Only one in six people eligible for the marriage tax break has claimed it.
Introduced last year, the scheme was part of the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto. It is available to people who earn less than £10,600 per year. No income tax is paid on this amount of money and it is referred to as a ‘personal allowance’. Those who do not use their full allowance, if they do not work or have a part time job, can transfer up to £1,100 of it to their spouse or civil partner. This can save the couple up to £220 per year in tax.
It was designed in order to encourage couples to marry rather than simply live together, but not a lot of people took up the scheme when it was introduced and the number has remained very low ever since. Official figures show that of the 4.2 million people who are eligible to receive the tax break, only 645,000 claimed last year. This means that as many as 3.5 million people who could participate do not do so.
In February, Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth said the tax break was “perverse and unfair” as it was not available to a majority of families, including widows and people who have been left by an abusive spouse. He called the low take up rate “embarrassing” and called the entire policy a “complete and utter flop”.
The lack of uptake could be explained by computer problems. Since its inception, the £25 million online system used to process the claims – Verify – requested documents from claimants that they did not have, there were excessive delays and the dedicated helpline was not available until September. These problems led to accusations that the government had been ‘cutting corners’ on the system.