Requirement to Correct – 30 September Deadline Looms

sun

The Weather Today – Scorchio!

 

BUT 30 SEPTEMBER DEADLINE LOOMS

 

WINTER IS COMING!

 

Requirement to Correct

 

Many people over the years of the world becoming smaller and more accessible may have acquired assets abroad.  For example, immigrants and emigrants may have UK interests, but also ones in other countries, whether because of family, work or just acquiring (and perhaps disposing of) a holiday home.

 

Sometimes (it may sound odd) it seems, perhaps when lying on the patio of their newly upgraded Spanish villa, the owner may reach for an escapist novel (such as Banker’s Draft by RG Lennon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bankers-Draft-R-G-Lennon-ebook/dp/B07CW4JC1J) instead of the latest Taxes Acts.

 

The Taxes Acts would of course warn the reader of the forthcoming deadline of 30 September 2018.  This is to disclose any offshore liabilities (including say Capital Gains on the older villa used to help finance the new one) or the rent when you weren’t using it, or the sale of the home inherited from an uncle, or the apartment in Delhi where your Dad used to live and rental values have gone up so much it would be rude not to etc., etc.,

 

The world is small, families are dispersed; so are assets.  Thanks to automatic sharing of financial information across Governments – permitted in most international double tax treaties,  HMRC will receive bucket loads of data automatically.  Modern computers will allow this to be analysed.  No doubt HMRC will leap to conclusions and try to assess ‘evaded tax’.

 

Key points:

 

  1. Crucially, the time limit for assessment is planned to be extended to 12 years (going back from 4 years) which makes retaining records more important.

 

  1. There is to be a new criminal offence for ‘offshore evasion’, which means HMRC do not need to prove there was ‘deliberate intent’. This heightens the need for professional advice, because innocent ignorance is unlikely to amount to a successful defence.

 

  1. There will be new sanctions for ‘offshore evaders’ based on a penalty of up to 10% of the value of the underlying assets.

 

  1. Tougher sanctions come in for those who fail to disclose relevant offshore interests before 30 September 2018

 

IF IN DOUBT TAKE PROFESSIONAL ADVICE

 

Disguised Remuneration Schemes

 

Anyone involved or may have clients involved in what HMRC may consider to be caught in the new ‘disguised remuneration schemes’ should take independent advice soon, to ensure they can meet the deadline for any appropriate disclosure of 30 September 2018.  It is now less than 2 months away.

 

Settlement terms are available for appropriate disclosure made before the deadline.  After that date, HMRC are threatening more severe action.

Appeal Rights

Like any large organisation, HMRC sometimes acts in a way that can make individuals, who may be challenged by this monolith feel intimidated.  Fortunately, there are general rights of appeal.  Recent cases have shown that these rights are useful in ensuring HMRC do not overstep the mark and abuse their powers.

In M. Miron, it was held that the taxpayer’s accountants were at fault in not following a fairly simple procedure.  However, that did not excuse the ‘terrible muddle’ that the taxpayer ended up in.  The fact that HMRC was a large organisation could not justify a situation where one hand did not know what the other was doing.  “The whole purpose of maintaining a file was to ensure knowledge is disseminated across an organisation”.  Thus the taxpayer had a ‘reasonable excuse’ in not filing her appeal in a more timely manner.

Similarly, in M. Capuano the ‘staggeringly bad’ service provided by HMRC generally, contributed towards the taxpayer having a ‘reasonable excuse’ for late filing.

M. Beardwood was also held to have had reasonable excuse for late filing.  Indeed the First Tier Tribunal said it was ‘difficult to see what more the appellant could have done’.  They considered HMRC had wasted everyone’s time in bringing a case which had very little merit on the side.

This contrasted with R. Popat, where the taxpayer (who again won) was allowed an appeal where he wished to postpone payment of tax assessed on an assessment.  The taxpayer only had a low hurdle to overcome to get tax postponed, pending settlement of the relevant appeal.  The purpose of the postponement hearing was not to settle the appeal finally on its merits, but to allow tax collection to be postponed pending a full rehearsal of all the relevant facts.

For advice on HMRC powers and penalties please contact either Paul Eaves or David Stebbings.

Employment Related Securities – HMRC Withdraw Late Filing Penalty

We were recently successful in challenging HMRC penalties for late filing in relation to annual Employment Related Securities (ERS) reporting.  In the case in question, a company had submitted an online ERS return the previous year relating to a one-off share event, being an acquisition of shares by an employee.

Quite reasonably, the company did not appreciate that HMRC expected an ERS return to be submitted the following year, bearing in mind there was no share scheme and no events had taken place.  Without providing the company with a reminder that a return would be due, HMRC proceeded to raise late filing penalties when the return was not submitted.

HMRC argued that a nil return was due for all subsequent years regardless of whether there were any share events.  The manner of the penalty was concerning in that it provided no details of which legislative provisions it was based on, even after the penalty had been appealed.

According to HMRC, annual returns are to be submitted on or before 6th July each year and returns, including nil returns, “must be submitted for any and all schemes that have been registered on the Employment Related Securities online service.”

They argued that, “A return is required even if you have:

  • Had no transactions
  • Have made an appeal/Had an appeal allowed
  • Rely on a third party to submit the return
  • Ceased the scheme by entering a final event date
  • Registered the scheme in error
  • Registered a duplicate scheme
  • Did not receive a reminder
  • Have changed accountant/agent/staff

Once a scheme or arrangement has been registered on the service and remains live, you have a continuing annual obligation to submit an electronic end of year return by the deadline.”

The actual legislation states that a return is required for each tax year falling in the personʼs “reportable event period”.  A personʼs “reportable event period” is defined under s.421JA(3) as:

  • beginning when the first reportable event occurs in relation to which the person is a responsible person, and
  • ending when the person will no longer be a responsible person in relation to reportable events.

Clearly the legislation is somewhat unclear, however there was a strong argument that where no future reportable events were envisaged they would no longer be within a reportable event period.

We were able to get HMRC to withdraw the penalties on the basis that there was no employee share scheme, and therefore no ongoing obligation under the actual legislation to file returns.  One suspects HMRC will not be changing their policy in this regard, but it does highlight the importance of challenging them where they apply policies that go further than the actual law.

Taxpayer awarded costs over HMRC’s unreasonable conduct

A recent VAT case heard by the First-Tier Tribunal (Gekko & Company Ltd v HMRC (TC06029)) highlighted worrying aspects of HMRC’s handling of the case and even awarded costs against HMRC. The Tribunal clearly felt strongly about the case, with the decision stretching over 29 pages for a case involving an assessment to VAT of £69 and three assessments of penalties of £780, £8.85 and £10.35 respectively.

The decision begins by stating that it , “is a great deal longer than we would ordinarily write in a case involving such small amounts: this is because there are a number of disturbing features about the way the case has been conducted by the respondents (HMRC).”

The case involved a property developer company who HMRC claimed had made errors on their VAT returns, with the biggest one being an omission of £5,200 of output tax (which the Tribunal later found to actually be £4,880).

The penalty notices were found to be invalid because the original assessments had been withdrawn and new ones had not in fact been issued. The tribunal found that, even if they had been valid, the penalty of £780 should have been reduced to nil as the behaviour was careless but the disclosure was unprompted and that the other two penalties should be cancelled as there was no inaccuracy.

In deciding to award costs to the taxpayers, the Tribunal were particularly critical of HMRC. We enclose a passage from this below regarding HMRC’s change of opinion from an unprompted to prompted disclosure:

“We consider, having thought about this long and hard, that there are two possible explanations for this volte face. One is that there was incompetence on a grand scale. The other is that there was a deliberate decision to keep the dispute alive, when on the basis of the reviewing officer’s remarks it would have been discontinued, by seeking to revisit the “prompted” issue. The facts that have caused us not to dismiss this possibility include the minimal information about the change with no explanation and the hopelessly muddled response with its spurious justification that Miss Pearce sent when the appellant spotted the change. Of course we have had no evidence from those involved and do not intend in this decision to make any findings about the matter. But it is something we have to take into account in deciding whether HMRC’s conduct in this case was unreasonable.”

The Tribunal cancelled the VAT and penalties and awarded costs to the taxpayer.

Overall, this case seems to echo our recent experiences with HMRC and shows a worrying trend in decreasing quality of HMRC case handling and emphasis on winning at all costs, regardless of the merits of individual cases.

Offshore Client Notifications – Are you Affected?

We have written previously on this blog about various HMRC offshore disclosure facilities designed to encourage taxpayers to come forward and declare any unreported foreign income or gains.

HMRC continue to acquire new powers in order to pursue taxpayers and one of the latest requires advisors themselves to write to certain clients on their behalf.

These rules apply to financial institutions like banks but also to so-called “specified relevant persons” (SRPs). Accountants and tax advisors are likely to be an SRP if they provided offshore advice or services over and above simple preparation and delivery of tax returns in the year to 30 September 2016 regarding a client’s personal tax affairs.

If the advisors fall within the rules and are not covered by certain exemptions they will be required to send a standard HMRC headed document to these clients (although writing to all clients is also permitted) with a covering letter that includes certain wording which may not be altered (these are the Offshore Client Notifications).

One of the key things to note is that HMRC’s document directs clients to submit their own online disclosure. You may suspect they are thus attempting to bypass the advisors. We could not possibly comment! If you need to send such letters, we recommend highlighting to the client the dangers of doing so!

The wording SRPs must include in their covering letter is as follows:

“From 2016, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is getting an unprecedented amount of information about people’s overseas accounts, structures, trusts, and investments from more than 100 jurisdictions worldwide, thanks to agreements to increase global tax transparency. This gives HMRC unprecedented levels of information to check that, as in most cases, the right tax has been paid.

If you have already declared all of your past and present income or gains to HMRC, including from overseas, you do not need to worry. But if you are in any doubt, HMRC recommends that you read the factsheet attached to help you decide now what to do next.”

If you are concerned about how these rules might affect your firm, or are an individual with unreported overseas income, please get in contact with us as we would be happy to assist.

Open letter to ICAEW President – Subscriptions and Tax

Subject: Subscriptions and Tax

To the ICAEW President,

Imagine a world in which the Government suggested that a lawyer should be fined if their barrister lost a case. What would be the reaction of the Law Society?

Now, we have a Government proposal for something similar for the accountancy profession. It says (see 5 December – Sanctions and Tax Deterrents) that Government policy is to reduce the size of the tax advice ‘industry’, by threatening fines on ICAEW Members, even where they were acting legally and honestly, with a side effect of deliberately adding mayhem to Professional Indemnity Insurance quotes.

I fear this would affect all members in practice. Some may say, “I do not advise on tax avoidance,” but the trouble is that tax avoidance is not properly defined in the proposed legislation. The scope is wide, with the Government proposing that the State should have the power to fine professionals for ‘enabling advice to be given’ [not just advising] on what amounts to any commercial transaction which involves tax. Advisors would not necessarily know for some years whether their conduct was “incorrect”, because it would apply if the State subsequently won relevant litigation. Then, suddenly, advice given in good faith may become a punishable offence. Work out the justice in that.

Why should ICAEW Members, taught to act ethically and responsibly, be fined and punished, for example, for simply referring a client to advice from a QC?

This brings us to a key question. Are the ICAEW going to protect members from penalties, which are unjust? I feel the initial response from the ICAEW is disappointing. Yes, the new HMRC document is better than the original consultative work, but they are still far too broad and wrong in principle. HMRC admit this particular policy is not targeted at the true purveyors of ‘tax avoidance’, but to impose sanctions on “enablers”. Why should bystanders be punished, because HMRC find it difficult to administer the tax system?

The Institute document also notes that HMRC has announced that they “Do not expect that members acting ‘wholly within the spirit’ of the standards contained within the recently-updated Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation” would normally be affected by the enabler provisions. Well super! So you can hope [not guarantee, note] you may not get punished, if you act under Ethical Guidelines. I would hope that all Members would act under ethical guidelines. However, if I acted under such guidelines to give independent advice, I would “hope” that I would be backed by ICAEW in saying I had acted in a proper professional manner. I would not expect it to be second guessed by some State Official most likely without similar professional training to determine if they agreed I was in the “spirit” of such guidelines.

I totally agree HMRC should be properly resourced to review the system they have to work with, with an efficient, trained and motivated staff, but then it must have a parallel, independent appeals system. It is the way of Dictators to “improve” an appeals system by persecuting appellants and their advisors. It should not be a route a UK Government aspires to, however “efficient” it seems to have no-one disagree with the State. Maybe the policy is designed to help in “Making Tax Digital”? If “enablers” of independent advice have been eliminated and if incorrectly arguing with an official means a fine, then surely 99.9% of the population will agree their tax assessment is correct, probably even if the Government computer “proves” it was 117.5% of them.

I worked hard to get my qualifications as an FCA. It has been something I have been proud of. Thanks to Government propaganda, it now feels like I am one step down from a shoplifter.

I believe such propaganda is lazy, because it suggests the problems in the tax system are down to ‘Accountants – and other such slimy creatures’. I could suggest other causes? HMRC staff and administrative cuts, poor policy co-ordination, vast systems and culture changes at HMRC which do not seem to have worked? Perhaps even a level of competence at Government level which drafts a referendum bill which then needs to go to the Supreme Court to determine whether Parliament meant “Yes or No”, or were only joshing? The Institute should point this out to the Press, rather than kow-towing to Press oversimplification because accountants seem ‘easy meat’.

ICAEW, please stand up for your Members. You want our subs. You should protect all of us, even if that means telling the Government they are wrong.

Manuel alive and well and working in Whitehall – Tax Avoidance Deterrents

After the recent tragic death of Andrew Sachs, there are rumours that his spirit for competence lives on in our legislation.

 TAX AVOIDANCE DETERRENTS

An open question for the above.  How do the current proposals (published on 5 December 2016 as Sanctions and Deterrents) fit with The Rule of Law?

I believe in the vital importance of the Rule of Law.

I believe it can only work with;

a) Clarity

b) Independent Judgement

c) Consent

Naively; having been trained as an Inspector of Taxes, I believe that the intention of Parliament was as set out in the words they enacted.  There is a lot of case law which supports this.

With 17,000+ pages of legislation the situation is complex.  There may be a dispute as to interpretation.  That arises, almost certainly, through lack of clarity (see (a) above).  The disputing parties are then dependent upon ‘independent judgement’ which hopefully they can both trust – effectively the Rule of Law (cf Tom Bingham).

If they do not trust the independent judgement then (c) Consent is lost.  That is dangerous.

Probably with good intentions (I am told they pave the Road to Hell) HMRC are saying that certain professionals need their behaviour modifying.  To quote the ‘Strengthening Tax Avoidance Sanctions and Deterrents in their paragraph 5.4:-

The government noted the views and responses provided. It recognises that the avoidance market is not static but is constantly evolving. HMRC will further develop the options set out in Chapter 5 of the discussion document to supplement the important work undertaken in this area to date, whilst looking at new and emerging threats in the avoidance market. Alongside this, HMRC will continue to explore ways to further discourage tax avoidance by:

  • working collaboratively with businesses, individuals, industry and representative bodies to identify opportunities to further shrink the avoidance market
  • exploring how behavioural change techniques can positively affect decisions and choices for enablers and users
  • tailoring communications and engagement with users to support them to make the right choices and decisions including outlining the risks and consequences of entering into these kinds of arrangements
  • meeting the challenges and opportunities that current and proposed legislation, HMRC’s Making Tax Digital Programme and other cross-sector initiatives may present

In paragraph 5.5 they go on to say:

The government will continue to take decisive and necessary steps to ensure that those who seek an unfair tax advantage, or provide services that enable it, should bear the real risks and consequences for their actions.

So that is clear now?

Quite apart from their appalling grammar, and resulting lack of clarity, the proposed result of this appears to be:

i) An advisor may introduce a client to (say) a Queens Counsel who suggests a course of action he believes to be legal.

ii) Sometime – [likelihood, at least 10 years from final date of action bearing in mind current complex litigation process] – advice and action may be proven correct.  End of story.

iii) Alternatively, in the litigation lottery of the Courts (talk to lawyers!) the advice may prove to be incorrect.  In this case penalties would be sought against the person who introduced the QC, in all good faith!  Is asking for professional advice to be subject to a penalty?

iv) The proposed legislation encompasses virtually all commercial arrangements, not just ‘artificial’ ones.  ‘Tax Avoidance’ is not properly defined.  It rests on ‘losing’ under untested legislation.  There is no safe harbour.

v) The level of penalties (see time line) may be after the advisor retired.  If the professional involved advised clients wealthier than him, which I am sure the majority do, then they could result in severe financial embarrassment, perhaps even bankruptcy, of said pensioner.

The tone of the HMRC document of 5 December 2005 suggests that would be [perhaps in Chairman Mao’s words?] a good behavioural adjustment.

vi) Maybe?  In contrast, if the advisor had introduced his client say to a robber or a drug dealer, rather than a (presumably respectable) Queens Counsel, then these sanctions would not apply.  In considering this, what is ‘the Clear Intention of Parliament’ to quote a phrase.

I would be grateful if any of the parties to whom this is addressed could explain to me how it fits in with the idea of any penalty fitting in with the criteria proposed in HMRC’s 2015 penalties discussion document:

  • The penalty regime should be designed from the customer perspective, primarily to encourage compliance and prevent non-compliance.  Penalties are not to be applied with the objective of raising revenues.
  • Penalties should be proportionate to the failure and may take into account past behaviour.
  • Penalties must be applied fairly, ensuring that compliant customers are (and are seen to be) in a better position than the non-compliant.
  • Penalties must provide a credible threat.  If there is a penalty, we must have the operational capability and capacity to raise it accurately, and if we raise it, we must be able to collect it in a cost-efficient manner.
  • Customers should see a consistent and standardised approach.  Variations will be those necessary to take into account customer behaviours and particular taxes.

From an initial review, the proposed penalties fail all counts.  Specifically, they do not seem

1)     Fair

2)     Proportionate, nor even remotely consistent.

They are potentially an invite for state bullying.

An easy way around the problem is the one which worked for many years historically.  It was for independent, disinterested advice with proper, well-resourced HMRC review.  In such a case ‘reasonable care’ all round could be provided by someone, properly qualified, who was not rewarded as to outcome and gave independent advice as to the law, with subsequent full disclosure of any relevant arrangements.

Worldwide Disclosure Facility – Last Chance to Disclose?

HMRC have announced the Worldwide Disclosure Facility (WDF) the latest in a long line of disclosure facilities designed to encourage taxpayers to come forward to disclose previously unreported offshore tax liabilities.

Unlike its predecessors, the WDF does not offer any favourable terms, other than the fact that HMRC state that where the disclosure is correct and complete and the taxpayer fully co-operates by supplying any further information they ask for to check the disclosure, they’ll not seek to impose a ‘higher penalty’, except in specific circumstances (e.g. where the taxpayer was already under enquiry) and they will also agree not to publish details of the disclosure. This last ‘benefit’ may appeal to higher profile individuals who may prefer to remain anonymous in their previous failures.

This is a marked difference to previous disclosure facilities that offered much reduced penalties (such as the 10% rate offered by the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility) and guarantees against prosecution.

The WDF is targeted as a ‘last chance’ by HMRC before even more strict penalties come into force, as well as their claims that automatic exchange and data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Common Reporting Standard (CRS) will then be available.

After 30 September 2018, new sanctions will be introduced that reflect HMRC’s “toughening approach”. They state that you will still be able to make a disclosure after that date “but those new terms will not be as good as those currently available”.

Previous experiences suggest that making a disclosure under one of HMRC’s facilities is usually a more streamlined process compared to simply writing to HMRC.

Eaves and Co would be very happy to discuss matters if you are concerned that you or your clients may have an undisclosed offshore liability, suitable for the Worldwide Disclosure Facility. We have extensive experience of making disclosures under previous facilities that HMRC have offered.

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.

Employers Beware! – PAYE Penalties

Typically, PAYE has been described as an ‘approximate’ method of collecting tax due, which remained the ultimate liability of the employee.

Recent judgements, including the case of Paringdon Sports Club, suggest more of the risk may fall on the employer.

In addition the risk may be worse with the current HMRC penchant for penalties. Many advisors will be familiar with their tendency to seek around 15% extra tax for relatively minor ‘careless’ errors. This represents increased risk for business and their advisors.

There are methods related to potentially mitigating or suspending such penalties.

To avoid embarrassment and excessive cost a prudent review may seem sensible?

Whilst most businesses operate routine PAYE relatively easily with the backing of software, experience suggests that ‘unusual’ or one off events can cause problems.

These days such errors can lead to expensive penalties, so procedures should be put in place to check the correct treatment on one off matters and if necessary take advice.

On the penalty front the case of P Steady shows that it can be worth appealing against a penalty imposition. In that recent case the taxpayer managed to get a penalty suspended where, by oversight he had put down bank interest earned in incorrect years. The Tribunal said ‘The mere fact that this is an error in a tax return does not mean that a taxpayer has been careless’. They went on to say, ‘To levy a penalty on a taxpayer who hereto has had a good compliance record over many years and then refuse to consider suspension of those penalties does not reflect well on HMRC’.

As always thinking of the correct technical position makes sense.