The Budget was a surprise in that no major tax changes were announced. Instead, Government has proposed ambitious cuts to public sector expenditure.
The tax proposals include personal income tax relief through above-inflation adjustments in all brackets, along with increases in the fuel and Road Accident Fund levies to adjust for inflation. The following proposals are relevant to the employee benefits industry:
- Harmonisation of retirement benefits
Government and the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) have agreed to proceed with retirement reform related to the harmonisation of all retirement funds, including provident funds. Government will take steps to ensure the development of annuity products more suitable to the low-income market. Further reforms will include improving oversight and governance of commercial umbrella funds, fund consolidation and auto-enrolment.
Comment: Compulsory annuitisation of retirement benefits from provident funds and provident preservation funds apply from 1 March 2021. The auto-enrolment, improved oversight and further governance of commercial umbrella funds can have far-reaching consequences for the retirement industry, but unfortunately no further detail has yet been provided.
- Unclaimed benefits
Retirement funds and the Guardian’s Fund are sometimes unable to trace beneficiaries, resulting in the money remaining unclaimed. The money is invested in government bonds and other instruments. These investments are being considered for the funding of infrastructure. Government will introduce legislation later this year to centralise such funds and establish a central registry of all members of retirement funds.
Comment: It appears that a central unclaimed benefit fund may absorb all unclaimed monies, reportedly in excess of R42 billion, currently preserved in unclaimed benefit preservation funds and other retirement funds, for the purpose of funding infrastructure. We anticipate further industry engagement in this regard. No further detail has yet been provided.
- Clarifying deductions in respect of contributions to retirement funds
On any exit event when calculating the taxable portion of a retirement fund member’s benefit, certain deductions are allowed in terms of the Income Tax Act. One of those are when members make contributions to a fund, which they were not able to claim as a tax deduction whilst contributing. Upon exit from the fund, they are eligible for a deduction of those excess contributions when calculating the taxable portion of the benefit.
The provisions in the Income Tax Act refer to “own contributions”, which inadvertently prevents employer retirement fund contributions on behalf of employees (made on or after 1 March 2016) from qualifying for a deduction. It is proposed that the legislation be amended to remove this anomaly.
Comment: We welcome the removal of this technical anomaly.
Other matters of interest
- Withdrawing retirement fund benefits upon emigration
Individuals are currently able to withdraw funds from their pension preservation fund, provident preservation fund and retirement annuity fund upon emigrating for exchange control purposes through the Reserve Bank. The concept of emigration as recognised by the Reserve Bank will be phased out and replaced with a verification process. As a result of the review of the concept of emigration, it is proposed that the trigger for individuals to withdraw these funds be reviewed and any resulting amendments will come into effect on 1 March 2021.
- Third-party cell captive insurance
In December 2019, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (“FSCA”) published a position paper to address concerns about third-party cell captive insurance, in which insurance is provided through cells, rather than directly to a client, meaning that the client chooses to self-insure itself by owning a class of shares (to form a cell) in a special purpose vehicle insurance company. Improving its regulation and supervision will protect consumers by ensuring that a financial advisor can no longer earn commission and share in the profits of the cell captive arrangement.
- The Conduct of Financial Institutions Bill (CoFI Bill)
In 2018, the CoFI Bill was published for public consultation. Public workshops were held during 2019. Over 800 pages of comments were received, including feedback on governance requirements, retirement funds, payment services, financial markets and wholesale banking. A revised draft of the bill will be published for public comment and tabled in Parliament in 2020.
- Retail Distribution Review
The FSCA published an update of its Retail Distribution Review in December 2019. The report indicates significant progress in implementation, which establishes requirements for product sales and ongoing support to the consumer and puts an end to “sign-on” bonuses
The Financial Sector Levies Bill, to be submitted to Parliament during 2020, will propose the collection of levies to ensure that the Prudential Authority, the FSCA and ombuds are sufficiently resourced to carry out their duties and functions.
Comment: In the past, levies were charged in terms of the Financial Services Board Act. Going forward, it will be charged in terms of the Financial Sector Levies Bill, which may have a much wider reach once enacted.
- Transformation and financial inclusion
The Financial Sector Transformation Council, constituted in terms of the Financial Sector Code, has established eight subcommittees to review the targets in the Financial Sector Code to strengthen transformation of the financial sector. To date, the committees have developed targets for management control, skills development, socio-economic development, consumer education and retirement funds. A paper to establish a policy framework for financial inclusion in South Africa will be published for public comment in 2020.
Comment: Compliance with the Financial Sector Code and submission of a balanced scorecard is voluntary for retirement funds at present, but this is likely to change in future.
- Foreign investment exposure limits
Retirement funds may acquire foreign exposure of up to 30% in respect of foreign portfolio investments, and an additional 10% in respect of foreign portfolio investments in Africa. Prudential limits on South African banks and institutional investors will remain unchanged, but the limits will be reviewed regularly.
Personal Income Tax
- Tax brackets
The personal income tax brackets and the primary, secondary and tertiary rebates will be increased by 5.2% for 2020/21, which is above expected inflation of 4.4 % (see Table 4.4 below). This adjustment provides R2 billion in tax relief. The change in the primary rebate increases the tax-free threshold from R79 000 to R83 100.
- Tax-free savings accounts
The annual limit on contributions to tax-free savings accounts will be increased from R33 000 to R36 000 from 1 March 2020.
- Pay-as-you-earn and personal income tax administration reform
The legal framework and administration of pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) will be reviewed in order to implement a more modern, automated process for employers that is easy to understand, access and maintain. The reform is intended to promote the accurate and timely withholding of PAYE from employees and payments to SARS. It is expected to reduce the administrative burden for employers, payroll administrators and SARS. In addition, employees will be able to monitor their tax obligations during the course of the tax year, and the annual return process for employers will be simplified. Over time, this reform is likely to mean that most individual salaried taxpayers will not have to file personal income tax returns.
- Medical tax credits
Government proposes minimal increases in the value of medical tax credits in 2020/21 from R310 to R319 per month for the first two beneficiaries, and from R209 to R215 per month for the remaining beneficiaries. This increases the value of the tax credit by 2.8%. This is in line with the announcement in the 2018 Budget Review that the credit would be adjusted by less than inflation to help fund the rollout of National Health Insurance over the medium term.
Comment: It would appear that some activities related to National Health Insurance will be phased in over a longer period than initially expected, partly due to cuts to the health budget.
- National Health Insurance
Government is considering the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill. Its enactment is expected to trigger large-scale reforms. Over the medium term, R55.6 million is reprioritised to the Department of Health to strengthen its capacity to phase in NHI. This allocation will be reviewed as NHI is implemented.
A team convened by the Presidency has developed a National Quality Health Improvement Plan, which aims to improve the quality of healthcare facilities to ensure that they can be accredited for NHI. For this purpose, R25 million is reprioritised in 2020/21 towards the non-personal services component of the NHI indirect grant. Subsequent allocations will be based on progress demonstrated in 2020/21.
From 2021/22, allocations for mental health and oncology will also be added as components to the HIV, TB, malaria and community outreach grant, shifting from the NHI indirect grant due to underspending. To address funding shortfalls in the community outreach services component of the grant, R800 million is reprioritised from the HIV/AIDS component in 2020/21.
In 2020 the monthly grant values will increase as follows:
- R80 increase for old age, disability and care dependency grants to R1 860 and for 75 years and older, a R80 increase to R1 880;
- R40 increase for the foster care grant to R1 040; and
- R20 increase for the child support grant to R445.
This communication provides information and opinions of a general nature. Simeka Consultants & Actuaries accepts no liability or responsibility if any information is incorrect or any loss or damage that may arise from reliance of information contained herein. It does not constitute advice and no part thereof should be relied upon without seeking appropriate professional advice.