A Camel, a Horse or a Spaceship – Tax Law

The Law is not an ass.  It is a quadruped, designed by a committee, who, over many years and many different committee members, cannot quite recall whether they were designing a camel, a horse or a spaceship.

  1. Hands up all those who believe the Rule of Law is important?
  1. Hands up (in Magna Carta year) all those who think the Law should be applied consistently?
  1. Hands up all those who believe that professional tax advice should be clear and based on proper interpretation of the Law?

Hopefully, I have everyone’s hands up for each question?  At least mentally?  Those too embarrassed to react or having a quiet lunch snooze should, I hope, still have made a genuine twitch towards acceptance.  If not, please say.  I genuinely would be interested to know why.

I now move on to the recent cases of Gemsupa and Trigg.  They would make a superb exam question in terms of ‘compare and contrast’.

In Gemsupa, the Courts agreed with the taxpayer that the CGT legislation was so clear that, even though various steps were taken for tax avoidance purposes, this did not meant that they were ineffective legally (the case was pre-GAAR so query whether those new rules may have an impact?)

And Compare:

Trigg(onometry) and Lawyers

The Trigg case heard in the First Tier Tribunal concerned the definition of Qualifying Corporate Bonds for tax purposes.  This may sound esoteric and technical, but in fact they raise some very interesting issues.  [Remember ‘Tax is Fun’].

Amongst the reasons the case is interesting is that it may have an impact on both future and historic Commercial, Corporate Sale and Purchase agreements where some of the consideration is deferred in the form of loan notes.  As will be generally known, (at least in esoteric tax and legal circles) the loan note form of deferred consideration makes a profound different on the way it is taxed.

In Trigg, HMRC lost, which seems to have widened the definition of QCBs.  This could have a profound impact on Sales and Purchase Agreements so Solicitors need to beware!

Having reviewed many Sales and Purchase agreements over the years, I fear that sometimes matters may be glossed over.  Perhaps so because of infrequent HMRC review of the detailed documentation?  This is understandable, from a commercial perspective.  A precedent has worked in the past, so just tweak it?

The ‘purposive’ approach in Trigg contrasts with the legalistic interpretation adopted by Gemsupa.  Which is correct?  Which ought to be correct?  Bearing in mind most of us just wish to get commercial deals done to help business people achieve their commercial objectives, how many professionals believe the objectives suggested in 1-3 above are being achieved?

As they used to say in exam questions – Discuss!

Reasonable Excuse – Further Successes for Taxpayers in the Courts

Two recent tax cases heard by the First-Tier Tribunal show that the courts continue to interpret the phrase “reasonable excuse” more generously that HMRC internal guidance allows for.

In S Taylor, a taxpayer was somewhat surprisingly found to have a reasonable excuse as he had appointed an agent and relied upon them to deal with the self-assessment form.  HMRC guidance is explicit that relying on a third-party is not a reasonable excuse, however, the Tribunal felt this to be incorrect in these specific circumstances.

The taxpayer delivered his papers to the agent in sufficient time but the agent had been busier than usual and had missed the taxpayer’s return.  The agent had not told the taxpayer this, and the Tribunal therefore felt that he had taken reasonable steps to file on time.

Another case showed a partial success for the taxpayer in Perfect Permit Ltd t/a Lofthouse Hill Gold Club.  HMRC had levied penalties in relation to late employer annual returns for 2008/09 and 2009/10.  The 2008/09 return was submitted more than a year late, whilst the 2009/10 return was filed 47 days late by the taxpayer’s new agent.

The Tribunal found that the failure of the previous agent to submit their returns did not constitute a reasonable excuse and it was up to the company to seek redress from the previous agent.  However, the new agents had encountered difficulty registered with HMRC.  The tribunal agreed that, had HMRC registered the new agents promptly, the return for 2009/10 would have been submitted on time.  As such, the delays caused by HMRC did constitute a reasonable excuse.

We would suggest that taxpayers seek advice where they feel that HMRC are being unreasonable with regard to reasonable excuse claims.  Eaves and Co would be delighted to help and would love to hear from you.