ALMOST one in five Scottish taxpayers are paying more than their English counterparts because of the SNP’s income tax policy, according to the UK’s spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office said more than half a million of Scotland’s 2.6m taxpayers were affected, making their income tax bills this year an average of £213 higher than south of the border.

The SNP Government, which estimates only one in seven Scots pay more tax than people earning the same salary in England, questioned the figures.

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Herald View: Higher tax rate numbers comes as a surprise to all

The Scottish Tories said the SNP were penalising people while delivering poor services, however other parties said it was still important to move to more progressive taxation.

The difference in bills is a result of the threshold for the 40p higher rate of income tax being frozen at £43,000 for 2017-18 in Scotland, while the Conservative government at Westminster raised it to £45,000 in England and Wales.

The Scottish policy, the result of a budget deal between the SNP and Greens at Holyrood, was designed to raise an extra £108m for public services using newly devolved powers.

Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon issued a discussion paper on ways of raising Scottish income tax again next year, with most of the scenarios suggesting bigger bills for those earning over £24,000.

It said 366,000 people, or one in seven Scottish taxpayers, earned over £43,000, and were therefore already paying more than their English counterparts.

However, after analysing recent HMRC data and income statistics, the NAO estimated 507,000 taxpayers currently pay more in Scotland, closer to one in five.

Of these, some 152,000 earn between £43,000 and £45,000, and so are classed as higher rate taxpayers in Scotland, but would be basic rate payers in England and Wales.

Herald View: Higher tax rate numbers comes as a surprise to all

The NAO said the average Scot earning over £43,000 paid £213 more income tax than their equivalent in England, but this rose to £400 if they earned over £45,000 and to £630 if the person was also married and lost Marriage Allowance.

The NAO said the cross-border differences were too small to lead to tax dodging, but warned the wealthy might avoid or evade tax if the tax regimes continued to diverge.

Holyrood is expected to raise £11.9bn in income tax this year.

The NAO figures are a headache for MSPs as they consider raising income tax in 2018-19, as they suggest there could be more big losers than previously imagined.

The SNP, Labour, LibDems and Greens have all backed more progressive taxation, perhaps involving more bands, with only the Tories opposed to people paying any more.

Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “This report makes clear that half a million taxpayers in Scotland are now paying more than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

“Some people might tolerate this if their services were getting better - but the truth is that, while we pay more, standards in education are getting worse and our GP service is in crisis.

“The danger here is that we end up deterring investment from Scotland and slashing economic growth.”

But Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “Moderate, progressive taxation can be a force for good. It’s about collective action to address an issue of common interest.

“We do not believe that taxation need be punitive, if it is applied fairly for a clear purpose."

Labour MSP James Kelly said: “This important report shows the power of the Scottish Parliament to stop the cuts and invest in our public services."

The Scottish Government said its estimate of 366,000 higher and additional rate taxpayers in Scotland next year was in line with HMRC estimates.

A spokesperson said: “Taxpayers here already get the best deal in the UK, with a range of services and benefits which are not available elsewhere. The serious economic threat posed by Brexit, coupled with continuing UK Government austerity means we are seeing increasing pressure being put on our public services, and the time is right for a discussion about how we protect these vital services. That is why we have started a conversation to look at how best to use our income tax powers.”

Herald View: Higher tax rate numbers comes as a surprise to all

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said HMRC had made “good progress” in getting to a more accurate figure for the Scottish taypayer population, but could do more to improve its estimates for tax receipts and in keeping track of people’s changes of address.