When the Queen took over the reins (or reign) from her father in 1952, the world was, of course, very unalike to how it is today. In a time when men earned on average £9 a week, women received just £5 and the average property price was a modest £1,891, the Queen was certainly in an unusual financial position.
Perhaps the only piece of legislation that applied to women beyond her at the time was the 1882 Married Women’s Act, which allowed her to retain the titles of the privately-owned property (such as Balmoral and Sandringham) gifted by the late King George VI. Still, in the Queen’s entirely independent case, she also benefitted from a special arrangement with the UK government whereby the heir to the throne is not subject to inheritance tax (IHT) on private assets. This was decided on the grounds that monarchs cannot work or trade and, therefore, could struggle to ‘grow’ their wealth.
The understanding also sits alongside the protection of assets owned by the sovereign, which are also not subject to death duties given no crowned head is allowed to exchange chattels or property into private wealth.
In today’s 2022, as then, this is a marked divergence from commoners who can only reduce their IHT bill through a concise list of personal allowances.
By 1960, the Queen’s third child had arrived, followed four years later by her fourth and, unlike many other mothers of the 1960s and far beyond the legal necessities, pomp and pageantry, she stood out in that her children bore her name together with that of her husband. Sharing Mountbatten-Windsor with Prince Philip and their family presented a modern wife to the world, both symbolically and financially.
Should she have decided to, in 1975, the Queen could have benefitted from the introduction of the Child Benefit Bill which, unlike the payments covered by the 1945 Family Allowances Act (and other relevant government bills), were not means tested. Given this applied to any children under the age of 19 if they were in full time education (or 16 if they then left school), this could have continued to help fund her children’s education until at least 1982 when Edward was at university. It could also have helped Princess Anne who bore the Queen’s first grandchild in 1977, as well as other royal mothers until the means testing was introduced in 2013.
Anne may also have benefitted from the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act (rather than the earlier 1970 Equal Pay Act) given she continued to compete internationally in horse races and trials after her 1973 marriage and even after she gave birth to her eldest son. But even if it offered no monetary support to either the Queen or Anne, given it was their positions that came with the income, the act could have helped improve perceptions of Anne’s active role in carrying out royal duties, as women’s participation in the workforce became better supported by society.
With another five grandchildren arriving between 1981 and 1990, the Queen and other members of the royal family may have been encouraged to set up trust funds for each child, and put in place the gifting of assets to reduce the size of her estate – given the IHT arrangement only applies to the heir.
The change in the 1990/91 tax year, introducing independent taxation for married women rather than being taxed alongside their husbands, would not have helped the Queen, given she did not pay income tax at that point. Although it may have helped later when she started voluntarily paying income and capital gains tax in 1992. But the change will have encouraged (married) women in the workplace to take up the opportunity to earn and be taxed on their own income, as figures show that between 1995/96 and 2004/05, UK median household income grew at an average rate of 3.7% per year.
1992, dubbed the Queen’s ‘annus horribilis’, features again on our list given Anne divorced her first husband and Charles and Andrew announced separations from their wives. Marital separations would have led to complex distributions of assets – hence the four years it took to decide Charles’s divorce settlement with Diana, Princess of Wales – and could have impacted the Queen’s financial considerations.
The birth of more grandchildren in 2003 and 2007, plus the arrival (to date) of 12 great-grandchildren, will have led to more necessary changes to the royal households’ finances. But while some details have been made public – such as Charles donating his pension from his time serving in Britain’s armed forces to charity – others will likely remain secret.
This is because the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply directly to the Royal Household, which was not included in the act’s definition of a public authority. As a result, while we have insights from the financial accounts published annually by The Crown Estate, we are unlikely to see the details of the Queen’s current financial situation, or that of her immediate family, anytime soon.
As we toast the Queen over the Jubilee bank holiday on the public service she has performed, it is important to reflect on the opportunities and limits to our own wealth planning in 2022. We too may face our own annus horribilis, although we should also see an annus mirabilis* or two too. The legislative changes, market reforms, investment lows and highs that have affected finances since the beginning of the Queen’s reign in 1952 will also continue to impact our own finances in the future.
Ensuring you are informed and equipped to deal with all scenarios is a lesson the Queen, I am sure, would still be eager to share.
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