The first eight Freeport designated tax sites have now opened in Teesside, Humber and Thames. Freeports and their tax sites benefit from various incentives and tax breaks, but it remains uncertain whether they will provide the promised boost to the UK economy.
The question to what extent economic activity will simply be moved from one place to another just so businesses can benefit from the incentives and tax breaks offered by Freeports and their tax sites. These designated tax sites are relatively small areas within each Freeport. There are currently two tax sites in the Humber Freeport, and three each in Teesside and Thames.
Outside of the tax sites, the main advantage of operating within a Freeport is being able to bring in imports with simplified customs documentation and delayed payment of tariffs; particularly relevant if goods are manufactured using the imports, and then exported.
The government has recently published guidance regarding when goods can be moved into, or stored in, a Freeport.
Some of the tax breaks are not as beneficial as they might first appear. The tax breaks include:
- National Insurance Contributions (NICs): Relief will be available from April 2022 for new hires working at least 60% of the time at a single tax site. There is a 0% rate of employer NICs, but only on annual earnings up to £25,000.
- Capital allowances: For new plant and machinery used primarily in a tax site, a 100% deduction is given. This is only worthwhile if either the 130% super-deduction or the 100% annual investment allowance is not available.
- Structures and buildings allowance: Qualifying buildings situated within a tax site can be written off over ten years rather the usual 33⅓-year period. For example, the annual write-down for a warehouse that costs £1,200,000 will be £120,000, compared to £36,000 if the warehouse was situated elsewhere.
- Stamp duty land tax (SDLT): Full relief is given when buying land and buildings situated within a tax site. The land and buildings must be used for a qualifying commercial purpose, with residential property excluded. Continuing with the above example, if the warehouse and land cost £1,600,000, then SDLT of £69,500 will be saved.
Maps of the current Freeport locations and their designated tax sites can be found here.