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Your July roundup: news from the world of finance, business and technology.

Catherine Elliott30 July 2019

It’s been a busy month with Wimbledon and the Cricket World Cup taking over our screens at the beginning of July, and mercury rising to record-breaking levels for the latter half.

But there have been other things hitting the headlines that might have passed you by. Here are some of the top stories from the world of finance, business and technology that you might have missed!

Inheritance rules set to change

One of Britain’s most hated taxes might face a shake-up as part of a review that was ordered by ex-chancellor Philip Hammond before his resignation.

The key change is expected to be around gifting rules. As things stand, anyone can gift away up to £3,000 a year free from inheritance tax, as well as £1,000 for weddings and an unlimited amount of smaller gifts of up to £250.

The proposed change would see one single ‘personal gifting allowance’ introduced — a larger amount that can be given away each year free from inheritance tax.

The £3,000 allowance has been frozen since 1981. It’s expected that in today’s money that original allowance would be worth somewhere in the region of £11,900.

The other significant change proposed is to reduce the seven-year gifting rule to five years. Anything given within three years of death is currently taxed at 40%, with a tapered scale on gifts given between three and seven years.

New rules would mean anything gifted more than five years before death would be exempt from inheritance tax, and the tapered scale would be scrapped.

It’s not clear whether these proposed changes will be affected by the new cabinet change — time will tell.

Brits crave financial certainty in the wake of political changes

Internet searches for overseas investments spiked after Boris Johnson was confirmed as the UK’s new prime minister on 23 July, as well as what exactly the change would mean for people’s finances.

Google Trend data analysis conducted by the Octopus Wealth team revealed changes in people’s behaviour from 16 May when his candidacy was announced, to last week when he was confirmed as the next PM.

Searches relating to ‘Boris Johnson and tax’ increased by 4,750%, ‘Boris Johnson and pensions’ leapt 190% and ‘EU investments’ grew by 137%.

It seems that political change in the UK has got more Brits thinking about their finances. Octopus Wealth’s CEO, Richard Wazacz, commented “Government policy can have a huge impact on household wealth and financial well-being, and it’s something individuals often have little direct control over.

“But what we can all do is seek trustworthy and transparent advice to provide reassurance that we're on track for a secure financial future for us and our loved ones.”

British fintech in line for record-breaking year

The UK’s fintech sector has already hit a new high of £2.3 billion in funding in the first six months of 2019.

Equal to around 85% of the total funding raised in 2018, and up 45% from the same period last year, it seems the UK is still leading the way when it comes to fintech innovation.

Although the numbers have skyrocketed, the amount of deals has actually declined by 30%, suggesting that most of the funding has gone into larger, later-stage rounds.

The biggest fintech funding round of 2019 — globally — was secured by the UK back in May when the Softbank Vision Fund invested $800 million (£500 million) into financial lending firm, Greensill.

Defined benefit pension transfers valued at £60 billion in just three years

It’s estimated that 210,000 Britons transferred out of a defined benefit pension schemein 2018/19, while since 2016 the total value of defined benefit to defined contribution transfers has reached £60 billion.

The Pensions Regulator (TPR) expects that the true number of transfers to date is actually much higher, as the figures released only account for transfers made up until 31 March 2018.

In the wake of the increasing number of transfers, the FCA has just launched a package of pension-related proposals, including a proposed band on contingent charging for pension transfer advice, aimed to better protect those who choose to transfer out of a DB pension.

On the back of its worries that too many people are jumping ship, the FCA hopes that its consultation will “ensure people receive suitable advice and drive down the number giving up valuable defined benefit pensions when it is not in their interests to do so.”

If you’re thinking of transferring out of a defined benefit pension, remember that it’s a complex and irreversible process. Always seek advice.

NHS pension rows cause surgery delays

Waiting lists for routine surgery have risen by up to 50% in England because of complex pension rules that mean senior doctors can’t afford to work overtime.

Anyone that’s working extra shifts may be in danger of contributing more to their pension pot than they’re allowed to, facing heavy charges for doing so.

The annual allowance for pension contributions has decreased significantly over the last 9 years, from £255,000 back in 2010/11, to just £40,000 for £2019/20.

On top of that, the tapered annual allowance was introduced back in 2016, meaning anyone earning over £110,000 per year will have their annual pension allowance (up to £40,000) reduced by £1 for every £2 that they earn over the threshold.

What does that mean for senior doctors and consultants? Because all of their income is taken into account when calculating their annual allowance (including work that is non-pensionable) anyone working beyond their contracted hours could be in line to receive a hefty bill from the taxman for exceeding their contribution allowances.

As Dr Rob Harwood from the British Medical Association put it, “No doctor wants to do anything but their best for their patients but if, in doing so, they face bills of tens of thousands of pounds, something has to change.”

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