HMRC Fail in Toothless Attack

HMRC use Eric Morecombe tactics according to judge. “Playing all the notes but not necessarily in the right order”

HMRC use Eric Morecombe tactics according to judge.
“Playing all the notes but not necessarily in the right order”

Readers of our blogs will know we are always interested in cases analysing the extent of HMRC powers and how they should be used. The recent case of Raymond Tooth and the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs demonstrates (again) that HMRC powers are not infinite. It also brings out some highly topical points:

1) In Raymond Tooth the taxpayer filed a tax claim which HMRC later decided to challenge. They had though missed their normal time limit on raising an enquiry, so had to raise a ‘discovery assessment’.

2) The definition of a ‘discovery’ made by HMRC is confirmed to be very wide in scope and may include “a change of opinion or correction of an oversight” by the Inspector of Taxes raising the discovery assessment.

3) The general points in Cotter are good law and emphasise the requirements for good disclosure by taxpayers and a clear explanation of how they have computed their self-assessment.

4) The burden is on HMRC to demonstrate that their extended time limits for assessments under ‘discovery’ may be used only where they are saying that the loss of tax was brought about ‘deliberately’. Deliberately means intentionally or knowingly (Duckitt v Farrand).

5) All praise to John Brookes (Tribunal Judge in this case). He basically eviscerated the HMRC case. He said with regard to the issue of extended time limits,

“In my judgment this [assessment] cannot be right. The deliberate (or indeed careless) conduct necessary to enable the issue of a discovery assessment and extend the time limits for doing so must involve more than the completion of a tax return which, in itself, is a deliberate act. As a person completing a return must do so intentionally or knowingly, and can hardly do so accidentally, HMRC’s argument effectively eliminates any distinction between ‘careless’ and ‘deliberate’…[their] attempt to argue otherwise, saying that if the wrong figures were entered in the right boxes it might be careless but if the right figures were entered in the wrong boxes it would be deliberate, was somewhat reminiscent of, and about as convincing as, Eric Morecambe’s riposte to Andre Previn about “playing all the notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

6) The case can also be linked to current concerns about ‘Making Tax Digital’ (MTD).

Evidence was presented about the problems created by a computer glitch on how the alleged loss claim should be shown. The computer system adopted was a respectable one, approved by HMRC. However, apparently it would not cope with the proposed claim. The advice given to the taxpayer – to fit in with electronic filing, was thus to use a computer ‘work around’. As most people with appreciate, this is quite a common suggested solution, because computer programming is never perfect. The work around meant the loss claim went in the ‘wrong’ data input box, but the taxpayer described this in the ‘white space’ on the Return and the final answer came to what he believed was the correct net tax liability. Despite this, HMRC when they wished to dispute the loss claim, accused him of ‘deliberately’ causing an underpayment of tax. Whilst HMRC lost in this case, it is easy to imagine the dangers of accidental non-compliance caused by seeking to meet tight computer deadlines for making tax digital. Then it appears from cases such as this that such computer errors may be seen as something more sinister by HMRC. I believe this emphasises the risks of making such a system compulsory, before it is thoroughly field tested and people are familiar with it.

I am pleased to see that most commentary from the profession seems to agree with this line.

There is an interesting contrast in the apparent view of HMRC on a balanced system, in that the proposals suggest taxpayers are to be given a compulsory deadline for compliance every three months, whereas if they get it wrong HMRC should be entitled to a time limit of 20 years to challenge it.

Compliance is a delicate flower, worth preserving. If the proposals are brought in, how many businesses will simply drop off the radar if they get behind for a couple of returns and then fear they have neither the time nor resources to catch up again?

Do people believe the MTD and new penalty proposals are fair? If not please lobby to try to get them amended. If computer filing is going to be so popular, as claimed by HMRC, there should be no need for compulsion. Penalties should be levied on people committing deliberate wrongdoing, not mere bystanders.

Bayliss – HMRC Seek Extra Penalties From Failed Avoidance Scheme

Another week and another case involving a failed tax avoidance scheme.

This time, perhaps more worryingly, HMRC were arguing that the return was submitted fraudulently or negligently by the taxpayer and therefore sought the extra penalties that would be due in such circumstances. This shows a new aspect of the targeting of anti-avoidance schemes and suggests users of schemes could expect the costs of failure to rise higher, whether in penalties or fees for defending them.

Ultimately, the taxpayer won in this case. Of particular interest was the fact that the Tribunal found that relying on the advice of a trusted accountant was helpful in suggesting that he had not acted negligently. It appears the courts confirm that obtaining suitable professional advice is worth paying for in the long run!

Mr Bayliss participated in a scheme marketed by Montpelier Tax Consultants (Montpelier). The scheme involved a Contract for Differences (CFD) and was sold as generating a £539,000 capital loss for Mr Baylis in 2006–07. It was agreed by all the parties that the scheme had failed and additional tax was due, however the taxpayer appealed against penalties raised by HMRC on the basis that ther return was submitted fraudulently or negligently.

The Tribunal determined that in accordance with established case law, in order to prove fraud HMRC had to prove that the appellant did not have an honest belief in the correctness of the return. The Tribunal was persuaded on the basis of the evidence and facts that Mr Bayliss did believe that his tax return was correct and so there was no fraudulent behaviour.

On the question of negligence, the Tribunal felt that the correct test was that set out in Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co (1856), that of ‘the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do’. They also considered the test in Anderson (decʼd) [2009], ‘to consider what a reasonable taxpayer, exercising reasonable diligence in the completion and submission of the return, would have done’.

HMRC used a number points to support their argument that Mr Baylis was negligent, including that:

  1. the transaction did not stand up to commercial scrutiny and the appellant failed to check the commercial reality;
  2. the appellant had not kept copies of the documentation, whereas a reasonable person would have done so;
  3. It was a complex financial transaction and the appellant should have obtained proper independent financial advice, but he relied on informal advice.

The Tribunal agreed with HMRC that some of the taxpayer’s behaviour could have been deemed to be careless, but on balance found that HMRC had not done enough to prove that the appellant was negligent in filing an incorrect return.

Interestingly, they felt that relying on his accountant was helpful in this respect, stating “We are persuaded that the appellant relied fully on Mr Mall, a chartered accountant on whom he had relied for a number of years, and on what he believed (based on Mr Mallʼs recommendation) to be Montpelierʼs expertise.”

The tribunal allowed the appeal on the basis that HMRC had not proven that Mr Bayliss acted fraudulently or negligently in submitting an incorrect return.

Discovery Allowed by Tribunal – N Pattullo v HMRC

The question of what constitutes a discovery remains an area of ambiguity, although recent cases tended to have sided with HMRC’s view that virtually anything can be considered a discovery.

A further recent case was heard on the subject in N Pattullo v HMRC (TC03958), although the decision in the case is unlikely to be too controversial or unexpected, especially considering the case involved an avoidance scheme.  In the current climate, the courts are tending to be reluctant to favour taxpayers in cases where they have used an avoidance scheme.

Mr Pattullo participated in a scheme which generated capital losses of around £2.6m which he reported on his 2003/04 tax return.  HMRC concluded that he had participated in an avoidance scheme and issued a notice under TMA 1970, s.20(1) requesting relevant documents.  The taxpayer did not comply with this request and instead sought a judicial review to revoke the notice, but this request was dismissed by the Court of Session in 2009.

In the meantime, the Court of Appeal had found in favour of HMRC in the case of J Drummond v CRC (2009) which involved a similar second-hand insurance policy scheme.  Therefore, HMRC raised a discovery assessment for £835.400 as they were now satisfied that his original return was incorrect.

The taxpayer appealed, arguing that there had been no discovery as no new information had come to light.  The Tribunal found that the decision in Drummond v CRC constituted a discovery as it converted a “suspicion” of an underpayment of tax into a “positive view”.  It was doubtful that a hypothetical officer would have been aware of these avoidance schemes before the Drummond case was heard.

The taxpayer made a final attempt to protect his position by arguing that the grounds of his appeal should be amended to argue that the original avoidance scheme actually worked.  This was again dismissed by the tribunal who felt that, bearing in mind there were a number of appeals on similar schemes to Drummond pending, he was trying to jump on a “bandwagon” allowing other taxpayers to argue his case for him.  They felt the amendment was too vague and dismissed the appeal.

The final decision will likely not be a surprise to many, but does highlight the current attitude of the courts to the use of such avoidance schemes, and the wide definition of “discovery” that HMRC are using.

Discovery and Negligence Considered Again – Sanderson v CRC

The question of what constitutes a ‘discovery’ continues to cause disagreements between HMRC and taxpayers.  A further case on the matter was recently heard by the Upper Tier Tribunal.  Interestingly, the question of negligence on the taxpayer’s part was also considered.

Facts

The taxpayer appealed against the First-tier Tribunal’s decision to uphold a ‘discovery’ assessment.   HMRC were also cross-appealing one part of that decision.

Mr Sanderson filed his 1998/99 tax return in February 2003. He claimed losses of around £2m to set against a chargeable gain of £1.8m.

These losses arose as a result of an avoidance scheme in which he had participated, claiming the benefit of Trust Fund losses in the Castle Trust scheme under TCGA 1992, s. 71(2). Some limited additional information in relation to this claim was given in the ‘additional information’ box on the return.

HMRC had been investigating the Castle Trust scheme since 1999 through the Special Compliance Office and Special Investigations Section. In July 1999, HMRC had a list of the users of the scheme, but Mr Sanderson’s return was not submitted until 2003.  By that point the scheme was found to be ineffective, and its capital losses were reduced to nil. Mr Sanderson was informed of this by the scheme promoter in January 2004.  On contacting his accountants he was advised to do nothing.

In late 2004 the Inspector became aware that Mr Sanderson’s return had been filed and raised a discovery assessment in January 2005. The normal enquiry window for the return had closed on 30 April 2004 which all parties agreed.

The First-tier Tribunal (FTT) had found that there had been a ‘discovery’ by HMRC and that an officer could not reasonably have been expected, on the information made available to him, to have been aware of the insufficiency.  However they determined that the insufficiency of tax was not attributable to negligent conduct on the part of the taxpayer or anyone acting for him.

Both the Taxpayer and HMRC were appealing against the decisions against them in the FTT.

Decision

The taxpayer claimed HMRC knew about his participation in the scheme before he submitted his return and as they had decided the Castle Trust scheme was not effective before he filed, they should have been aware of tax insufficiency before the enquiry window closed.

The Upper Tribunal found that the return did not contain enough information to make an HMRC officer aware that there was a tax insufficiency by itself, despite the fact that it would have alerted a hypothetical official to the fact the taxpayer was taking part in the scheme.

The discovery assessment was therefore valid, and Mr Sanderson’s appeal was dismissed.

However, on the question of negligence, the Upper Tribunal found in favour of the taxpayer.  They did not accept HMRC’s contention that the taxpayer’s adviser was negligent in advising to do nothing further on discovering that the Castle Trust scheme was ineffective.  Interestingly, the judge noted there was “no statutory provision imposing an obligation on a taxpayer to tell HMRC about something in a filed return that he subsequently finds to be erroneous.”

The importance of the motive behind the transaction

In the recent case of Land Securities PLC v HMRC, the appellant Land Securities PLC appealed against the decision of the First Tier Tribunal, who had agreed with HMRC’s arguments to disallow claims made to deduct a capital loss from profits subject to corporation tax on the basis that the creation of the loss, and therefore the avoidance of tax, was the underlying motive behind the transaction.

The series of transactions involved Land Securities PLC selling shares in a subsidiary called LM Property Investments Limited (LMPI) to a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley in the Caymen Islands (C) with a put option being set up whereby C could sell the shares back to Land Securities PLC at any time after 29 February 2004. On 1 August 2003 C injected funds of around £200m into LMPI. On the same day C also agreed to sell back the shares in LMPI to Land Securities PLC for over £200m more than they had originally been purchased for.

The Upper Tier Tribunal denied relief, finding against the appellant on the basis that the transaction did not exist to create a commercial profit but that the materiality of the transaction was to create a loss for Land Securities PLC to offset against its profits and as such pay a lower amount of tax.

A further recent case (PA Holdings),involved a company constructing a complex arrangement in order to divert employee bonuses to be taxed as dividends rather than employment income, therefore saving tax and NICs. The Court of Appeal found that the payments were remuneration for employment and subject to Income tax and NICs accordingly.

PA Holdings’ appeal to the Supreme Court following this ruling has now been withdrawn and the decision at the Court of Appeal is therefore final. Further details of the case can be found at:

 http://eavesandco.co.uk/blog/2012/01/18/a-payment-cannot-be-both-dividend-and-employment-income/.

Loan Loss Relief Claim Allowed in Part – Goldsmith (TC2197)

The recent tribunal case of Goldsmith (TC2197) dealt with availability of loan loss relief for capital gains tax purposes and its subsequent conversion as an Income Tax loss.

Mr Goldsmith was the Director of a property trading company. The company took out loans from a bank in order to purchase two flats, which Mr Goldsmith personally guaranteed.

One flat was sold and the other was let out, however the rent received from the flat was less than the interest payments on the loan. As a result Mr Goldsmith made payments directly to the bank to make up the shortfall.

As a result of the situation the bank demanded full repayment of the loan, with the second flat sold at a loss and the company dissolved.

The taxpayer claimed loan loss relief under TCGA 1992 s.253 (loans to traders) and for the loss to be offset against his other income under ICTA 1998 s.574.

HMRC denied the loan loss relief claim as they argued that the loan was irrecoverable at the outset and therefore did not become irrecoverable. Furthermore HMRC felt that there was no evidence that the repayment was required through the bank guarantee and therefore did not meet the statutory conditions.

The tribunal ruled in favour of the taxpayer in relation to the loan loss relief claim. They said because the bank had decided to lend money to the taxpayer’s company this meant that the loan cannot have been irrecoverable at the outset as a bank would not make such a loan.

It was also found that lack of evidence of a demand to the guarantor was not on its own sufficient to deny the loan loss relief claim.

The borrowed money was used for the purposes of the company’s trade and the money was paid by the taxpayer as interest on the loan. As a result the tribunal ruled he was entitled to claim loan loss relief under s.253 for the difference between the rent received and the interest payments made.

HMRC argued additionally that even if loan capital loss relief was allowed there was no basis for setting the amount against general income. The tribunal agreed and so the taxpayer’s appeal was only allowed in part.