to reduce childhood obesity and diabe-tes.

Drip-feeding tax rises and shoring up flood defences

While there was a significant amount of good news for small legal firms in the 2016 budget, the unexpected rise in Insurance Premium Tax - which climbs from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent - will be a small but unwelcome surprise for practitioners, who will see an attendant rise in the cost of their Professional Indemnity and other insurances. Having said that, it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and all additional tax receipts from this latest IPT rise, which are expected to total some £700 million, have been earmarked for much-needed improvements to flood defences in the beleaguered counties of Cumbria and Yorkshire.

Raising personal allowances and the higher rate tax threshold

On a more uplifting note for partners in small law firms, the Chancellor an-nounced a significant rise in Personal Allowances, with the tax-free portion ris-ing to £11,500 from April 2017, when the basic tax rate of 20 per cent will be payable on the first £45,000 of salaries, up from the £43,000 threshold that comes into effect in April 2016. This should allow practitioners to take slightly larger salaries, while perhaps reducing the size of their dividends: in order to offset some of the negative effects of the new Tax on Share Dividends that comes into force on April 6 2016.

Positive predictions for the employment market

In addition to the current record-high employment figures, the government is forecasting the creation of one million more jobs over the course of this parlia-ment. This should naturally come as a welcome boost to those specialising in employment law, who may reasonably expect to see significantly increased de-mand for their services as employers begin to staff up in earnest.

Lifetime ISAs for the young, for both pensions and house deposits

The Chancellor acknowledged in his speech that these are difficult times for younger members of society, particularly in regard to home ownership, which has led to the introduction of ‘Lifetime ISAs’ for those who will still be below the age of 40 in April 2017.

Under this new scheme, eligible taxpayers will be able to save up to £4,000 a year into a Lifetime ISA, receiving an extra 25 per cent contribution from the government: or £1 for every £4 saved. Not only does this represent a new alter-native to pensions, Lifetime ISA funds will be accessed tax-free when they are used towards the cost of a first home up to the value of £450,000. So while saving for a mortgage deposit remains a challenge for the young, the Lifetime ISA has the potential to give a welcome boost to the housing - and therefore conveyancing - markets in the medium to long term.

Small business rate relief, and big news on commercial Stamp Duty and Corporation Tax

Business rates are a significant overhead for many small legal firms, so the news that a rise in small business rate relief means that 6,000 small businesses will no longer pay rates, and that 250,000 will see rate cuts from April 2017, is sure to be welcomed by many practitioners.

The Chancellor also announced that Stamp Duty will be 0% on the first £150,000, and just two per cent on the next £100,000, of commercial property prices from midnight on budget day, a move that should prove beneficial both to commercial property lawyers and in fact any small legal firm that is considering the purchase of new offices.

Finally, Corporation Tax is another significant burden for small legal practices, so it is worth concluding with the happy news that this is set to fall from the current level of 20 per cent to just 17 per cent by 2020. This ensures that while the global economic outlook may remain troubled, small legal firms in the UK can at least look forward to handing over less of their hard-earned profits to the exchequer in the future.