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Civil engineering

The Civil Partnership Act gives new rights to couples, prompting a review of their financial affairs

Most coverage of the recent introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 has focused on the fact that same-sex couples in registered relationships will benefit from virtually the same legal rights as married couples but, as ever, the detail reveals a number of complexities which create opportunities for advisers to add value for their clients.

A significant driver for the enactment of legislation recognising same-sex partnerships was the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law by the Human Rights Act 2000. This discourages discrimination against same-sex couples.

In recent years, there has been some litigation in this area, for example, in relation to survivors’ pensions for same-sex partners of deceased scheme members. The introduction of civil partnerships is intended to remove differences in treatment between couples of the same sex and those of the opposite sex but I suspect this is not the end of litigation in this area.

For example, will unmarried heterosexual couples accept that their relationship should be treated differently from a civil partnership or marriage? What about those couples for whom the introduction of civil partnerships has come too late? These could include couples where one party has died since the introduction of the Human Rights Act, with the result that the Exchequer has been a major beneficiary of the estate.

It is clear why most commentators view the introduction of civil partnerships as a positive development from a tax perspective. One of the highest profile areas of change relates to the taxation of inheritance.

A civil partner will have similar rights under the succession and intestacy rules to those given to a husband or wife and will also gain the benefit of leaving any assets to their civil partner free from inheritance tax. This exemption offers immediate tax savings and subsequent opportunities for advisers.

Civil partners will also be able to transfer assets between each other on a no gain/no loss basis, enabling them to make greater use of their capital gains tax allowances. Planning opportunities will exist to ensure maximum use of their income tax and CGT allowances and thresholds.

But there may also be negative tax and financial planning consequences in some areas. For example, a will is now automatically revoked on entering a civil partnership unless it was executed in anticipation of the registration of the partnership. Partners’ wills may therefore need to be reconsidered on registering a civil partnership.

Advisers also need to be aware that the income tax and CGT anti-avoidance legislation relating to settlements where the settlor or “spouse” of the settlor has an interest will extend similarly to civil partners.

Where civil partners each have their own corporate business, these separate companies will now be treated as connected with each other. While each company would previously have had its own smaller company rate band and subsequent marginal rate bands for corporation tax purposes, each band will now be shared between the companies. This could lead to a significantly increased yield for the Exchequer.

Where each of a couple owns a residence, each will previously have qualified for principal private residence relief. Following the registration of their partnership, this will no longer be the case and one of the properties will be subject to CGT on future sale.

Most changes bring opportunities for added-value financial advice and the introduction of civil partnerships is no different in this regard.

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