Death and Taxes

Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced
with a Capital Receipts Tax
Tony Dolphin
December 2010
© ippr 2010
Institute for Public Policy Research
Challenging ideas – Changing policy
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ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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Summary
Supporters of taxes on wealth in the UK have weakened their case by defending the current
Inheritance Tax regime in spite of its defciencies.
There is a strong case on the grounds of equality of opportunity for taxing inheritances. Large
inheritances give some people an unfair and unearned advantage in life. They increase wealth
inequalities and reduce social mobility. Compared to other taxes, a tax on inheritances has
limited disincentive effects and it can be progressive.
But Inheritance Tax as presently formulated is highly unpopular, raises little money and can be
avoided by the very wealthy. It is also not a tax on inheritances, but a tax on estates. It could
be reformed, but a better option would be to abolish it and replace it with a Capital Receipts
Tax.
A Capital Receipts Tax would be a fairer means of increasing equality of opportunity. The UK
should introduce a progressive tax on lifetime gifts above a certain threshold. The precise
formulation of the tax would require careful analysis and discussion but a system that only
taxed gifts above £150,000 could raise £1 billion more revenue than Inheritance Tax now
does.
Introduction
Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: ‘... in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes’.
Inheritance Tax – the tax paid in the UK on the estate of a person who has died – would appear to
illustrate his point perfectly, but in our current world nothing is so simple.
A whole industry has grown up seeking to demonstrate that Inheritance Tax is by no means ‘certain’
and to show people, in return for a hefty fee, how to minimise their potential Inheritance Tax
liabilities. As a result of this industry’s efforts, and the Labour government’s decision in October
2007 to allow the transfer of the Inheritance Tax nil rate band between partners in married couples
and civil partnerships, less than three per cent of estates will pay Inheritance Tax in 2010–11. If the
Conservative Party ever implements its proposal to increase the threshold above which Inheritance
Tax is paid to £1,000,000, less than 0.5 per cent of estates would pay the tax and revenues would
drop to less than £1 billion. Soon after, it’s possible that Inheritance Tax would be abolished on
account of its reduced revenue.
As part of the Mirrlees Review of the UK’s tax system, Robin Boadway et al looked at the taxation
of wealth and wealth transfers. They concluded: ‘It is clear that the current system for taxing wealth
in the UK cannot be sustained and is justly unpopular’ (Boadway et al 2010: 810). If they are right,
Inheritance Tax is unlikely to be retained in its present form for very much longer. Now is the time,
therefore, to ask whether it should be reformed or abolished altogether, and if it is abolished, to ask
whether it should be replaced by a different form of taxation.
The theoretical case for inheritance tax in some form
Four broad principles have to be taken into account when considering the transfer of wealth
between generations and the rationale for an inheritance tax (Beckert 2008):
Family
Equality of opportunity
Social justice
Community
The family principle suggests assets belong not to an individual but to family units. It follows that
family members should be free to transfer legal ownership between themselves at any time, in life
and upon death. Consequently, there is no case for an inheritance tax, or a tax on lifetime transfers
(except perhaps for gifts to non-family members). This principle underlies arguments in favour
of allowing family businesses and family homes to be passed through the generations without
incurring taxation. The counter-argument is that unearned wealth, as well as giving some people an
unfair advantage in life, reduces their incentive to work, innovate, start up businesses and add to
economic wellbeing.




1.
2.
3.
4.
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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The equality of opportunity principle suggests inequalities in society can only be justifed by a
person’s own achievements. Because wealth confers advantages over and above the income that it
generates, inheriting a large sum of money gives someone an undeserved head start (Meade 1978).
Rajiv Prabhakar et al (2008: 12–14) review the literature on inheritance and wealth and conclude
that, although economists are far from being in total agreement, inheritances do increase wealth
inequality. As a result, some people have greater opportunities to access education, invest in new
business or purchase property. At its most extreme, this principle could be used to justify a 100 per
cent inheritance tax, with no threshold. All the assets of one generation would be equally divided
among the next generation.
There are two strands to the social justice principle. First, if income is taxed, then transfers of
wealth should be too. Otherwise, a person who receives a sum of money as a gift is treated more
favourably than someone who works for the same amount in the form of income.

The second
strand suggests that the assets of estates can be used to help correct inequalities in wealth (or
more general inequalities in society). It follows from both these principles that there should be an
inheritance tax.
The community principle suggests people are part of a broad community, which helps them to
generate their wealth and to which they have obligations, even upon death. It rejects inheritance
within the family and redistribution by the state in favour of the voluntary sharing of assets, for
example through the establishment of foundations. It is a sentiment with stronger support in the
United States than in Europe.
These principles need not be taken in isolation. An inheritance tax that includes a threshold and a
tax rate below 100 per cent, like the present UK system, could be justifed because it balances the
family principle – accepting that people do desire to pass on some assets to their families – and the
equality of opportunity principle, by placing a limit on the advantages that parents can provide for
their children (Prabhakar et al 2008: 28).
The reasons people choose to pass on assets when they die also affect the appropriate taxation of
those assets. Helmuth Cremer argues that only if the bequest motive is pure altruism can a zero
rate of inheritance tax be justifed, while at the other extreme a 100 per cent tax should be imposed
if bequests are purely accidental, that is when people die before using up all their precautionary
savings (Cremer 2010: 817). In the real world, though, most bequests are made for a mix of
paternalistic motives – because people receive some utility from passing on something to the next
generation – and as part of a deal, whereby they receive attention and care in their old age in
return for handing over their assets on their death. Cremer argues that if these motives dominate
then a non-zero rate of inheritance tax is justifed, but fnds it diffcult to say from theory what the
appropriate rate or threshold should be (ibid 820).
Inheritance tax also has to be seen in the context of the rest of the tax system. Thus, it is misleading
to criticise an inheritance tax as discouraging savings because, by the same logic, so does taxing
interest income and capital gains, while income tax discourages work and duties discourage
spending. The government needs to raise a certain level of revenues and if it does so from a
range of sources then its effect on economic incentives is spread around.

In theory at least, an
inheritance tax may cause people to work harder and accumulate more pre-tax assets so as to
achieve their desired post-tax level of bequests.
Inheritance Tax in the UK
Inheritance Tax in the UK is paid on the estate of a person who has died and, far less often, on
gifts and trusts made during the last seven years of that person’s life.

Tax is paid at a rate of 40
per cent of the value of the estate above the Inheritance Tax threshold, which in 2010–11 stands
at £325,000. Because tax is paid only on the value of the estate above the threshold, the average,
or effective, tax rate is always less than 40 per cent. An estate of £1 million, for example, will pay
£270,000, an effective tax rate of 27 per cent.
1 Arguably. ll ile iax sysiem ls noi io be neuiral beiween ilese iwo evenis. li slould encourage work over unearned
lncome. noi ile reverse.
2 0l course. on some cases. sucl as duiles on clgareiies. ile governmeni mlgli be irylng io lncenilvlse a cerialn
behaviour – less smoking.
3 1axes on gllis and irusis amouni io only 2 per ceni ol lnlerliance 1ax revenues.
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
Estate (£ '000s)
P
e
r
c
e
n
t
Source: HMRC 2010a
Inheritance Tax is, therefore, progressive, in the sense that the larger the estate, the higher the
effective rate that is paid.
Inheritance Tax is not paid on any assets left to a spouse or a registered civil partner.

Furthermore,
since October 2007 when the frst spouse dies his or her unused Inheritance Tax nil rate band can
be transferred to the second spouse. The threshold of married couples is, in effect, doubled. So,
for example, if the frst spouse dies and leaves an estate of £500,000 to the second spouse, no tax
will be paid. The frst spouse’s Inheritance Tax nil rate band has not been used and can, therefore,
be transferred to the second spouse. If subsequently the second spouse dies leaving an estate of
£1 million, a threshold of £650,000 (twice £325,000) will be applied. Tax will, therefore, only be
payable on £350,000 and will amount to £140,000 (an effective rate of 14 per cent). This will apply
in the vast majority of cases. In 2008, 86 per cent of those who died aged 65 and over in the UK
were either married or widowed.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
Estate (£ '000s)
P
e
r
c
e
n
t
Single person
Married couple
Source: HMRC 2010a
4 ln ile resi ol ills paper. a relerence io a spouse (or marrled couple) slould be iaken io also lnclude a clvll pariner (or
clvll parinersllp).
Figure 1:
Inheritance Tax:
effective tax rate,
2010–11
Figure 2:
Inheritance Tax:
effective tax rate for
single and married
people, 2010–11
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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Inheritance Tax was introduced by the Conservative government in 1986 to replace capital transfer
tax, which had in turn replaced estate duty in 1975. The standard (and only) rate of Inheritance Tax
has been 40 per cent since 1988–89. In 1986–87 there were seven rates (ranging from 30 to 60 per
cent in increments of fve percentage points) and in 1987–88 there were four rates (30, 40, 50 and
60 per cent).
5
When Inheritance Tax was introduced in 1986, the threshold was £71,000. It has been increased
in most years since, although it was frozen at £150,000 from 1992–93 to 1994–95 and has again
been frozen in 2010–11. There was a particularly large increase in the threshold, from £154,000 to
£200,000, in 1996–97. The threshold is now £325,000, four and a half times larger that it was when
the tax was introduced.
£0
£50,000
£100,000
£150,000
£200,000
£250,000
£300,000
£350,000
1
9
8
6

8
7
1
9
8
8

8
9
1
9
9
0

9
1
1
9
9
2

9
3
1
9
9
4

9
5
1
9
9
6

9
7
1
9
9
8

9
9
2
0
0
0

0
1
2
0
0
2

0
3
2
0
0
4

0
5
2
0
0
6

0
7
2
0
0
8

0
9
2
0
1
0

1
1
Source: HMRC 2010b
After allowing for price infation, the threshold has doubled since 1986. However, a comparison
with retail price infation is somewhat meaningless, as Inheritance Tax is paid on assets, most of
which are not consumer goods. In 2007–08, around 40 per cent of the assets of those estates that
might be liable to pay Inheritance Tax were in the form of residential buildings, 20 per cent were in
securities, another 20 per cent in cash and the rest were in other assets such as insurance policies,
land and physical goods (HMRC 2010c). For this reason, it has been suggested that the Inheritance
Tax threshold should be increased in line with house price movements. In fact, the threshold has
kept up with house prices since 1986–87: after allowing for house price infation, the threshold has
increased by 12 per cent since 1986.
6
The change to Inheritance Tax for married couples and civil partnerships, introduced in October
2007, had a signifcant effect on the number of estates paying Inheritance Tax and on receipts
from the tax. HM Revenue and Customs fgures show that 34,000 estates paid the tax in 2006–07,
falling to 15,000 in 2009–10 (HMRC 2010d). They also show that receipts fell from £3.6 billion in
2006–07 to £2.4 billion in 2009–10 (HMRC 2010e).
7
These falls are largely due to the transferability
of the nil rate threshold, although lower house prices (which peaked in the third quarter of 2007
and were still 12 per cent below their highs in the frst quarter of 2010) will also have played a part
in reducing the taxable value of estates.
b See ile Appendlx lor deialls ol lnlerliance 1ax ilreslolds and raies.
6 1le relailonsllp beiween lnlerliance 1ax and ile lamlly lome ls dlscussed ln more deiall ln a laier secilon.
Receipts in the frst four months of 2010-11 were £954 million, compared to £52 million in the same four months of
2009-10, suggesting full-year receipts could be close to £3 billion.
Figure 3:
Inheritance Tax:
threshold
5 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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Number of estates paying
Inheritance Tax (‘000s)
Inheritance Tax receipts
(£ billion)
2001–02 2,383
2002–03 27 2,375
2003–04 2,521
2004–05 2,941
2005–06 3,276
2006–07 3,563
2007–08 25 3,824
2008–09 16 2,851
2009–10 15 2,396
Source: HMRC 2010d, HMRC 2010e
The result is that the proportion of estates paying Inheritance Tax, which was six per cent in
2006–07, fell to four per cent in 2007–08 (when the transferability of thresholds was introduced
mid-year) and to just 2.5 per cent in 2009–10.
Inheritance Tax and wealth
An assessment of the likely incidence of Inheritance Tax can be deduced from the latest data on
household wealth. The National Equality Panel (NEP), which published its report in January 2010,
was able to access data from the new Wealth and Assets Survey covering the period from June 2006
to June 2008. It found that median household wealth in the UK during this period was £145,400
(NEP 2010: 58).
8
The NEP also set out the full distribution of wealth in the UK in 2006–2008. In all, 21 per cent of
households had wealth above the current Inheritance Tax threshold of £325,000 but just six per
cent had wealth above the married couple ‘double threshold’ of £650,000. Since these wealth data,
for the most part, predate the falls in asset values caused by the fnancial collapse and recession,
current wealth data (that is, for 2010–11) would show slightly lower percentages still. The current
average house price in the UK is, for example, fve per cent lower than in 2006–08 and the equity
market is about 10 per cent lower in value than it was in that period (although the value of equity
holdings will have fallen by less if dividends have been reinvested).
0
200,000
400,000
600,000
800,000
1,000,000
1,200,000
1,400,000
1,600,000
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95
Percentile of households
W
e
a
l
t
h
(
£
)
Source: NEP 2010: 58
The NEP used several defnitions of wealth. This one includes fnancial and physical wealth, including household goods
and houses but excluding pension rights, and is the best defnition when considering potential Inheritance Tax liabilities.
Table 1:
Inheritance Tax
Figure 4:
Net non-pension
wealth in the UK,
2006–08
6 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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These estimates are based on the complete distribution of wealth across all households in the UK,
including those where the ‘household reference person’ (HRP) is as young as 16 and so unlikely
to have accumulated much wealth (and also unlikely to die). The wealth of households where the
household reference person is older is higher than the average.
Age of HRP Median 70th percentile 90th percentile
16–24 11,678 23,430 70,750
25–34 48,200 96,500 198,843
35–44 120,014 205,600 399,650
45–54 184,246 284,185 554,150
55–64 243,255 373,474 666,900
65–74 213,220 313,712 584,807
75–84 182,700 275,017 507,224
85+ 156,300 238,506 443,707
Source: NEP (2010) Wealth tables at http://www.equalities.gov.uk/docs/200608_Wealth_tables.xls
Households begin to consume some of their wealth once they stop working, so wealth tends
to decline with age during retirement. In 2006–2008, the median wealth of a household with a
HRP aged 85 or over was only 64 per cent of the median wealth of a household with a HRP aged
55–64. In part, this might refect the higher living standards and greater home ownership rate
of the younger group. But it also shows the effect of the consumption of wealth in retirement.
Among households where the household reference person is aged 65 or over (those most likely
to die
9
and leave an estate that might have to pay Inheritance Tax), less than 30 per cent have
wealth exceeding the Inheritance Tax threshold and less than 10 per cent have wealth above the
‘double threshold’.
Based on the age distribution of wealth in Table 2 and the age distribution and marital status of
those who died in 2008, less than 10 per cent of estates in the UK hold suffcient assets to be
liable to pay Inheritance Tax under the current system. In fact, less than three per cent of estates
actually pay it.
If the Inheritance Tax threshold is frozen at its current level for four years and wealth increases at
an average rate of eight per cent per annum over the same period, less than fve per cent of estates
will be paying Inheritance Tax in 2014–15. Inheritance Tax in its current form is not a tax on the
middle-classes. It is a tax that falls only on the wealthiest households in the UK.
Inheritance Tax and the family home
Houses are the most valuable item in most estates. In 2007–08, residential property accounted for
around half of all assets in estates, with one-quarter being accounted for by cash and the rest by
equities, bonds, insurance policies and other assets. However, houses were less important in those
estates that might be liable for Inheritance Tax: in those that were valued at more than £300,000,
and particularly in the largest estates.
Estate value (£ ‘000)
Up to
300
300
to 500
500 to
1,000
1,000 to
2,000
Over
2,000
All
estates
Securities 5.0 11.1 19.2 28.8 33.5 13.2
Cash 27.4 24.1 21.9 16.4 11.4 23.4
Insurance policies 3.9 4.6 3.7 4.1 1.5 3.8
Residential property 58.4 54.0 43.3 33.9 24.0 49.8
Other land and buildings 0.8 2.0 5.4 9.4 12.1 3.6
Loans and other assets 4.5 4.3 6.6 7.3 17.5 6.3
Total gross capital value 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Source: HMRC 2010c
9 3 per cent of the people who died in England and Wales in 200 were aged 65 or over; 6 per cent were aged 5
and over, and 36 per cent 5 and over (Offce for National Statistics 2009: 5–).
Table 2:
Financial, physical
and property wealth,
2006–2008, £
Table 3:
Assets by estate
value in 2007–08
(per cent)
7 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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Although some estates include second homes and houses bought to let, the vast majority of the
housing assets in estates will be primary residences. Hence, one of the main complaints about
Inheritance Tax is that it prevents people passing on the ‘family home’ to their children. Deliberative
workshops have revealed ‘passionate complaints about [Inheritance Tax] “forcing” the sale of the
family home’ (Maxwell 2004: 29).
The obvious objection to these complaints is that the vast majority of people do not move into their
parents’ home when their second parent dies. Typically, they already have a home of their own, or
they may live and work in another part of the country. But, even in the case where one or more
children wishes to move into the ‘family home’, the Inheritance Tax rules go a long way to allow
them to do so. In particular, inheritors are allowed to pay Inheritance Tax liabilities over a 10-year
period if the value of an estate is tied up in a house (or when the house is sold if that occurs
sooner). This allows them plenty of time to fnd other means of meeting the tax liability without
having to sell the house.
Furthermore, HMRC data suggest that few estates paying Inheritance Tax in 2007–08 would have
had to sell the family home to meet the tax bill, if the inheritors were prepared to sell other assets
instead. From data on the number of estates paying Inheritance Tax and the amount paid, it is
possible to derive the average tax payment, and thus the average value of the estate in various
value bands.
Range of net
estate
Total Inheritance
Tax take
(£ million) Estates taxed
Average
Inheritance Tax
(£)
Average estate
value (£)
£300,000 to
£500,000
352 12,670 27,782 369,455
£500,000 to
£1,000,000
926 7,948 116,507 591,268
£1,000,000 to
£2,000,000
849 2,683 316,437 1,091,092
Over £2,000,000 945 989 955,511 2,688,777
Source: HMRC 2010f
From data on the number of residential buildings and their value in estates it is also possible to
derive the average value of residential property, and thus the value of other assets in the same
value bands.
10
Range of net
estate
UK residential buildings
Average value
of non-housing
assets (£)
Value
(£ million) Number
Average value
(£)
£300,000 to
£500,000
6,741 27,269 247,204 122,252
£500,000 to
£1,000,000
4,233 11,954 354,107 237,161
£1,000,000 to
£2,000,000
1,799 3,150 571,111 519,981
Over £2,000,000 1,595 1,175 1,357,447 1,331,330
Source: HMRC 2010c
By comparing the fnal column of Table 5 with the penultimate column of Table 4, it can be seen
that the average Inheritance Tax bill is considerably less than the average value of non-housing
assets in estates. Thus, for example, the average estate with a value of between £500,000 and
£1,000,000 faced an Inheritance Tax bill of £117,000 in 2007–08, but held non-housing assets of
more than twice that amount, at £237,000.
10 1lese daia cover all esiaies. ilose paylng and noi paylng lnlerliance 1ax. so li ls assumed ile average value ol
houses is the same in both cases. The fgures will also include second homes and other houses that are not the
‘family home’, so the estimate of non-housing assets will be an underestimate of ‘non family home assets’.
Table 4:
Estates paying
Inheritance Tax,
2007–08
Table 5:
All estates,
2007–08
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This does not mean that there were no estates in 2007–08 where the Inheritance Tax liability
was larger than the value of non-housing assets (that could only be shown with the complete
distribution of tax liabilities and housing values). But the magnitude of the gap between the
average value of non-housing assets and the average Inheritance Tax bill suggests the number
of estates that were in the position of having to sell the family home to meet an Inheritance Tax
bill was very small. What is more, the transferability of the Inheritance Tax threshold for married
couples was introduced halfway through 2007–08 and so is only partially refected in these
fgures. This move will have diminished Inheritance Tax bills and so reduced this problem almost
to the point of extinction.
If a problem does remain, it will occur where there are multiple inheritors and one wants to keep
the family home but its value is greater than his or her share of the estate. An example could be the
case of a widowed man dying and leaving an estate of £1,000,000 to be divided equally between
his two daughters, of which £500,000 is represented by the family home and £500,000 by other
assets. Assuming that his wife’s Inheritance Tax nil rate band was transferred to him when she died,
the Inheritance Tax liability of the estate will be £140,000. This leaves £860,000 to be divided
equally between the two daughters, £430,000 each. But if one takes the house valued at £500,000,
she will ‘owe’ the other £70,000. If she does not have this amount of money (and cannot borrow it)
and the two cannot come to some agreement, the house might have to be sold.
It is wrong, therefore, to believe that Inheritance Tax forces the sale of thousands of family homes
every year. This is not the case.
Another myth is that, notwithstanding the falls in 2008 and 2009, house price increases over
the last decade or so mean many millions of homes in the UK are now valued at more than the
Inheritance Tax threshold and that this will lead to many more estates being liable for Inheritance
Tax in the future. Data from the Land Registry for England and Wales (including Scotland would
make little difference) show that less than one-ffth of houses are currently valued at more
than £300,000 and just 3.5 per cent at more than £600,000. With an effective Inheritance Tax
threshold of £650,000, few married couples will pay Inheritance Tax on the basis of the value of
their home alone.
Price range Number Percentage
Less than £300,000 40,391 81.7
£300,000 to £400,000 4,379 8.9
£400,000 to £500,000 2,118 4.3
£500,000 to £600,000 781 1.6
£600,000 to £800,000 942 1.9
£800,000 to £1,000,000 375 0.8
£1,000,000 to £1,500,000 269 0.5
£1,500,000 to £2,000,000 92 0.2
Over £2,000,000 65 0.1
Source: Land Registry 2010: 13
Lastly, the common perception that, since its introduction in 1986, the incidence of Inheritance
Tax has increased due to rapid house price infation is also wrong. The average house price in the
UK in 2009–10 was £160,000, 4.1 times higher than the 1986–87 average of £39,000 (Nationwide
Building Society 2010), while the Inheritance Tax threshold was 4.6 times higher. Since the
introduction of Inheritance Tax, the threshold has more than kept pace with the increase in the
value of the main asset left in estates.

This is not quite the whole story. First, the relationship between the threshold and the average price
of a house has varied considerably over time. When Inheritance Tax was introduced in 1986–87,
the threshold was 1.8 times the average house price. After the large increase in the threshold in
1996–97, the ratio had increased to 3.7 times, but it has subsequently fallen back to 2.0 times as a
result of very high house price infation between 1996 and 2005.
11 li las also ouisirlpped ile lncrease ln value ol asseis leld ln casl. bui noi equliles and governmeni bonds.
Table 6:
House sales in
England and Wales,
December 2009
9 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
2.5
3.0
3.5
4.0
1
9
8
6

8
7
1
9
8
8

8
9
1
9
9
0

9
1
1
9
9
2

9
3
1
9
9
4

9
5
1
9
9
6

9
7
1
9
9
8

9
9
2
0
0
0

0
1
2
0
0
2

0
3
2
0
0
4

0
5
2
0
0
6

0
7
2
0
0
8

0
9
Source: HMRC 2010b, Nationwide Building Society 2010
Second, the decision in October 2007 to allow the transfer of the unused threshold of the frst
spouse to the surviving spouse doubles the effective Inheritance Tax threshold for the vast majority
of people. For over 80 per cent of estates, therefore, the threshold is now 4.0 times the average
house price. The Inheritance Tax threshold is, thus, little different now for single people – in relation
to average house prices – than it was when it was introduced in 1986. For married couples it is more
generous than it has ever been on this basis.
If the Inheritance Tax threshold is increased in the future, there could be a case for indexing it
to house price infation. However, there is not a good case for exempting a person’s primary
residence from Inheritance Tax, as has been suggested in some quarters. First, the current level of
house prices will cause only a small proportion of estates to be liable to the tax. Second, if primary
residences were exempt, the revenues from Inheritance Tax would be so low that it would not be
worth persisting with. And third, exempting one asset from Inheritance Tax would distort incentives
and so create ineffciencies. Old people would be encouraged to retain their home, knowing that it
was exempt from tax, even when it might be better for them to sell.
The problems with Inheritance Tax in its current form
In some respects, therefore, Inheritance Tax is not as bad as the myths suggest, and it has played a
progressive role in the UK’s tax system. But, particularly since the 2007 reforms, it is far from being
an ideal tax – one that is equitable, effcient and simple, and designed to ensure a high rate of
compliance.
Boadway et al (2010) argue that Inheritance Tax is inequitable because the very wealthy can give
away large chunks of their wealth – in the form of equities, bonds and cash for example – tax-
free during their lifetime (as long as they do it more than seven years before their death) without
affecting their own standard of living. They can also make use of trust arrangements to reduce their
tax liability. These options are not available to the less wealthy because the bulk of their wealth is
tied up in their home. It could be argued that the ability of the rich to dispose of their assets also
means that Inheritance Tax fails the compliance test too.
The latest data from HM Revenue and Customs appear to confrm that Inheritance Tax can be
avoided. Of those estates notifed for probate as a result of deaths in 2007–08 (the latest year for
which fgures are available), there were 3,672 of a value over £1,000,000 that paid Inheritance Tax,
but a further 1,816 that did not. So 33 per cent of estates known to be well above the threshold
(£300,000 for all estates in the frst half of the year and £300,000 for a single or divorced person
and up to £600,000 for widows and widowers) were not taxed.
Figure 5:
Ratio of Inheritance
Tax threshold to
average house price
10 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
Briefng
Range of net estate Number taxed
Number
not taxed
Percentage
not taxed
£300,000 to
£500,000
12,670 20,116 61
£500,000 to
£1,000,000
7,948 6,667 46
£1,000,000 to
£2,000,000
2,683 1,362
Over
£2,000,000
989 454
Total 24,290 28,599 54
Total over £500,000 11,620 8,433
Total over £1,000,000 3,672 1,816
Source: HMRC 2010f
Furthermore, HMRC say that, while the number of estates paying tax is almost fully complete,
they might have captured only fve-sixths of non-taxpaying estates. If so, up to 37 per cent of
estates valued at more than £1,000,000 might have avoided paying Inheritance Tax in 2007–08.
If loopholes can be exploited to such an extent, then Inheritance Tax is neither fair nor effcient in
practice, whatever the theoretical arguments in its favour.
If Inheritance Tax is so far from ideal, it may not be worth persisting with it. Revenues from
Inheritance Tax peaked at just under £4 billion in 2007–08 and are expected to fall to £2.2 billion in
2010–11 (HM Treasury 2010a: 100). If the Conservative Party’s proposal to increase the threshold
to £1,000,000 is implemented, revenues would fall to less than £1 billion.
It is also likely that a fall in revenues would be associated with an increase in the average cost of
collection. In 2008–09, it cost 0.99 pence to collect every £1 of Inheritance Tax revenue, compared
to 0.62 pence for VAT and 1.24 pence for Income Tax (HMRC 2009), so it is not a relatively
expensive tax to collect. But the cost of collecting Inheritance Tax was up from 0.64 pence for every
£1 in 2007–08 over a period when revenues fell from £3.8 billion to £2.8 billion. This suggests that
the marginal cost of collecting Inheritance Tax is lower than the average cost, and that a further
fall in revenues is likely to be accompanied by an increase in the average cost of collection. Faced
with such evidence, a future Conservative government that had already increased the threshold to
£1,000,000 may decide to abolish Inheritance Tax altogether, particularly if it could fnd the lost £1
billion of revenues in another way that was less unpopular than Inheritance Tax.
Public attitudes to Inheritance Tax
Opinion polls suggest Inheritance Tax is one of the most unpopular taxes in the UK. A MORI poll

in 2004 asked whether taxing a person’s estate was fair. Only 19 per cent of respondents agreed;
69 per cent disagreed. 57 per cent thought the threshold should be increased (41 per cent thought
it should be much higher) while only 11 per cent thought it should be reduced. A Populus poll

in
2006 produced very similar results: 25 per cent said that Inheritance Tax was fair, but 73 per cent
said it was not; 76 per cent thought the starting rate should be much higher. The lowest support for
Inheritance Tax was not among those in the AB social groups, who might be expected to be most
at risk of having to pay it, but among those in the C2 group, of which only 19 per cent thought it a
fair tax. What is more, when asked whether Inheritance Tax should be scrapped and replaced by an
extra 1p on the basic rate of income tax, 59 per cent of respondents agreed and only 37 per cent
disagreed. Given that, at the time, just over 30,000 estates a year were paying Inheritance Tax, while
30 million people were paying income tax, this is a rare example of the majority of people saying
they would willingly pay more tax themselves, so that a minority could pay less. This might be said
to reveal the deep unpopularity of Inheritance Tax, but it also probably says something about the
degree of ignorance of the majority of the public about its workings and incidence.
12 See http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=651
13 See http://www.populus.co.uk/bbc-inheritance-tax-poll-120306.html
Table 7:
Estates notifed for
probate, 2007–08
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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The unpopularity of Inheritance Tax is the result of several factors. Although strictly a tax on the
estate of the dead person, it is probably seen by the inheritors as a tax they have to pay out of
‘their’ assets. It is more visible than, say, income tax or VAT. (Council tax, which is also a very visible
tax, is similarly unpopular.) However, if no more than six per cent of estates have been liable to
Inheritance Tax in any year, few people will have been in the position of seeing their inheritance
reduced by its payment.
Another possibility is that Inheritance Tax is unpopular because it is perceived as ‘double taxation’
– a tax paid on assets saved out of income that has already been taxed. While this might be the
perception, it is a very weak argument against Inheritance Tax. Double taxation is a common feature
of the UK – and most other – tax systems. In the UK, tax is paid on incomes, and then paid – in the
form of council tax, VAT and various duties – when post-tax incomes are spent. The interest earned on
savings made out of post-tax income is also taxed. If the argument is that there should be no double
taxation, then the UK would have to move to a pure income tax, or pure expenditure tax, system.

In any case, it is wrong to regard all assets in an estate as having derived from earned income. A
large part of an estate will normally represent capital gains, and Inheritance Tax is very defnitely
not double taxation when it comes to the treatment of capital gains. Realised capital gains are
subject to tax during a person’s life but unrealised capital gains on death are not taxed. (One crucial
difference between Inheritance Tax and a capital gains tax is that a person’s main home is not
subject to capital gains tax but is subject to Inheritance Tax. However, the Inheritance Tax threshold
is the equivalent of 37 years of capital gains tax allowances and fully covers capital gains made on
the majority of homes.)
Other possible explanations are that Inheritance Tax is so strongly disliked because it is seen as a
tax on success or aspiration. It may simply be that people believe strongly that property belongs to
all the generations of a family and not just to an individual (the ‘family principle’). Or there could
be a strong bequest motive – a desire to determine what happens to all our assets when we die.
Alternatively, perhaps people just overestimate its incidence. One survey found that people believed
between one in four and one in two households will be affected by Inheritance Tax (Rowlingson and
McKay 2005). The actual fgure in any one year has never been higher than one in sixteen.
Whatever the reasons for its past unpopularity, the latest evidence suggests that, at least relative
to other taxes, Inheritance Tax is not as strongly disliked as it once was. In September 2009, Ipsos
MORI asked people, if taxes had to be increased, which they would most and least like to see go up.
Most in favour Least in favour
Taxes on business 25
Inheritance tax 6
Income tax 25
VAT 8 10
Fuel duty 5
Council tax 26
Other 5 –
None of these
Don’t know 7 5
Source: Ipsos MORI http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/poll-voters-not-yet-ready-for-spending-cuts-rsa-2009-topline.pdf
Inheritance Tax came a close second to taxes on business – and, therefore, frst among taxes paid
directly by households – as the one people would most favour increasing. Whether this apparent
change of view, compared for example to the 2006 Populus poll, is due to the changes made to
Inheritance Tax in October 2007, which greatly reduce its incidence, or to some other factor, is
not clear.
14 It has even been suggested that Inheritance Tax represents ‘triple taxation’. Richard Wellings of the Institute for
Economic Affairs argues that ‘tax is paid on initial income, then on savings and then again on death (IEA 2010). This
ls noi sirlcily irue. 1ax ls pald on ile lnieresi (and posslbly ile reallsed caplial galns) made on savlngs. bui noi on
ile savlngs ilemselves.
Table 8:
If taxes were to
rise, which of
these, if any,
would you be
most/least in
favour of being
increased?
(percentage)
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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Replacing Inheritance Tax with a Capital Receipts Tax
In the past, ippr has argued for the reform of Inheritance Tax (Maxwell 2004). Although Inheritance
Tax was as unpopular with the general public then as it is now, it was regarded at the time as an
important source of revenue for the government. Following the 2007 reforms, it is no longer a
signifcant source of revenue and its enduring unpopularity makes it unlikely that any political party
would consider increasing it. Indeed, as the 2007 reforms and the Conservative Party’s proposal to
increase the threshold to £1,000,000 show, the pressure is all in the other direction. Other than this
change, the only reform that is now likely is complete abolition.
A small number of other countries have abolished their inheritance taxes, including Australia,
Canada and Sweden. However, Canada replaced its inheritance tax by taxing capital gains at death
(which does not happen in the UK) and Sweden by increasing its wealth tax (although that too was
subsequently abolished).
Regardless, there remains a strong case for taxing inheritances. If reforming Inheritance Tax is
no longer an option, consideration should be given to replacing Inheritance Tax with a Capital
Receipts Tax.
The UK’s Inheritance Tax is not, in fact, an inheritance tax; it is an estate tax. It is calculated on,
and paid by, the estate of the deceased, not by those inheriting. It should be replaced by a tax on
the receipt of gifts – a Capital Receipts Tax, or an accessions tax. This is not a new idea. It was put
forward by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 1973 (Sandford et al 1973), the Fabian Commission
on Taxation and Citizenship (2000) and more recently by Prabhakar et al (2008). Ireland has had a
Capital Acquisitions Tax since 1976.
Other European countries also tax the benefciaries of estates, rather than the value of estates. In
Germany, even the spouse of the deceased pays inheritance tax at a rate of 7 to 30 per cent above
an exemption limit of €500,000 (roughly £425,000), while benefciaries other than parents, children
and grandchildren pay at rates from 13 to 50 per cent on amounts above just €20,000. In France,
the rate of tax on inheritances can be as high as 60 per cent. The Netherlands and Belgium also tax
benefciaries.
The basic idea of a Capital Receipts Tax is that every person has a threshold amount for gifts that
they are allowed to receive during their lifetime. Once this threshold is reached, further gifts are
subject to tax. The tax can be made more complicated, for example by exempting gifts below
a certain value, having a progressive tax rate scale, or setting different thresholds according to
the relationship between the donor and the recipient. Gifts between husband and wife could be
completely exempt.
A Capital Receipts Tax would have a number of advantages over the current Inheritance Tax system.
First, it would make a modest direct contribution to reducing wealth inequality. The Inheritance Tax
regime favours sole benefciaries of estates over multiple benefciaries because the estate pays the
same amount of tax irrespective of the number of benefciaries. Under a Capital Receipts Tax, a sole
benefciary would pay more tax than the aggregate paid by several benefciaries (unless they had all
already received gifts above the threshold amount).
15
Second, it could indirectly promote a more equal distribution of wealth by creating an incentive
for a wider distribution of estates so as to limit benefciaries’ tax bills. Dominic Maxwell reports the
results of deliberative workshops that suggest this would not happen (2004: 19). He also argues
that tax experts are sceptical about the likelihood of a change in the pattern of bequests. But, in
truth, there is no hard evidence on which to judge the likelihood of a Capital Receipts Tax leading to
a change in the pattern of giving.
Third, a Capital Receipts Tax would be fairer because it would remove the anomaly created by the
ability of the very wealthy to dispose of some of their assets during their lifetime in a way the
moderately wealthy cannot. Fourth, it might be less unpopular than Inheritance Tax, particularly
if it was presented as a tax on unearned ‘income’. It is also less likely to be criticised as ‘double
taxation’, since the recipient is taxed on assets they are receiving for the frst time.
1b Under Inheritance Tax a sole benefciary of an estate worth £1,000,000 (with no transferred nil rate band) receives
£30,000, while four equal benefciaries of the same estate would receive £12,500 each. Under a Capital Receipts
Tax with the parameters set out in Table 10 below, a sole benefciary would receive £05,000 and four benefciaries
£230,000 each.
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
Briefng
The Fabian Commission (2000) proposed the introduction of a progressive capital receipts tax,
payable on all gifts received during one’s life, except that individual gifts with a value of less than
£2,000 would be disregarded.
Size of capital receipt Marginal tax rate
Up to £80,000 Nil
£80,000 to £160,000 20%
£160,000 to £240,000 30%
Over £240,000 40%
Source: Fabian Commission 2000
Over the last decade, the threshold for Inheritance Tax has been increased by 39 per cent (and
effectively by 178 per cent for married couples and civil partnerships) and the average house price
in the UK has doubled, so the bands proposed by the Fabians are somewhat out-of-date. A similar
proposal today would have signifcantly higher bands than those put forward in 2000.
Size of capital receipt Marginal tax rate
Up to £150,000 Nil
£150,000 to £300,000 20%
£300,000 to £450,000 30%
Over £450,000 40%
Source: ippr
There are potential disadvantages: a Capital Receipts Tax could lead to a fall in revenue, it would
create winners and losers, and it would entail higher administration and compliance costs (Maxwell
2004: 17).
Lower revenues should not be a signifcant concern. Revenues from Inheritance Tax under the
present system are now so low that it should be possible to devise a set of thresholds and tax rates
for a Capital Receipts Tax that are feasible politically and yet ensure that revenues are protected. In
any case, the argument for a Capital Receipts Tax as part of the UK tax system should include some
notion of the revenues that are expected to be raised.
It is diffcult to estimate accurately how much tax would be raised by the structure proposed in Table
10 as this would depend on how estates were divided and whether the recipients of estates that
now escape Inheritance Tax were captured in the Capital Receipts Tax net. But a rough calculation
suggests that, in 2010–11, it might raise revenues of just over £3 billion – about £1 billion more
than HM Treasury expects to be raised by Inheritance Tax. More work would be required, though, to
set the right parameters.
There would, of course, be ‘winners and losers’ from adopting a Capital Receipts Tax, compared
to the Inheritance Tax regime. Generally speaking, less tax would be paid when an estate does
not beneft from the ‘double threshold’ and is distributed to two or more people, or when it does
beneft from the ‘double threshold’ and is distributed to three or more people. In the latter, more
common, case, more tax will be paid when only one or two people inherit, particularly when the
estate is valued at up to £650,000.
Table 9:
Parameters
of the Fabian
Commission’s
capital receipts
tax proposal,
2000
Table 10:
Possible parameters
for a capital
receipts tax,
2010–11
ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
Briefng
-300
-250
-200
-150
-100
-50
0
50
100
150
200
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
Estate size (£ '000s)
T
a
x
r
e
v
e
n
u
e
g
a
i
n
/
l
o
s
s
(
£
'
0
0
0
s
)
One inheritor Two inheritors Three inheritors Four inheritors
Source: ippr
16
-300
-250
-200
-150
-100
-50
0
50
100
150
200
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000
Estate size (£ '000s)
T
a
x
r
e
v
e
n
u
e
g
a
i
n
/
l
o
s
s
(
£
'
0
0
0
s
)
One inheritor Two inheritors Three inheritors Four inheritors
Source: ippr
However, the language of ‘winners and losers’ is unhelpful when looking at changes to the tax
system. If the tax system is changed to make it in some way fairer, anyone who has to pay more tax
as a result should be presented as having gained unfairly from the old system, rather than as losing
out as a result of the switch to a new system.
The biggest drawback to a Capital Receipts Tax is likely to be its high administrative and compliance
costs. It requires every individual, whether currently a taxpayer or not, to keep a detailed record
throughout their lifetime of all gifts that they receive (above a certain value), in case they
should ever amass gifts in excess of the tax threshold. HMRC would have to check these records.
Administrative costs would, therefore, increase compared to Inheritance Tax. Nevertheless, Ireland’s
Capital Acquisitions Tax is complex yet operates ‘at about the same level of costs per unit of
revenue as that of income tax on the self-employed’ (Boadway et al 2010: 796). The very fact that
it has survived for 34 years might also suggest the costs of its administration are not prohibitive.
16 Assumes no prevlous gllis lave been recelved (as does llgure 6).
Figure 6:
Change in tax paid
on an estate not
benefting from
the transferable
threshold
Figure 7:
Change in tax
paid on an estate
benefting from
the transferable
threshold
16
15 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
Briefng
Conclusion
Inheritance Tax in its current form is unpopular and unfair and, once the government’s fnances
are in a better state, it is unlikely to survive for very long. There is a strong case, on the grounds
of increasing equality of opportunity and social mobility, for replacing it with a progressive Capital
Receipts Tax. This would make a small contribution to reducing wealth inequalities in the UK. In
addition, depending on the precise formulation in terms of thresholds and tax rates, this tax could
raise £1 billion more in revenue for the Treasury. Generally speaking, less tax would be paid when
estates were divided between a number of benefciaries, but sole benefciaries of large estates,
particularly those who would currently beneft from the transferability of Inheritance Tax allowances
between husband and wife, would pay more.
16 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
Briefng
References
Beckert J (2008) Why is the Inheritance Tax so Controversial? Oxford: The Foundation for Law,
Justice and Society. http://www.fjs.org/uploads/documents/Why%20is%20the%20Inheritance%
20Tax%20so%20Controversial.pdf
Boadway R, Chamberlain E and Emmerson C (2010) ‘Taxation of Wealth and Wealth Transfers’ in
Mirrlees J et al (eds) Dimensions of Tax Design: the Mirrlees Review (737–814) Oxford: Oxford
University Press. http://www.ifs.org.uk/mirrleesReview/dimensions
Commission on Taxation and Citizenship (2000) Paying for Progress: A new politics of tax for public
spending London: Fabian Society
Cremer H (2010) ‘Commentary by Helmuth Cremer’ in Mirrlees J et al (eds) Dimensions of Tax
Design: the Mirrlees Review (815–824) Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.ifs.org.uk/
mirrleesReview/dimensions
HM Revenue and Customs [HMRC] (2009) Meeting our challenges. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/
about/autumn-report-2009.pdf
HM Revenue and Customs (2010a) Inheritance Tax – the basics. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/
inheritancetax/intro/basics.htm
HM Revenue and Customs (2010b) Inheritance Tax – Tax parameters – Table A.8. http://www.hmrc.
gov.uk/stats/inheritance_tax/appendix_a8.pdf
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by range of net estate (Table 12.4). http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/inheritance_tax/table12-4.pdf
HM Revenue and Customs (2010d) Table 1.4 – Numbers of taxpayers and registered traders.
http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/tax_receipts/table1-4.pdf
HM Revenue and Customs (2010e) HM Revenue and Customs receipts. http://www.hmrc.gov.
uk/stats/tax_receipts/tax-receipts-and-taxpayers.pdf
HM Revenue and Customs (2010f) Inheritance Tax – Estates notifed for probate: numbers and tax
by range of estate for years of death (Table 12.3). http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/inheritance_tax/
table12-3.pdf
HM Treasury (2010a) Budget 2010 London: The Stationery Offce. http://www.hm-treasury.gov.
uk/d/junebudget_complete.pdf
HM Treasury (2010b) Budget 2010: Securing the recovery London: The Stationery Offce.
http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/budget2010_complete.pdf
Institute for Economic Affairs [IEA] (2010) ‘The Conservatives should have stood frm on
Inheritance Tax’, blog post, 12 May 2010. http://blog.iea.org.uk/?p=2707
Land Registry (2010) House Price Index, July 2010. http://www1.landregistry.gov.uk/assets/
library/documents/HPIJul10snuye.pdf
Maxwell D (2004) Fair Dues: Towards a more progressive inheritance tax London: ippr
Meade J E (1978) The Structure and Reform of Direct Taxation, Report of a Committee chaired by
Professor J. E. Meade London: George Allen & Unwin
National Equality Panel [NEP] (2010) An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK London:
Government Equalities Offce. http://www.equalities.gov.uk/pdf/NEP%20Report%20bookmarked
fnal.pdf
Nationwide Building Society (2010) ‘House Prices’. http://www.nationwide.co.uk/hpi/
Offce for National Statistics (2009) Mortality Statistics: Deaths registered in 2008 Richmond: Offce
for Public Sector Information. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_health/DR2008/
DR_08.pdf
Prabhakar R, Rowlingson K and White S (2008) How to Defend Inheritance Tax London: Fabian
Society
Rowlingson K and McKay S (2005) Attitudes to Inheritance in Britain Bristol: Policy Press
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Sandford C T, Willis J R M and Ironsides D J (1973) An Accessions Tax London: Institute for Fiscal
Studies
The Children’s Mutual (2010) ‘Parents persist in saving’, press release, 15 January 2010.
http://www.thechildrensmutual.co.uk/PDF/parents_persist_in_saving.pdf
18 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax
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Appendix: Inheritance Tax Parameters
Year Threshold Rate of tax
1986–87 £71,000 30 to 60%

1987–88 £90,000 30 to 60%

1988–89 £110,000 40%
1989–90 £118,000 40%
1990–91 £128,000 40%
1991–92 £140,000 40%
1992–93 £150,000 40%
1993–94 £150,000 40%
1994–95 £150,000 40%
1995–96 £154,000 40%
1996–97 £200,000 40%
1997–98 £215,000 40%
1998–99 £223,000 40%
1999–2000 £231,000 40%
2000–01 £234,000 40%
2001–02 £242,000 40%
2002–03 £250,000 40%
2003–04 £255,000 40%
2004–05 £263,000 40%
2005–06 £275,000 40%
2006–07 £285,000 40%
2007–08 £300,000 40%
2008–09 £312,000 40%
2009–10 £325,000 40%
2010–11 £325,000 40%
2011–12

£325,000 40%
2012–13

£325,000 40%
2013–14

£325,000 40%
2014–15

£325,000 40%
Notes

30% between £71,000 and £95,000, 35% between £95,000 and £129,000,
40% between £129,000 and £164,000, 45% between £164,000 and £206,000,
50% between £206,000 and £257,000, 55% between £257,000 and £317,000
and 60% over £317,000

30% between £90,000 and £140,000, 40% between £140,000 and
£220,000, 50% between £220,000 and £330,000 and 60% over £330,000

It was announced in the March 2010 Budget that the Inheritance Tax
threshold would be frozen at £325,000 until 2014–15. This could change as a
result of future budgets.
Source: HMRC 2010b and HM Treasury 2010b

About ippr
The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) is the UK’s leading progressive think tank, producing cutting-edge research and innovative policy ideas for a just, democratic and sustainable world. Since 1988, we have been at the forefront of progressive debate and policymaking in the UK. Through our independent research and analysis we define new agendas for change and provide practical solutions to challenges across the full range of public policy issues. With offices in both London and Newcastle, we ensure our outlook is as broad-based as possible, while our international work extends our partnerships and influence beyond the UK, giving us a truly world-class reputation for high-quality research. ippr, 4th Floor, 13–14 Buckingham Street, London WC2N 6DF +44 (0)20 7470 6100 • info@ippr.org • www.ippr.org Registered charity no. 800065 This paper was first published in December 2010. © 2010 The contents and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors only.

About the author
Tony Dolphin is Associate Director for Economic Policy and Senior Economist at ippr.

It follows that family members should be free to transfer legal ownership between themselves at any time. 4. A Capital Receipts Tax would be a fairer means of increasing equality of opportunity. to ask whether it should be replaced by a different form of taxation. Large inheritances give some people an unfair and unearned advantage in life. how to minimise their potential Inheritance Tax liabilities. It could be reformed. but in our current world nothing is so simple. less than three per cent of estates will pay Inheritance Tax in 2010–11. to ask whether it should be reformed or abolished altogether. in return for a hefty fee. Soon after. As part of the Mirrlees Review of the UK’s tax system. If they are right. 3. start up businesses and add to economic wellbeing. and the Labour government’s decision in October 2007 to allow the transfer of the Inheritance Tax nil rate band between partners in married couples and civil partnerships. in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes’. less than 0. as well as giving some people an unfair advantage in life. a tax on inheritances has limited disincentive effects and it can be progressive. This principle underlies arguments in favour of allowing family businesses and family homes to be passed through the generations without incurring taxation. They concluded: ‘It is clear that the current system for taxing wealth in the UK cannot be sustained and is justly unpopular’ (Boadway et al 2010: 810).000.. therefore. The theoretical case for inheritance tax in some form Four broad principles have to be taken into account when considering the transfer of wealth between generations and the rationale for an inheritance tax (Beckert 2008): 1. • • Introduction Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: ‘. . but a tax on estates. and if it is abolished. As a result of this industry’s efforts. But Inheritance Tax as presently formulated is highly unpopular. but a better option would be to abolish it and replace it with a Capital Receipts Tax. It is also not a tax on inheritances. reduces their incentive to work. ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Summary • • Supporters of taxes on wealth in the UK have weakened their case by defending the current Inheritance Tax regime in spite of its deficiencies. in life and upon death. Now is the time. There is a strong case on the grounds of equality of opportunity for taxing inheritances. Robin Boadway et al looked at the taxation of wealth and wealth transfers. Consequently. They increase wealth inequalities and reduce social mobility.. raises little money and can be avoided by the very wealthy. or a tax on lifetime transfers (except perhaps for gifts to non-family members). Inheritance Tax – the tax paid in the UK on the estate of a person who has died – would appear to illustrate his point perfectly. Inheritance Tax is unlikely to be retained in its present form for very much longer. Family Equality of opportunity Social justice Community The family principle suggests assets belong not to an individual but to family units. If the Conservative Party ever implements its proposal to increase the threshold above which Inheritance Tax is paid to £1. The precise formulation of the tax would require careful analysis and discussion but a system that only taxed gifts above £150. 2. The counter-argument is that unearned wealth.000.5 per cent of estates would pay the tax and revenues would drop to less than £1 billion. A whole industry has grown up seeking to demonstrate that Inheritance Tax is by no means ‘certain’ and to show people. innovate. The UK should introduce a progressive tax on lifetime gifts above a certain threshold. Compared to other taxes. it’s possible that Inheritance Tax would be abolished on account of its reduced revenue. there is no case for an inheritance tax.000 could raise £1 billion more revenue than Inheritance Tax now does.

An estate of £1 million. In the real world. which in 2010–11 stands at £325. invest in new business or purchase property. a person who receives a sum of money as a gift is treated more favourably than someone who works for the same amount in the form of income. which helps them to generate their wealth and to which they have obligations. Because wealth confers advantages over and above the income that it generates. if income is taxed. Tax is paid at a rate of 40 per cent of the value of the estate above the Inheritance Tax threshold. In theory at least. inheritances do increase wealth inequality. while at the other extreme a 100 per cent tax should be imposed if bequests are purely accidental. so does taxing interest income and capital gains. that is when people die before using up all their precautionary savings (Cremer 2010: 817). it is misleading to criticise an inheritance tax as discouraging savings because. Cremer argues that if these motives dominate then a non-zero rate of inheritance tax is justified.  Arguably. for example through the establishment of foundations. It follows from both these principles that there should be an inheritance tax. As a result. inheriting a large sum of money gives someone an undeserved head start (Meade 1978). an inheritance tax may cause people to work harder and accumulate more pre-tax assets so as to achieve their desired post-tax level of bequests. for example. although economists are far from being in total agreement. At its most extreme. There are two strands to the social justice principle. even upon death. on some cases. tax rate is always less than 40 per cent.  Taxes on gifts and trusts amount to only  per cent of Inheritance Tax revenues. The reasons people choose to pass on assets when they die also affect the appropriate taxation of those assets. it should encourage work over unearned income. on gifts and trusts made during the last seven years of that person’s life. by the same logic. Inheritance tax also has to be seen in the context of the rest of the tax system. Helmuth Cremer argues that only if the bequest motive is pure altruism can a zero rate of inheritance tax be justified. The community principle suggests people are part of a broad community. most bequests are made for a mix of paternalistic motives – because people receive some utility from passing on something to the next generation – and as part of a deal. an effective tax rate of 27 per cent. some people have greater opportunities to access education. with no threshold. It rejects inheritance within the family and redistribution by the state in favour of the voluntary sharing of assets. far less often. . These principles need not be taken in isolation. The second strand suggests that the assets of estates can be used to help correct inequalities in wealth (or more general inequalities in society). not the reverse. could be justified because it balances the family principle – accepting that people do desire to pass on some assets to their families – and the equality of opportunity principle. The government needs to raise a certain level of revenues and if it does so from a range of sources then its effect on economic incentives is spread around. ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing The equality of opportunity principle suggests inequalities in society can only be justified by a person’s own achievements. then transfers of wealth should be too. First. whereby they receive attention and care in their old age in return for handing over their assets on their death. like the present UK system. by placing a limit on the advantages that parents can provide for their children (Prabhakar et al 2008: 28). An inheritance tax that includes a threshold and a tax rate below 100 per cent. while income tax discourages work and duties discourage spending. such as duties on cigarettes. though. the average.000. this principle could be used to justify a 100 per cent inheritance tax. or effective. the government might be trying to incentivise a certain behaviour – less smoking. Rajiv Prabhakar et al (2008: 12–14) review the literature on inheritance and wealth and conclude that. Because tax is paid only on the value of the estate above the threshold.  Of course. Otherwise. It is a sentiment with stronger support in the United States than in Europe. if the tax system is not to be neutral between these two events.000. All the assets of one generation would be equally divided among the next generation. Inheritance Tax in the UK Inheritance Tax in the UK is paid on the estate of a person who has died and. Thus. but finds it difficult to say from theory what the appropriate rate or threshold should be (ibid 820). will pay £270.

000 to the second spouse. therefore. This will apply in the vast majority of cases. if the first spouse dies and leaves an estate of £500.000 (twice £325. the higher the effective rate that is paid. since October 2007 when the first spouse dies his or her unused Inheritance Tax nil rate band can be transferred to the second spouse. for example.000 (an effective rate of 14 per cent).000) will be applied. 86 per cent of those who died aged 65 and over in the UK were either married or widowed. Furthermore. in the sense that the larger the estate. progressive. be transferred to the second spouse. 2010–11 40 35 30 25 Per cent 20 15 10 5 0 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 Estate (£ '000s) Source: HMRC 2010a Single person Married couple  In the rest of this paper. therefore. Inheritance Tax is not paid on any assets left to a spouse or a registered civil partner. therefore. So. . a reference to a spouse (or married couple) should be taken to also include a civil partner (or civil partnership). doubled. 2010–11 40 35 30 25 Per cent 20 15 10 5 0 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 Estate (£ '000s) Source: HMRC 2010a Inheritance Tax is. If subsequently the second spouse dies leaving an estate of £1 million. only be payable on £350. Figure 2: Inheritance Tax: effective tax rate for single and married people. in effect. Tax will. The threshold of married couples is. In 2008. a threshold of £650. no tax will be paid. The first spouse’s Inheritance Tax nil rate band has not been used and can.000 and will amount to £140. ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Figure 1: Inheritance Tax: effective tax rate.

as Inheritance Tax is paid on assets.000.  See the Appendix for details of Inheritance Tax thresholds and rates. Figure 3: Inheritance Tax: threshold £350. 20 per cent were in securities. the threshold has kept up with house prices since 1986–87: after allowing for house price inflation. introduced in October 2007.000 in 2009–10 (HMRC 2010d). four and a half times larger that it was when the tax was introduced. in 1996–97. In 2007–08.000 from 1992–93 to 1994–95 and has again been frozen in 2010–11. the threshold has increased by 12 per cent since 1986. it has been suggested that the Inheritance Tax threshold should be increased in line with house price movements. In 1986–87 there were seven rates (ranging from 30 to 60 per cent in increments of five percentage points) and in 1987–88 there were four rates (30.6 The change to Inheritance Tax for married couples and civil partnerships. ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Inheritance Tax was introduced by the Conservative government in 1986 to replace capital transfer tax. another 20 per cent in cash and the rest were in other assets such as insurance policies. from £154. 50 and 60 per cent).6 billion in 2006–07 to £2. The threshold is now £325.5 When Inheritance Tax was introduced in 1986. There was a particularly large increase in the threshold.  The relationship between Inheritance Tax and the family home is discussed in more detail in a later section. although it was frozen at £150. The standard (and only) rate of Inheritance Tax has been 40 per cent since 1988–89.000 to £200. falling to 15.000 £100. compared to £52 million in the same four months of 2009-10. around 40 per cent of the assets of those estates that might be liable to pay Inheritance Tax were in the form of residential buildings.000.000 £150.000 £250. had a significant effect on the number of estates paying Inheritance Tax and on receipts from the tax. HM Revenue and Customs figures show that 34.000 £0 19 86 –8 7 19 88 –8 9 19 90 –9 1 19 92 –9 3 19 94 –9 5 19 96 –9 7 19 98 –9 9 20 00 –0 1 20 02 –0 3 20 04 –0 5 20 06 –0 7 20 08 –0 9 20 10 –1 1 Source: HMRC 2010b After allowing for price inflation. a comparison with retail price inflation is somewhat meaningless. For this reason. which had in turn replaced estate duty in 1975.  Receipts in the first four months of 2010-11 were £954 million. 40. most of which are not consumer goods. land and physical goods (HMRC 2010c).000 estates paid the tax in 2006–07.4 billion in 2009–10 (HMRC 2010e). suggesting full-year receipts could be close to £3 billion. They also show that receipts fell from £3. the threshold has doubled since 1986.000 £200. although lower house prices (which peaked in the third quarter of 2007 and were still 12 per cent below their highs in the first quarter of 2010) will also have played a part in reducing the taxable value of estates.000. It has been increased in most years since.000 £300. .000 £50. However. In fact.7 These falls are largely due to the transferability of the nil rate threshold. the threshold was £71.

5 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Table 1: Inheritance Tax 2001–02 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 Number of estates paying Inheritance Tax (‘000s)  27     25 16 15 Inheritance Tax receipts (£ billion) 2. including household goods and houses but excluding pension rights.000.521 2.396 Source: HMRC 2010d. fell to four per cent in 2007–08 (when the transferability of thresholds was introduced mid-year) and to just 2.000 200.000 0 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 Percentile of households Source: NEP 2010: 58  The NEP used several definitions of wealth.000 1.000 400. which was six per cent in 2006–07. was able to access data from the new Wealth and Assets Survey covering the period from June 2006 to June 2008. for example.000 600.563 3.276 3.000. In all. and is the best definition when considering potential Inheritance Tax liabilities. 2006–08 1.8 The NEP also set out the full distribution of wealth in the UK in 2006–2008.383 2.600. for the most part. which published its report in January 2010. Figure 4: Net non-pension wealth in the UK. five per cent lower than in 2006–08 and the equity market is about 10 per cent lower in value than it was in that period (although the value of equity holdings will have fallen by less if dividends have been reinvested).200. HMRC 2010e The result is that the proportion of estates paying Inheritance Tax.000 but just six per cent had wealth above the married couple ‘double threshold’ of £650. Wealth (£) . current wealth data (that is.000 1.400.000 1. The current average house price in the UK is.851 2. 21 per cent of households had wealth above the current Inheritance Tax threshold of £325.5 per cent in 2009–10.824 2.375 2.400 (NEP 2010: 58). Since these wealth data. for 2010–11) would show slightly lower percentages still. Inheritance Tax and wealth An assessment of the likely incidence of Inheritance Tax can be deduced from the latest data on household wealth. predate the falls in asset values caused by the financial collapse and recession. This one includes financial and physical wealth. The National Equality Panel (NEP).000 800.941 3. It found that median household wealth in the UK during this period was £145.

Inheritance Tax and the family home Houses are the most valuable item in most estates.5 24.1 24. less than 30 per cent have wealth exceeding the Inheritance Tax threshold and less than 10 per cent have wealth above the ‘double threshold’.4 7.2 23. Among households where the household reference person is aged 65 or over (those most likely to die9 and leave an estate that might have to pay Inheritance Tax).0 2.4 1.6 54.000 28. and particularly in the largest estates.678 48.0 500 to 1. 2006–2008. including those where the ‘household reference person’ (HRP) is as young as 16 and so unlikely to have accumulated much wealth (and also unlikely to die).4 0.xls Households begin to consume some of their wealth once they stop working.9 58.1 33.000 33. Inheritance Tax in its current form is not a tax on the middle-classes.224 443.6 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing These estimates are based on the complete distribution of wealth across all households in the UK. £ Age of HRP 16–24 25–34 35–44 45–54 55–64 65–74 75–84 85+ Median 11. less than 10 per cent of estates in the UK hold sufficient assets to be liable to pay Inheritance Tax under the current system.246 243.1 17.6 100.8 16.500 205. If the Inheritance Tax threshold is frozen at its current level for four years and wealth increases at an average rate of eight per cent per annum over the same period.000.2 21.0 27. insurance policies and other assets.equalities.0 1.gov.430 96. In fact. physical and property wealth.3 100.4 3.900 584.0 4.300 70th percentile 23. bonds. In 2007–08. less than three per cent of estates actually pay it.650 554.000 19. But it also shows the effect of the consumption of wealth in retirement.807 507. houses were less important in those estates that might be liable for Inheritance Tax: in those that were valued at more than £300. In part.1 4.3 5. residential property accounted for around half of all assets in estates.712 275. less than five per cent of estates will be paying Inheritance Tax in 2014–15.3 100.843 399.9 9.4 6.0 All estates 13.474 313.8 4. It is a tax that falls only on the wealthiest households in the UK. with one-quarter being accounted for by cash and the rest by equities. The wealth of households where the household reference person is older is higher than the average. Based on the age distribution of wealth in Table 2 and the age distribution and marital status of those who died in 2008.0 Over 2.0 5. Table 2: Financial.8 49.506 90th percentile 70.9 3.255 213. However.5 100. Table 3: Assets by estate value in 2007–08 (per cent) Estate value (£ ‘000) Up to 300 Securities Cash Insurance policies Residential property Other land and buildings Loans and other assets Total gross capital value Source: HMRC 2010c 300 to 500 11.0 9 3 per cent of the people who died in England and Wales in 200 were aged 65 or over.6 6.150 666.5 100.7 43.707 Source: NEP (2010) Wealth tables at http://www.700 156. and 36 per cent 5 and over (Office for National Statistics 2009: 5–).000 to 2.017 238.750 198.185 373. the median wealth of a household with a HRP aged 85 or over was only 64 per cent of the median wealth of a household with a HRP aged 55–64. .0 12.4 4. so wealth tends to decline with age during retirement. In 2006–2008.uk/docs/200608_Wealth_tables. this might reflect the higher living standards and greater home ownership rate of the younger group.3 100. 6 per cent were aged 5 and over.014 184.200 120.5 11.8 3.220 182.600 284.4 3.

2007–08 UK residential buildings Range of net estate £300.10 Table 5: All estates.000 £1.233 1.799 1. for example. Hence.455 591.150 1.688.000. In particular.000.268 1. and thus the value of other assets in the same value bands. HMRC data suggest that few estates paying Inheritance Tax in 2007–08 would have had to sell the family home to meet the tax bill.683 989 Average Inheritance Tax (£) 27. or they may live and work in another part of the country. From data on the number of estates paying Inheritance Tax and the amount paid.981 1.000 Over £2. The figures will also include second homes and other houses that are not the ‘family home’.777 From data on the number of residential buildings and their value in estates it is also possible to derive the average value of residential property.000. . Table 4: Estates paying Inheritance Tax.000 £500.161 519.107 571.437 955.000 £1.000 Over £2. 2007–08 Range of net estate £300. the vast majority of the housing assets in estates will be primary residences.000 to £1. Thus.000.091.092 2.252 237.175 Average value (£) 247. Typically.111 1. and thus the average value of the estate in various value bands.269 11. it is possible to derive the average tax payment.507 316. if the inheritors were prepared to sell other assets instead. 10 These data cover all estates. the average estate with a value of between £500. But.000 Source: HMRC 2010c Value (£ million) 6.511 Average estate value (£) 369. they already have a home of their own.000 in 2007–08.000.000 Source: HMRC 2010f Total Inheritance Tax take (£ million) 352 926 849 945 Estates taxed 12.000 faced an Inheritance Tax bill of £117.595 Number 27. one of the main complaints about Inheritance Tax is that it prevents people passing on the ‘family home’ to their children. but held non-housing assets of more than twice that amount. The obvious objection to these complaints is that the vast majority of people do not move into their parents’ home when their second parent dies.357. it can be seen that the average Inheritance Tax bill is considerably less than the average value of non-housing assets in estates.331.000. This allows them plenty of time to find other means of meeting the tax liability without having to sell the house.204 354.000 to £500.000 to £500. Deliberative workshops have revealed ‘passionate complaints about [Inheritance Tax] “forcing” the sale of the family home’ (Maxwell 2004: 29).000. at £237.7 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Although some estates include second homes and houses bought to let. so the estimate of non-housing assets will be an underestimate of ‘non family home assets’.000 £500.000 and £1.670 7.447 Average value of non-housing assets (£) 122.000.782 116. those paying and not paying Inheritance Tax.000 to £2.954 3.948 2. Furthermore. so it is assumed the average value of houses is the same in both cases. the Inheritance Tax rules go a long way to allow them to do so.000 to £2. even in the case where one or more children wishes to move into the ‘family home’.000 to £1.330 By comparing the final column of Table 5 with the penultimate column of Table 4. inheritors are allowed to pay Inheritance Tax liabilities over a 10-year period if the value of an estate is tied up in a house (or when the house is sold if that occurs sooner).000.741 4.000.

1 times higher than the 1986–87 average of £39. Table 6: House sales in England and Wales. This is not the case.000 to be divided equally between the two daughters. few married couples will pay Inheritance Tax on the basis of the value of their home alone.000. This is not quite the whole story.8 times the average house price.000 to be divided equally between his two daughters. therefore.000 by other assets.000.  It has also outstripped the increase in value of assets held in cash. An example could be the case of a widowed man dying and leaving an estate of £1. If she does not have this amount of money (and cannot borrow it) and the two cannot come to some agreement. but it has subsequently fallen back to 2.000 to £1.500.6 times higher.000. the transferability of the Inheritance Tax threshold for married couples was introduced halfway through 2007–08 and so is only partially reflected in these figures. The average house price in the UK in 2009–10 was £160.2 0.000 to £500. If a problem does remain. This move will have diminished Inheritance Tax bills and so reduced this problem almost to the point of extinction. Another myth is that.000. What is more. the threshold was 1.8 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing This does not mean that there were no estates in 2007–08 where the Inheritance Tax liability was larger than the value of non-housing assets (that could only be shown with the complete distribution of tax liabilities and housing values).000 £600.000.000 £400. the common perception that.000 to £600.118 781 942 375 269 92 65 Percentage 81.000 to £800.000 each.7 times. It is wrong. With an effective Inheritance Tax threshold of £650.000 £1.8 0. while the Inheritance Tax threshold was 4.000 £300.000. the ratio had increased to 3. notwithstanding the falls in 2008 and 2009.000 £500.391 4.3 1. it will occur where there are multiple inheritors and one wants to keep the family home but its value is greater than his or her share of the estate.000 (Nationwide Building Society 2010). When Inheritance Tax was introduced in 1986–87. This leaves £860.000 and just 3.0 times as a result of very high house price inflation between 1996 and 2005.5 0. But if one takes the house valued at £500. she will ‘owe’ the other £70. After the large increase in the threshold in 1996–97. .000.000 £800. the incidence of Inheritance Tax has increased due to rapid house price inflation is also wrong. £430.000. of which £500.000 is represented by the family home and £500.000 Over £2. Since the introduction of Inheritance Tax.000 Source: Land Registry 2010: 13 Number 40.000 to £400.000 to £2. First. the Inheritance Tax liability of the estate will be £140.000. since its introduction in 1986.500. Data from the Land Registry for England and Wales (including Scotland would make little difference) show that less than one-fifth of houses are currently valued at more than £300.000 £1. 4.1 Lastly.000 to £1. the relationship between the threshold and the average price of a house has varied considerably over time.6 1.9 4.000.5 per cent at more than £600.379 2. to believe that Inheritance Tax forces the sale of thousands of family homes every year. but not equities and government bonds. house price increases over the last decade or so mean many millions of homes in the UK are now valued at more than the Inheritance Tax threshold and that this will lead to many more estates being liable for Inheritance Tax in the future.9 0. the threshold has more than kept pace with the increase in the value of the main asset left in estates. December 2009 Price range Less than £300. the house might have to be sold. But the magnitude of the gap between the average value of non-housing assets and the average Inheritance Tax bill suggests the number of estates that were in the position of having to sell the family home to meet an Inheritance Tax bill was very small. Assuming that his wife’s Inheritance Tax nil rate band was transferred to him when she died.000.7 8.

Of those estates notified for probate as a result of deaths in 2007–08 (the latest year for which figures are available).0 times the average house price. the current level of house prices will cause only a small proportion of estates to be liable to the tax.0 19 86 –8 7 19 88 –8 9 19 90 –9 1 19 92 –9 3 19 94 –9 5 19 96 –9 7 19 98 –9 9 20 00 –0 1 20 02 –0 3 20 04 –0 5 20 06 –0 7 20 08 –0 9 Source: HMRC 2010b. Boadway et al (2010) argue that Inheritance Tax is inequitable because the very wealthy can give away large chunks of their wealth – in the form of equities. Old people would be encouraged to retain their home. They can also make use of trust arrangements to reduce their tax liability.5 2. Second. if primary residences were exempt. These options are not available to the less wealthy because the bulk of their wealth is tied up in their home. So 33 per cent of estates known to be well above the threshold (£300. thus. there were 3. and it has played a progressive role in the UK’s tax system. therefore.000 for widows and widowers) were not taxed. Nationwide Building Society 2010 Second. there is not a good case for exempting a person’s primary residence from Inheritance Tax.000.000 that paid Inheritance Tax. therefore.9 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Figure 5: Ratio of Inheritance Tax threshold to average house price 4. exempting one asset from Inheritance Tax would distort incentives and so create inefficiencies.000 for all estates in the first half of the year and £300. For over 80 per cent of estates.0 0.5 0. bonds and cash for example – taxfree during their lifetime (as long as they do it more than seven years before their death) without affecting their own standard of living. the decision in October 2007 to allow the transfer of the unused threshold of the first spouse to the surviving spouse doubles the effective Inheritance Tax threshold for the vast majority of people.0 3. Inheritance Tax is not as bad as the myths suggest.0 2. particularly since the 2007 reforms.5 3. there could be a case for indexing it to house price inflation. The problems with Inheritance Tax in its current form In some respects. efficient and simple. knowing that it was exempt from tax.5 1. But. the revenues from Inheritance Tax would be so low that it would not be worth persisting with. For married couples it is more generous than it has ever been on this basis.816 that did not.000 for a single or divorced person and up to £600. The Inheritance Tax threshold is. However. the threshold is now 4. The latest data from HM Revenue and Customs appear to confirm that Inheritance Tax can be avoided.672 of a value over £1. . It could be argued that the ability of the rich to dispose of their assets also means that Inheritance Tax fails the compliance test too. but a further 1. And third.0 1. If the Inheritance Tax threshold is increased in the future. little different now for single people – in relation to average house prices – than it was when it was introduced in 1986. as has been suggested in some quarters. it is far from being an ideal tax – one that is equitable. First. even when it might be better for them to sell. and designed to ensure a high rate of compliance.

but 73 per cent said it was not.000 £1.000 is implemented. If Inheritance Tax is so far from ideal. What is more.816 Percentage not taxed 61 46   54   Furthermore.000.000. just over 30. a future Conservative government that had already increased the threshold to £1. But the cost of collecting Inheritance Tax was up from 0.000 Total over £1.000 Over £2. whatever the theoretical arguments in its favour.362 454 28.670 7. In 2008–09.433 1.8 billion.000. it cost 0.10 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Table 7: Estates notified for probate.99 pence to collect every £1 of Inheritance Tax revenue.8 billion to £2.000 to £1. Faced with such evidence. at the time. If loopholes can be exploited to such an extent.000 estates a year were paying Inheritance Tax. of which only 19 per cent thought it a fair tax.000 Total Total over £500. If so. This might be said to reveal the deep unpopularity of Inheritance Tax.uk/bbc-inheritance-tax-poll-120306. HMRC say that.populus. If the Conservative Party’s proposal to increase the threshold to £1. This suggests that the marginal cost of collecting Inheritance Tax is lower than the average cost.000.html . but among those in the C2 group.000. then Inheritance Tax is neither fair nor efficient in practice. who might be expected to be most at risk of having to pay it. but it also probably says something about the degree of ignorance of the majority of the public about its workings and incidence.948 2.599 8.000 might have avoided paying Inheritance Tax in 2007–08.64 pence for every £1 in 2007–08 over a period when revenues fell from £3.62 pence for VAT and 1.620 3.672 Number not taxed 20.000 may decide to abolish Inheritance Tax altogether.683 989 24. they might have captured only five-sixths of non-taxpaying estates.000 £500.co.000 to £500.aspx?oItemId=651  See http://www. compared to 0. 2007–08 Range of net estate £300. 76 per cent thought the starting rate should be much higher.2 billion in 2010–11 (HM Treasury 2010a: 100). so it is not a relatively expensive tax to collect. A MORI poll in 2004 asked whether taxing a person’s estate was fair.000. 59 per cent of respondents agreed and only 37 per cent disagreed. A Populus poll in 2006 produced very similar results: 25 per cent said that Inheritance Tax was fair.667 1. revenues would fall to less than £1 billion. Only 19 per cent of respondents agreed. Public attitudes to Inheritance Tax Opinion polls suggest Inheritance Tax is one of the most unpopular taxes in the UK. it may not be worth persisting with it. when asked whether Inheritance Tax should be scrapped and replaced by an extra 1p on the basic rate of income tax. Given that.290 11.000.  See http://www.116 6. so that a minority could pay less.24 pence for Income Tax (HMRC 2009).com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll. 57 per cent thought the threshold should be increased (41 per cent thought it should be much higher) while only 11 per cent thought it should be reduced.000. The lowest support for Inheritance Tax was not among those in the AB social groups. while 30 million people were paying income tax.ipsos-mori.000 Source: HMRC 2010f Number taxed 12. Revenues from Inheritance Tax peaked at just under £4 billion in 2007–08 and are expected to fall to £2. while the number of estates paying tax is almost fully complete. It is also likely that a fall in revenues would be associated with an increase in the average cost of collection. particularly if it could find the lost £1 billion of revenues in another way that was less unpopular than Inheritance Tax.000 to £2. and that a further fall in revenues is likely to be accompanied by an increase in the average cost of collection. up to 37 per cent of estates valued at more than £1. 69 per cent disagreed. this is a rare example of the majority of people saying they would willingly pay more tax themselves.

and Inheritance Tax is very definitely not double taxation when it comes to the treatment of capital gains. it is wrong to regard all assets in an estate as having derived from earned income. Table 8: If taxes were to rise. tax is paid on incomes. A large part of an estate will normally represent capital gains. system. Double taxation is a common feature of the UK – and most other – tax systems. (One crucial difference between Inheritance Tax and a capital gains tax is that a person’s main home is not subject to capital gains tax but is subject to Inheritance Tax. . or to some other factor. ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing The unpopularity of Inheritance Tax is the result of several factors. then on savings and then again on death (IEA 2010). Another possibility is that Inheritance Tax is unpopular because it is perceived as ‘double taxation’ – a tax paid on assets saved out of income that has already been taxed. This is not strictly true. which of these. VAT and various duties – when post-tax incomes are spent. at least relative to other taxes. In September 2009.) However.  It has even been suggested that Inheritance Tax represents ‘triple taxation’. In the UK. is similarly unpopular. it is probably seen by the inheritors as a tax they have to pay out of ‘their’ assets. In any case. Whatever the reasons for its past unpopularity. It may simply be that people believe strongly that property belongs to all the generations of a family and not just to an individual (the ‘family principle’). or pure expenditure tax. Alternatively. the latest evidence suggests that. Tax is paid on the interest (and possibly the realised capital gains) made on savings. first among taxes paid directly by households – as the one people would most favour increasing. if any. therefore. which is also a very visible tax. if taxes had to be increased. The actual figure in any one year has never been higher than one in sixteen. and then paid – in the form of council tax. Inheritance Tax is not as strongly disliked as it once was. While this might be the perception. few people will have been in the position of seeing their inheritance reduced by its payment. the Inheritance Tax threshold is the equivalent of 37 years of capital gains tax allowances and fully covers capital gains made on the majority of homes. It is more visible than. Ipsos MORI asked people.) Other possible explanations are that Inheritance Tax is so strongly disliked because it is seen as a tax on success or aspiration. Or there could be a strong bequest motive – a desire to determine what happens to all our assets when we die. say.pdf Inheritance Tax came a close second to taxes on business – and. income tax or VAT. compared for example to the 2006 Populus poll. If the argument is that there should be no double taxation. which they would most and least like to see go up. is not clear. (Council tax. is due to the changes made to Inheritance Tax in October 2007. Realised capital gains are subject to tax during a person’s life but unrealised capital gains on death are not taxed. then the UK would have to move to a pure income tax. Richard Wellings of the Institute for Economic Affairs argues that ‘tax is paid on initial income. if no more than six per cent of estates have been liable to Inheritance Tax in any year. it is a very weak argument against Inheritance Tax. which greatly reduce its incidence. perhaps people just overestimate its incidence.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/poll-voters-not-yet-ready-for-spending-cuts-rsa-2009-topline. One survey found that people believed between one in four and one in two households will be affected by Inheritance Tax (Rowlingson and McKay 2005). Whether this apparent change of view. Although strictly a tax on the estate of the dead person. would you be most/least in favour of being increased? (percentage) Most in favour Taxes on business Inheritance tax Income tax VAT Fuel duty Council tax Other None of these Don’t know 25   8 5  5  7 Least in favour  6 25 10  26 –  5 Source: Ipsos MORI http://www.ipsos-mori. However. but not on the savings themselves. The interest earned on savings made out of post-tax income is also taxed.

in fact. there is no hard evidence on which to judge the likelihood of a Capital Receipts Tax leading to a change in the pattern of giving. In Germany. further gifts are subject to tax. since the recipient is taxed on assets they are receiving for the first time. First. It was put forward by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 1973 (Sandford et al 1973). Once this threshold is reached. Fourth. If reforming Inheritance Tax is no longer an option.000. The Inheritance Tax regime favours sole beneficiaries of estates over multiple beneficiaries because the estate pays the same amount of tax irrespective of the number of beneficiaries. It should be replaced by a tax on the receipt of gifts – a Capital Receipts Tax. or setting different thresholds according to the relationship between the donor and the recipient.000 show. particularly if it was presented as a tax on unearned ‘income’.000. as the 2007 reforms and the Conservative Party’s proposal to increase the threshold to £1.15 Second. not by those inheriting. But. a sole beneficiary would receive £05. it would make a modest direct contribution to reducing wealth inequality. it is no longer a significant source of revenue and its enduring unpopularity makes it unlikely that any political party would consider increasing it.500 each. He also argues that tax experts are sceptical about the likelihood of a change in the pattern of bequests. Gifts between husband and wife could be completely exempt. The tax can be made more complicated. This is not a new idea. The UK’s Inheritance Tax is not.000. Canada and Sweden. the Fabian Commission on Taxation and Citizenship (2000) and more recently by Prabhakar et al (2008). However. A small number of other countries have abolished their inheritance taxes. it was regarded at the time as an important source of revenue for the government.000 (roughly £425. consideration should be given to replacing Inheritance Tax with a Capital Receipts Tax. Other than this change. ippr has argued for the reform of Inheritance Tax (Maxwell 2004). It is calculated on. Although Inheritance Tax was as unpopular with the general public then as it is now.  Under Inheritance Tax a sole beneficiary of an estate worth £1. In France. Following the 2007 reforms. and paid by. Canada replaced its inheritance tax by taxing capital gains at death (which does not happen in the UK) and Sweden by increasing its wealth tax (although that too was subsequently abolished).000 and four beneficiaries £230. rather than the value of estates. while four equal beneficiaries of the same estate would receive £12. an inheritance tax. while beneficiaries other than parents. or an accessions tax. . having a progressive tax rate scale. children and grandchildren pay at rates from 13 to 50 per cent on amounts above just €20. even the spouse of the deceased pays inheritance tax at a rate of 7 to 30 per cent above an exemption limit of €500. Third. for example by exempting gifts below a certain value.000 (with no transferred nil rate band) receives £30. it is an estate tax.000). ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Replacing Inheritance Tax with a Capital Receipts Tax In the past. The Netherlands and Belgium also tax beneficiaries. including Australia. the estate of the deceased. the only reform that is now likely is complete abolition. a sole beneficiary would pay more tax than the aggregate paid by several beneficiaries (unless they had all already received gifts above the threshold amount). in truth. there remains a strong case for taxing inheritances. It is also less likely to be criticised as ‘double taxation’. the rate of tax on inheritances can be as high as 60 per cent. it could indirectly promote a more equal distribution of wealth by creating an incentive for a wider distribution of estates so as to limit beneficiaries’ tax bills. Indeed. a Capital Receipts Tax would be fairer because it would remove the anomaly created by the ability of the very wealthy to dispose of some of their assets during their lifetime in a way the moderately wealthy cannot. it might be less unpopular than Inheritance Tax.000. The basic idea of a Capital Receipts Tax is that every person has a threshold amount for gifts that they are allowed to receive during their lifetime. Other European countries also tax the beneficiaries of estates. A Capital Receipts Tax would have a number of advantages over the current Inheritance Tax system. Ireland has had a Capital Acquisitions Tax since 1976. Under a Capital Receipts Tax. Regardless. Under a Capital Receipts Tax with the parameters set out in Table 10 below. Dominic Maxwell reports the results of deliberative workshops that suggest this would not happen (2004: 19).000 each. the pressure is all in the other direction.

so the bands proposed by the Fabians are somewhat out-of-date. compared to the Inheritance Tax regime.000 to £450. In the latter. except that individual gifts with a value of less than £2.000 Source: ippr Marginal tax rate Nil 20% 30% 40% There are potential disadvantages: a Capital Receipts Tax could lead to a fall in revenue. in 2010–11. But a rough calculation suggests that. Revenues from Inheritance Tax under the present system are now so low that it should be possible to devise a set of thresholds and tax rates for a Capital Receipts Tax that are feasible politically and yet ensure that revenues are protected.000 would be disregarded. There would. ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing The Fabian Commission (2000) proposed the introduction of a progressive capital receipts tax. Lower revenues should not be a significant concern. More work would be required. 2000 Size of capital receipt Up to £80. the threshold for Inheritance Tax has been increased by 39 per cent (and effectively by 178 per cent for married couples and civil partnerships) and the average house price in the UK has doubled. it would create winners and losers. it might raise revenues of just over £3 billion – about £1 billion more than HM Treasury expects to be raised by Inheritance Tax.000 £160. It is difficult to estimate accurately how much tax would be raised by the structure proposed in Table 10 as this would depend on how estates were divided and whether the recipients of estates that now escape Inheritance Tax were captured in the Capital Receipts Tax net. and it would entail higher administration and compliance costs (Maxwell 2004: 17). the argument for a Capital Receipts Tax as part of the UK tax system should include some notion of the revenues that are expected to be raised.000 £150. Table 10: Possible parameters for a capital receipts tax.000 Over £240.000 Source: Fabian Commission 2000 Marginal tax rate Nil 20% 30% 40% Over the last decade. Table 9: Parameters of the Fabian Commission’s capital receipts tax proposal.000 to £160. be ‘winners and losers’ from adopting a Capital Receipts Tax. more tax will be paid when only one or two people inherit. . In any case. case. Generally speaking.000 to £240.000 Over £450. or when it does benefit from the ‘double threshold’ and is distributed to three or more people. 2010–11 Size of capital receipt Up to £150. of course. to set the right parameters.000 £80. more common.000 to £300. A similar proposal today would have significantly higher bands than those put forward in 2000. particularly when the estate is valued at up to £650. less tax would be paid when an estate does not benefit from the ‘double threshold’ and is distributed to two or more people.000. payable on all gifts received during one’s life. though.000 £300.

. The biggest drawback to a Capital Receipts Tax is likely to be its high administrative and compliance costs.  Assumes no previous gifts have been received (as does Figure ). ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Tax revenue gain/loss (£ '000s) Figure 6: Change in tax paid on an estate not benefiting from the transferable threshold 200 150 100 50 0 -50 -100 -150 -200 -250 -300 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 Estate size (£ '000s) One inheritor Source: ippr16 Two inheritors Three inheritors Four inheritors Tax revenue gain/loss (£ '000s) Figure 7: Change in tax paid on an estate benefiting from the transferable threshold16 200 150 100 50 0 -50 -100 -150 -200 -250 -300 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000 Estate size (£ '000s) One inheritor Source: ippr Two inheritors Three inheritors Four inheritors However. The very fact that it has survived for 34 years might also suggest the costs of its administration are not prohibitive. It requires every individual. in case they should ever amass gifts in excess of the tax threshold. HMRC would have to check these records. whether currently a taxpayer or not. increase compared to Inheritance Tax. the language of ‘winners and losers’ is unhelpful when looking at changes to the tax system. Nevertheless. If the tax system is changed to make it in some way fairer. Administrative costs would. rather than as losing out as a result of the switch to a new system. anyone who has to pay more tax as a result should be presented as having gained unfairly from the old system. to keep a detailed record throughout their lifetime of all gifts that they receive (above a certain value). Ireland’s Capital Acquisitions Tax is complex yet operates ‘at about the same level of costs per unit of revenue as that of income tax on the self-employed’ (Boadway et al 2010: 796). therefore.

but sole beneficiaries of large estates. it is unlikely to survive for very long. this tax could raise £1 billion more in revenue for the Treasury. In addition. This would make a small contribution to reducing wealth inequalities in the UK. would pay more.15 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Conclusion Inheritance Tax in its current form is unpopular and unfair and. . depending on the precise formulation in terms of thresholds and tax rates. once the government’s finances are in a better state. for replacing it with a progressive Capital Receipts Tax. There is a strong case. on the grounds of increasing equality of opportunity and social mobility. particularly those who would currently benefit from the transferability of Inheritance Tax allowances between husband and wife. less tax would be paid when estates were divided between a number of beneficiaries. Generally speaking.

pdf HM Revenue and Customs (2010c) Inheritance Tax – Estates notified for probate: assets in estates by range of net estate (Table 12.gov.4).hmrc.ifs.3).equalities.htm HM Revenue and Customs (2010b) Inheritance Tax – Tax parameters – Table A.uk/stats/inheritance_tax/appendix_a8.uk/downloads/theme_health/DR2008/ DR_08.landregistry.gov.uk/stats/inheritance_tax/ table12-3.gov.hm-treasury.uk/d/budget2010_complete.hmrc.uk/?p=2707 Land Registry (2010) House Price Index. Meade London: George Allen & Unwin National Equality Panel [NEP] (2010) An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK London: Government Equalities Office.hmrc. http://www.hmrc.uk/ inheritancetax/intro/basics.nationwide. Justice and Society. http://www.org.uk/mirrleesReview/dimensions Commission on Taxation and Citizenship (2000) Paying for Progress: A new politics of tax for public spending London: Fabian Society Cremer H (2010) ‘Commentary by Helmuth Cremer’ in Mirrlees J et al (eds) Dimensions of Tax Design: the Mirrlees Review (815–824) Oxford: Oxford University Press. July 2010. Rowlingson K and White S (2008) How to Defend Inheritance Tax London: Fabian Society Rowlingson K and McKay S (2005) Attitudes to Inheritance in Britain Bristol: Policy Press . 12 May 2010. http://www.gov.org.hm-treasury.pdf Maxwell D (2004) Fair Dues: Towards a more progressive inheritance tax London: ippr Meade J E (1978) The Structure and Reform of Direct Taxation. http://www. gov. http://www.gov.gov.org.8.uk/ mirrleesReview/dimensions HM Revenue and Customs [HMRC] (2009) Meeting our challenges.iea. http://www. http://www1.gov.4 – Numbers of taxpayers and registered traders. http://www.hmrc.uk/stats/tax_receipts/table1-4.gov.gov.uk/ about/autumn-report-2009. uk/d/junebudget_complete.statistics.gov.org/uploads/documents/Why%20is%20the%20Inheritance% 20Tax%20so%20Controversial. http://blog. http://www.ifs.pdf Nationwide Building Society (2010) ‘House Prices’.gov.pdf Institute for Economic Affairs [IEA] (2010) ‘The Conservatives should have stood firm on Inheritance Tax’.fljs.pdf Boadway R.pdf HM Revenue and Customs (2010a) Inheritance Tax – the basics. http://www.uk/pdf/NEP%20Report%20bookmarked final.uk/assets/ library/documents/HPIJul10snuye. http://www.pdf HM Revenue and Customs (2010e) HM Revenue and Customs receipts.co.pdf HM Treasury (2010a) Budget 2010 London: The Stationery Office. http://www. Chamberlain E and Emmerson C (2010) ‘Taxation of Wealth and Wealth Transfers’ in Mirrlees J et al (eds) Dimensions of Tax Design: the Mirrlees Review (737–814) Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www. http://www.pdf HM Revenue and Customs (2010f) Inheritance Tax – Estates notified for probate: numbers and tax by range of estate for years of death (Table 12.hmrc. E. blog post.pdf HM Treasury (2010b) Budget 2010: Securing the recovery London: The Stationery Office. http://www.16 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing References Beckert J (2008) Why is the Inheritance Tax so Controversial? Oxford: The Foundation for Law. Report of a Committee chaired by Professor J.uk/stats/inheritance_tax/table12-4.uk/hpi/ Office for National Statistics (2009) Mortality Statistics: Deaths registered in 2008 Richmond: Office for Public Sector Information. http://www. uk/stats/tax_receipts/tax-receipts-and-taxpayers.hmrc.pdf HM Revenue and Customs (2010d) Table 1.pdf Prabhakar R.

Willis J R M and Ironsides D J (1973) An Accessions Tax London: Institute for Fiscal Studies The Children’s Mutual (2010) ‘Parents persist in saving’. 15 January 2010.pdf .co.17 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Sandford C T.uk/PDF/parents_persist_in_saving.thechildrensmutual. http://www. press release.

000 £285.000.000 £300. 55% between £257.000.000.000 and £95.000 £325.000 £242.000 £325.000  It was announced in the March 2010 Budget that the Inheritance Tax threshold would be frozen at £325.000 and £220.000 and £317.000 and £257. 45% between £164.000 £118.  Source: HMRC 2010b and HM Treasury 2010b .000 £110.000 and 60% over £317.000 £263.000 £312.000 £325.000 £250.000.000 £234. 40% between £129.000 and £140.000 30% between £90.000 £200.000 £154. 50% between £220.000 £275. This could change as a result of future budgets.000 and £206.000 and £129.000. 40% between £140.000 £255.000 £325.000 £215.000 £140. 35% between £95.000 £128.000 and £330.000 Rate of tax 30 to 60% 30 to 60% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% 40% Notes  30% between £71.000 £325.000 £90.000 until 2014–15.000 £150.000 £223.000 and 60% over £330.000. 50% between £206.000 £150.000.000 £150.000 £325.000 £231.000 and £164.18 ippr | Death and Taxes: Why Inheritance Tax should be replaced with a Capital Receipts Tax Briefing Appendix: Inheritance Tax Parameters Year 1986–87 1987–88 1988–89 1989–90 1990–91 1991–92 1992–93 1993–94 1994–95 1995–96 1996–97 1997–98 1998–99 1999–2000 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 2006–07 2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15    Threshold £71.

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