It is difficult to recall a Budget that did not feature wide-ranging changes to the tax system. It was therefore something of a relief to find that by the time Philip Hammond finished his speech, little of any relevance on the private client tax front had been announced; and even more of a relief to find that there were no hidden surprises in HMRC’s accompanying notes. Of course, we know that there is now a change of emphasis, with the Autumn Statement becoming the vehicle for major policy announcements and initiatives; so the respite might be shortlived.

There are a number of points on which a change in direction has been in the air, including an increased focus by HMRC on business property relief and agricultural property relief for inheritance tax purposes. The Chancellor might be keeping his powder dry until later this year.

The only measures of any note to feature in the Chancellor’s speech related to National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and to the dividend allowance.

As to NICs, for self-employed individuals the rate of class 4 NICs levied on profits between £8,060 and £43,000 (using current rates) will be increased from 9 per cent to 10 per cent from April 2018 and 11 per cent from April 2019. However, as a blanket rate of 2 per cent applies for profits above £43,000, this will largely hit the self-employed with lower earnings.

As to the dividend allowance, the taxation of dividends was overhauled with effect from 6 April 2016. The long-standing dividend tax credit was abolished in favour of a new system with a top rate of 38.1 per cent, coupled with the introduction of a new £5,000 tax-free dividend allowance applicable to all individual taxpayers. The Chancellor announced that this allowance will be reduced to £2,000 with effect from April 2018.

Of course, the absence of new announcements in the Budget speech is welcome, but many clients will still be busy dealing with those made in previous budgets. In particular, the wide-ranging reforms to the taxation of non-UK domiciled individuals (largely affecting those who have been resident in the UK for 15 years or more) will still take effect from 6 April 2017, as will the extension of inheritance tax to cover interests in non-UK structures holding UK residential property. Tucked away in HMRC’s “Overview of tax legislation and rates” is a paragraph with two announcements of changes or clarifications relating to both those new regimes.

First, in the 2016 Budget it was announced that non-UK domiciled individuals would have an opportunity to separate mixed funds into their constituent elements of income, capital gains and “clean” capital – an important opportunity. During consultation on the legislation it had been suggested that this would only apply to income, capital gains and clean capital relating to the 2008 / 09 and subsequent tax years. For longer-term residents this would significantly cut down the utility of this measure. However, it has been announced that the unmixing opportunity (which will last for two years from 6 April 2017) will apply to funds relating to years earlier than 2008 / 09 – a very welcome announcement which serves to underline just how valuable an opportunity this is.

As far as the inheritance tax changes are concerned, the legislation includes a de minimis limit which overlooks interest in an offshore structure where the holder (and any connected persons) own less than 1 per cent of the interest in the relevant structure by value. Whilst the announcement is a little unclear, it seems that this limit has been increased to 5 per cent.

Final legislation is expected when the Finance Bill is published on 20 March, and we will be circulating a full briefing note at that time.