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Independent view

It is a wet Friday and I have had one of those weeks. There is just one more meeting to go and then home for a weekend of jobs, kids and Monopoly. I practically trudge past the tree at the front of the house and press a small white square that starts playing Suspicious Minds in the style of a 1990s mobile phone.

The door opens and everything changes. John and June are particularly welcoming as I arrive. I am shown into their lounge and spoilt rotten with tea, cakes and stories. They apologise about the dog, who is large, hairy, cumbersome and lovely. We sit down politely and with little prompting they open up to me. They talk and I scribble.

John has had a few jobs through his life, all with good pension schemes, and now he works as a driver. He admits he finds money confusing and is happy to pay fees to “smart younger men in suits” to sort him out. He is 63 and has two children forging successful careers and marriages. They have given him grandchildren and he is content and proud.

He tells me about the badger family he feeds from his bedroom window, about the tree in his garden that everyone comments on (“leave them be – do not cut off a single branch, that is my secret”) and about the wildlife he sees regularly from the lounge window. John is a gentleman in a very “English working man” way and it is a pleasure to spend time with him.

June is a 70-year-old who is crazy for Elvis which explains the doorbell. One of the bedrooms in their £360,000 Huntingdon bungalow is a shrine to the Memphis icon and she has been to Graceland twice. She grows two inches as I ask her to tell me about it.

“We went for two days and ended up staying eight. Oh, it was great you know – a real treat after all my problems.”

June&#39s problems were bowel cancer and a painful operation to treat it. She did not have private medical cover but swears by the NHS and in particular her consultant.

“He was fantastic – he even spotted my glaucoma and called the eye specialist in off the golf course on a Sunday to treat me for that as well – I got two operations for the price of one. He was forced out from the hospital in the end – political correctness or something. It is a shame because he is why I am still here now.”

Amid the Elvis books, rec-ords, posters and DVD (singular – they are late coming to terms with technology) I am discussing inheritance tax planning with John and June. This lovely Huntingdon couple have learned that their home and savings are now a target for the Treasury and they resent it strongly.

I ask them if they have thought of spending their savings, enjoying their health while they can rather than trying to find ways to avoid the tax and they both suddenly look uncomfortable. They are from a generation apart. No debts, hard work and a dignified retirement, leaving money when they go so their descendants can enjoy more than they did. That is what they want so seeing off the inheritance tax is far more important than an extra 1 per cent on their interest rate.

“Our children say the same. We know if we spend it all the Government will not get it but we want the children and grandchildren to have more than us. Why are people like us paying this tax – we paid tax all our lives.”

It is a question I cannot answer and which has haun-ted me from the time of that meeting to the two hours I spent composing this article. Growth in property values has brought a huge new band of vulnerable people into the clutches of the capital taxes office and, whether we like it or not, they look to people like us as their saviours.

How many more people like John and June will fall foul of this tax and see their children robbed of their most precious gift to them? And of those who do seek advice with wills, trusts and utilising nil-rate bands, will their IFAs do them proud as I have vowed to do? I hope so.

Experience keeps showing me that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this business that cannot be sorted out by what is right with this business. We are all in the same line of giving people good advice, dignity and money in the right place at the right time and whatever suspicious minds think, long may that be true.

Steve Buttercase is senior adviser at M2 Financial


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