An Englishman’s Home is his Castle?

Or is HMRC undermining it?

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  1. “Everyone” knows a capital gain on your own residence is “tax exempt”.

 

  1. “Everyone” knows offshore gains are “tax exempt”.  Isn’t this in the Press on a regular basis?

 

Hence, people with “circumstances” which in reality encompass an awful lot of the nation, may actually discover that they need professional advice, because what they thought was tax exempt is not – in reality.

 

Things which may affect the above “tax exempt” analysis potentially include:-

 

a).   Being UK tax resident.

 

b).  Not being UK tax resident, but having property here.

 

(That just about covers everyone!)

 

Crucially, Private Residence Relief is a relief for qualifying periods of ownership.  This may (or may not) include the whole period of ownership as case law shows.  It is a very complex area; plus the changes in the October 2018 Budget may reduce the length of qualifying periods, particularly for those involved in “strange” lifestyle matters, such as moving house for career, inheriting property, getting divorced etc.

 

For many people their family home is the most valuable asset they will ever own.

 

There are opportunities to plan to mitigate tax.  Such steps are lawful and (presuming you love and respect your family more than HMRC) I believe, appropriate.

 

The only thing to note is, when you accidentally fall into assumptions (1) or (2) noted above, not only will HMRC lawfully demand the tax, plus interest for not paying on time, but also penalties.  The penalties may be up to 200% of the original tax, so you could be paying 3x the original undeclared bill.  For those not of an arithmetic mind, for a typical 28% tax rate on a residential property that is 84% of the gain, going to the Government.  In other words on a gain of £100,000, that is £84,000 plus interest that could go to the Government, just because you assumed ….

 

Of course, some people may say well that still leaves 16% of the gain, but that excludes interest, and experience says trauma and cost of getting caught.  Plus those who actually wished to use the money may have to sell their dream home.  Maybe leading to further complications?

 

However, with appropriate planning and making the right tax elections in some circumstances, the gain may be legitimately eliminated altogether.  A much better result!

 

  1. Get advice.
  2. Get it right.
  3. Document it.

 

No one likes spending money on professional advice – until they haven’t!

A Recipe for a Car Crash

HOUSE OF LORDS

taxadvice

The House of Lords Finance Bill Sub-Committee recently took oral evidence on economic preparation for Making Tax Digital which is planned to become compulsory (under threat of penalties) for many VAT registered business in April 2019.

Concerns were raised on a number of points including the costs (both in monetary and management time), the lack of general preparedness and the difficulty in so many businesses seeking to implement new computer systems in the 5 months or so to April 2019.

Lord Hollick said, “To rush this in with very derisory estimates of the costs and indeed the turbulence that it is going to cause seems to be a recipe for a bit of a car crash”.

Evidence was given that fully developing the relevant software was impossible because “Some key facts are missing.  We do not know what the penalty amounts would be for either late filing or failing to pay tax.  We do not know exactly which taxes will be affected and when.  We do not know fully how appeals will be handled”.

Some of the exchanges seem just plain bizarre, or maybe there is another English language which I do not know about?

House of Lords : “Will the information come to the HMRC cloud in real time, so it will be privy to it as it arrives?  Or how?”

CEO Software House : “I do not know about real time.  That has not been defined yet”.

Is Dr Who involved?

Or consider the following (truly priceless) description of HMRC strategy in this area.

At the Office of Tax Simplification we have done some strategic thinking as to how the technology may improve the user experience in tax administration in the longer term.  We have observed that in some countries real time information is now a key part of the tax administration strategy; transitional level data is provided in real time to the tax administration, which enables real time calculation of profit”.

Is it just me that thinks the fact that this is a quote from a Director at the Government Office of Tax Simplification is somewhat ironic?

The only remarkable simplification in this sentence is that it seems to suggest a cash ledger [“transitional level data”] is sufficient to calculate business profits.  What about stock, bad debts, capital versus revenue, income recognition etc., etc.?  How are they all to be dealt with by the harassed business men, trying to work out which button to press on his mobile phone app, whilst also trying to do his job, negotiating a price and trying to actually get paid?  (Assuming the business man on the other side of the transaction can work out which button to press for payment that is).

Of course, the “profit” point is not directly relevant for the first phase MTD dealing with VAT, but therein lies the nub.  The stated benefit by HMRC of all this cost and disruption is that there will be fewer transposition errors or errors in addition.  Even if this unproven assertion turns out to be true, the anticipated benefits are projected to be relatively minor.

If an Authoritarian State (say North Korea) introduced a system whereby to be in business you had to buy a Government licensed computer program to record all your transactions, which was shared in real time with the State, with fines on the business owner for errors, would our elected Members of Parliament not make disparaging remarks and point out how much more competitive the market was (say in South Korea) because the business owners there could choose which software suited them best or even adopt it to suit their business, or their innovations.

Message to MP’s, Government, HMRC and Office of Tax Simplification, introduce MTD if you wish but make it voluntary.  SIMPLES!

You may be scared no-one would volunteer to join?

If so, what does that say about the quality of the whole idea!?

The Importance of getting ‘It’ Right

Recent Tax Cases reinforce the message : Get Advice : Get It Right : Document It.

The case of D. George shows the common promise of “you will be looked after on a third party sale” can fall foul of horrid tax consequences if there is no advance advice and documentation.

On a separate, and totally different technical argument, a taxpayer and spouse undertook (for presentational purposes) a development project through an associated company, which they owned jointly. Circumstances, with a crash in the development value, made their ideas change. In the end, the company was wound up without repaying the director’s loan which funded the development work. As a result, the owners were not deemed to have incurred the crucial enhancement expenditure on the development, and so obtained no tax relief on £250,000 paid out.

Painful lessons on both counts.

1. Get Advice
2. Get It Right
3. Document It.

If in doubt, repeat step one!

Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT – Are you Ready?

VAT Tax Advice

Recent surveys suggest that only 50% of affected businesses are aware of the new rules being brought in from April 2019 in relation to VAT. Even those who are aware of the changes are not prepared, with 20% of those who are aware of them currently have no plan at all.

If you have followed this blog, you will be aware that we have been critical of the proposals under MTD (see here) however HMRC and the government have continued to press ahead with them and it appears very likely that the rules for VAT will be coming in in April 2019, and will be compulsory!

From that date, all businesses who are required to be VAT registered (i.e. they are above the VAT registration threshold) with be required to comply with the MTD for VAT rules. From April 2019, such businesses will be required to keep business records digitally from the start of their accounting period and will need to file in an MTD approved manner.

A spreadsheet can be used to keep records, however MTD-compatible software will be needed to send HMRC the VAT returns and so bridging software might be required in order to transfer the data between systems. HMRC have announced a ‘soft landing’ for digital links, giving businesses until April 2020 to make sure there are digital links between software products, but preparation now makes sense, because it is a radical departure in terms of there being a Government prescribed method for record keeping.

If you are concerned about the new rules and would like help understanding them, please get in touch with David Stebbings. It is better to be prepared now rather than waiting until April!

Is Ignorance of the Law a Reasonable Excuse?

eaves and co lawOf course, all first year law students will bellow ‘No’ to what has long been thought a standard legal principle. However, in today’s complex, highly regulated society a strand of case law is emerging which suggests that in certain circumstances a lack of knowledge of the detail of the law can be a reasonable excuse, thus preventing a penalty from being levied.

The recent First Tier Tribunal hearing in respect of A and R Bradshaw is a case in point. The taxpayers lived in the UK for many years before emigrating to Canada. Their former marital home was put on the market, with the sale going through after the couple had left the country. No capital gains tax was due, because the property had qualified as their principal private residence.

However, HMRC sought to impose a late filing penalty, because strictly a return should have been made under the Non Resident Capital Gains Tax Regime (NRCGT). The judge in giving his verdict acknowledged that a return should have been made under the law. He did dismiss he HMRC penalty demand though. The judge said that the rules were new and had not been well publicised despite marketing a significant departure from previous, well established tax policy in imposing CGT on non-residents. He also noted the new legislation demanded a novel and onerous reporting deadline of only 30 days after the disposal.

This may be very tight especially if a complex capital gains tax computation was required or information needed to be garnered from earlier years. Citing the cases of Perrin v CRC, McGreevy and Scowcroft the judge accepted that in this case ignorance of the law amounted to a reasonable excuse.

It is pleasing to see the Courts accepting that in the real world of unfortunate circumstances and human foibles that ‘reasonable excuse’ can go beyond the trite triple of ‘disease, disaster and death’ Taxpayers and their advisors should therefore look at the whole picture and consider mitigating factors before accepting an HMRC demand for penalties.

Of course, certain excuses are unlikely to succeed. Crafting an argument around ‘The Dog Ate My Tax Return’ would I suggest remain doomed to fail.

eaves and co dog

We are confident though we can help on more reasonable arguments and are always interested to hear of practitioners experience in this area.

Brexit and the Route Map: Do all roads lead to Rome?

Brexit and the Route Map?

Do all roads lead to Rome?

Rome

Whatever people think of the merits or demerits of Brexit, if, as seems increasingly likely, we fail to agree on all aspects of a Brexit formula before March 2019 (now just a few months away) how are we supposed to advise clients?

It is the nature of our business that we often get asked about the more esoteric bits of tax practice, such as cross border matters and the impact of double tax.

Here is an example, which we have just looked at as part of researching advice for a client in respect of the Swiss/UK double tax treaty.  Of course, Switzerland is not a member of the EU.  However, Clause 18 (4) of the UK/Swiss Treaty only applies if the individual making the claim is “subject to the legislation of the Home State in accordance with the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons”.

I appreciate this may only apply to a few people, although it should be noted the Governmental Authorities each thought the issue significant to incorporate specifically into the Treaty.  Anyway, are not individual citizens important?

Additionally, if EU concepts are so ingrained into UK tax procedure as to affect non-EU Treaty countries, surely there must be more issues lurking.

Professional bodies what are your views?

In this context, I commend the Article by Alistair Spencer Clarke in the August 2018 edition of ICAEW Tax Line.  Ownership of Spanish property is not an outlandish thought for many UK citizens, quite apart from many other cross border situations which are now common place in our shrinking world.

Please can we start a debate about how to approach this matter?  Here I am talking about practical reality and proper approaches for Tax Practitioners to ensure they are giving best advice to clients.  Constitutional jurisprudence is for another day!

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.

Good News for EMI

The EU have signed off on ‘State Aid’ rules which mean that it should be possible to start granting EMI share options again shortly. It is believed HMRC will announce an exact date soon.

EMI is a very attractive and popular measure which allows selected employees in small trading companies to be rewarded in a tax efficient manner which is HMRC approved (and has been for 18 years, with cross party support).

Anyone wishing to get more information or advice, please call Paul Eaves on 01704 548698

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.

Mind the Gap – EMI Share Options from 6 April 2018

Mind-the-GapHMRC have announced via their Employment related securities bulletin (No 27 – April 2018) that due to not having yet received EU State Aid approval for the EMI scheme (the previous approval expired on 6 April 2018) new EMI share options issued after 6 April 2018 will not be treated as tax-approved share option schemes and would therefore be taxed under the far less favourable non-approved regime.

HMRC do reassure taxpayers that options granted up to 5 April 2018 will continue to qualify, so there is no need to panic over existing share options.

However, if you or your clients are in the process of implementing an EMI share scheme, it would be advisable to delay granting options until the approval is granted. Of course, if this is not possible then clients should be made aware of the implications of options falling to be treated as unapproved, or consider other options such as a CSOP.

One of the big differences between approved EMI options and unapproved ones is that any tax paid on exercise is based on the value of shares at grant of the options for EMI schemes, and on the value at exercise for unapproved ones. Therefore any growth in value is sheltered under the EMI scheme.

EMI schemes also provide other valuable features including relaxations of Enterpreneurs’ relief conditions for employees.

Please get in contact with us if you have any concerns or if you require assistance with share option schemes.