The Dog Ate My….

The Dog Ate My [Homework] Tax Return

crocodile

There has been much publicity recently regarding the funny [!?] HMRC Press Release regarding failed excuses for failing to file Tax Returns on time. Generally, the ‘joke’ seems to be that they are such poor excuses that they are on a par, or even worse claims that ‘The Dog Ate My Tax Return’. This shows the poor standard of education and lack of discipline in our schools. Anyone who has failed with that excuse at school should have at least graduated to ‘A Crocodile Ate My Tax Return’ with an invitation to the Tax Officer to go and retrieve it(!).

No doubt HMRC have much to put up with, and lousy excuses will inevitably test their patience. However, they are Civil servants who should be courteous and sympathetic to all tax payers – not just those they like because of them being ‘compliant’. With this in mind, I refer to the cases of P. Miller and Coomber. Case law shows HMRC are not always correct in their views on penalties. Advisors should always consider whether a penalty being charged is correct, proportional, or could even be suspended.

In the recent case of P. Miller the Courts held that HMRC were wrong in dismissing an application for a penalty to be suspended. The Judge followed the case of Hackett in focussing on the general obligations for all tax payers (rather than the narrow, specific facts of the tax payer’s own mistake) in deciding that there were sensible suspension conditions which could encourage him to avoid a future careless mistake. Thus the immediate imposition of a penalty liability could be avoided. No doubt good news for the tax payer.

HMRC had more success in the case of Coomber, where the Judge rejected a suggestion that a tax payer had a reasonable excuse for late payment when the tax cheque he had written was unexpectedly dishonoured by his bank. Reading the case in detail, it appears to be an object lesson in presenting all relevant evidence and ensuring it is correct in detail. Quoting from Clean Car Co Ltd, the Judge said, ‘The test of whether or not there is a reasonable excuse is an objective one … Was what the tax payer did a reasonable thing for a responsible trader, conscious of and intending to comply with his obligations regarding tax, but having the experience and other relevant attributes of the tax payer, and placed in the situation the taxpayer found himself at the relevant time a reasonable thing to do?’

From the Judge’s comments it may have proved better for the tax payer if he had produced evidence of why the bank dishonoured the cheque (any why it was unexpected) plus better documentary evidence as to the precise dates of events. It is plain details can affect the Judge’s view as to the strength of a case. In this new era of quasi-automatic penalties advisors need to be on alert for sensible mitigating circumstances. Reasonable excuses do go beyond ‘Disaster, death and disease’, to quote the HMRC general view, but throw the excuse ‘A Crocodile Ate My Tax Return’ on the fire!

What are advisors current experiences of penalties and mitigation?

Private Residence Relief Denied – A Oliver

The tax law surrounding the sale of residences and Private Residence Relief continues to cause disputes between taxpayers and HMRC.  With the disparity between capital gains tax rates on most assets and the higher rate now applicable to sales of residential property, this is only likely to continue.

In a recent case at the First-Tier Tribunal (A Oliver, TC5521), the taxpayer purchased a flat in January 2007 and then sold it in April 2007.  He claimed he purchased it following a trial separation from his partner (which was recommended by their counselling sessions).  However, the flat had a relatively short time remaining on its lease which made it difficult to sell.  Mr Oliver asked the vendor to begin the process to extend the lease before exchange of contracts; otherwise he would have had to wait two years before he could make the application following completion.

The extension of the lease resulted in a substantial increase to the flat’s value, and HMRC argued that Private Residence Relief (PRR) should not apply, on the basis that he had been ‘engaging in adventure in the nature of a trade’.  The rules state at TCGA 1992, Section 224(3) that PRR should not apply where a property is acquired with “the purposes of realising a gain from the disposal of it”.

Interestingly, the Tribunal agreed that Mr Oliverʼs actions did not amount to a venture in the nature of a trade and that he did not have an intention to sell the flat when he first acquired it.  However, they instead considered whether the taxpayer’s presence in the flat was sufficient for it to qualify as his main residence.  They found that there were inconsistencies in his evidence and ultimately concluded that the quality of occupation lacked any degree of permanence or expectation of continuity.

Mr Oliver’s appeal was therefore dismissed.  Had Mr Oliver made a more convincing witness, and perhaps been able to demonstrate his intent to reside in the property more permanently he may have succeeded.  In cases such as this, taking advice in advance would help to avoid problems arising later.  We would be delighted to hear from you if you or your clients might be caught by these rules.

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.

The Importance of Advanced Planning – VAT Registration

A recent case at the First-Tier Tribunal, DJ Butler v HMRC, highlighted again the benefits of taking professional advice in good time. The taxpayer operated as a sole-trader working as a decorator, project manager and carpenter.

In the absence of the project management turnover the taxpayer would have been below the VAT registration threshold. After HMRC identified that his turnover was above the limit, the taxpayer argued that the project management was run as a partnership with his wife; however he had always declared it on his individual self-assessment tax returns as sole trader turnover.

The Tribunal considered that the project management work should rightfully be considered an extension of his sole trader activities and that no partnership existed. It did not help that no profits were reported on his wife’s tax returns, and nor were there separate partnership bank accounts or sales invoices raised in its name. The taxpayer’s appeal was therefore dismissed.

It would appear that if the taxpayer had taken steps in advance to create a separate legal entity for the project management, whether a partnership or a company, and followed the correct reporting and legal steps, the planning may have been effective. As it was, it was difficult to argue that self-assessed sole-trader income was in fact from a partnership.

Taking professional advice in advance would have helped this taxpayer, is there anything we can help you with?

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.

VAT Penalty Reduced – J & W Brown

A recent case concerned penalties that arose on a taxpayer due to a technicality. The taxpayer had run a business as a VAT registered sole trader. He brought his son in as a business partner, which was therefore technically a transfer to a partnership and a transfer of a going concern (TOGC) for VAT purposes.

The taxpayer did not realise this and did not notify HMRC until around 2 years later. However, he continued to submit his sole trader VAT returns and pay the tax due through this period. Two of the returns in the period were submitted late.

HMRC therefore sought penalties for late registration by the new partnership of more than 12 months and charged an 18% penalty. They did, however mitigate this by 70% as the VAT returns and tax were submitted through the sole trader registration and there was therefore no loss of tax.

The First-tier Tribunal felt that as the error was a technicality and that there had been no loss or administrative inconvenience to HMRC, the penalty should be reduced by 90% instead and lowered the 18% penalty to 12.5%. They also noted that the taxpayer had made a voluntary disclosure and that HMRC’s protracted case management had been inappropriate, causing “significant inconvenience and expense’” to the taxpayer

Overall the penalty was reduced from £582 to £100 and so the taxpayer’s appeal was allowed in part.

This case shows the continued firm approach that HMRC appear to be taking with penalties for minor mistakes. However, the Tribunals continue to provide a safety net to taxpayers and the comments of the Tribunal showed the importance of taking the first steps and making voluntary disclosure before HMRC find the error. If you would like assistance with making a disclosure or have any concerns about past transactions, please get in touch with us as we would be delighted to assist.

Entrepreneurs’ relief – What is an ordinary share?

We have written in previous blogs about the need to take care over Entrepreneurs’ relief (ER) and preference shares (see Entrepreneurs’ Relief – 5% Test and Preference Shares) and a recent case heard by the First-Tier Tribunal has shed more light on how the rules are to be interpreted.

One of the conditions for ER is that the taxpayer must hold at least of 5% of the company’s ordinary share capital and voting rights. For these purposes, ordinary share capital is defined as all share capital excluding fixed rate preference shares.

However, in the recent case of M & E McQuillan v HMRC [2016] TC05074 redeemable non-voting shares which did not carry rights to dividends were found to not constitute ordinary shares for ER purposes.  It was found that shares with no rights to dividends could be considered as having a right to a fixed rate of 0% and therefore could be excluded from the calculation of ordinary share capital.

In this case, this provided the right outcome for the taxpayers as they were selling their ‘ordinary’ shares in the company, of which they had 33% each.  Another couple had made a loan of £30,000 which had been converted into the 30,000 preference shares which were redeemable non-voting share capital with no rights to dividends.

Had the 30,000 extra shares have been treated as ordinary share capital, the taxpayers would not have had the required 5% holding.

The case highlights the importance of checking through all the details before making a sale of shares in your company.  In this case, the taxpayers were successful but others will not be so fortunate.  Eaves and Co have extensive experience advising on share sales and Entrepreneurs’ relief and would be delighted to hear from you if you are considering a sale in the near future.

HMRC Use Incorrect Procedure – A Revell v HMRC

We recently highlighted the importance of ensuring HMRC have taken the right steps in terms of the use of their powers – see Make Sure HMRC Notices are Valid! – Technicalities and Human Rights Law. This has been confirmed by a further recent case which again shows the importance of checking the facts.

In A Revell v HMRC the First-Tier Tribunal was asked to consider whether HMRC had acted correctly within the legislative framework for their powers. The taxpayer in the case had voluntarily submitted a tax return for 2008/09. HMRC had sent the request to deliver a return to the wrong address, despite having received the updated address for the taxpayer.

HMRC attempted to enquire into the return and determined that further tax should have been due. The taxpayer, however, appealed on the basis that the enquiry was invalid because he had not received a notice requesting a return under TMA 1970, s8.

The First-tier Tribunal agreed that no request to deliver a return had been made due to it being sent to the wrong address. They found that the taxpayer had not waived the requirement for the issue of a notice to file under TMA 1970, s8 by submitting a voluntary return. As such, they determined that his return should be treated as a notice of liability to income tax under s.7 and not a self-assessment return.

The appeal was therefore allowed. In addition, as the time limit to request a return had expired HMRC’s only further option would be to issue a discovery assessment. This would appear to then bring further technical considerations into play, as to whether such a discovery assessment itself would be valid based on case law (see our blog post on some of the case law in this area for further information).

This case again shows the importance of ensuring HMRC are acting within their powers as a first step. It also appears to raise some interesting questions as to the implications for making a voluntary tax return, as the Tribunal found that these should not be treated as a self-assessment return.

Make Sure HMRC Notices are Valid! – Technicalities and Human Rights Law

Recent cases have emphasised the importance of that European Human rights laws have on the UK tax system; however the cases and our own recent experiences suggest that HMRC do not take these implications seriously.

The recent Tribunal case of PML Accounting Ltd v HMRC [2015] considered a number of issues, including one relating to Human Rights.  The case involved an HMRC Notice requiring information from PML Accounting and the firm’s appeal against a penalty for failing to provide the information on time.

The Tribunal found that the information notice had not been complied with and that the taxpayer did not have a reasonable excuse for the failure.  However, they also determined that the Notice was invalid as it had been issued under the wrong piece of legislation.

The notice was issued under FA 2008 Sch 36, para 1 as part of a review of the company’s position under the Managed Service Company Legislation.

The Tribunal determined that there had been suggestion that any investigation under the MSC legislation would lead to a charge on PML.  As a result, the information notice should have been issued under paragraph 2 (third-party notices) instead of paragraph 1.

The Tribunal also concluded that the Notice breached the human rights of PML’s clients as it had been issued under the wrong paragraph.  A paragraph 2 notice relating to third-parties provides a level of protection for the taxpayers involved as they may not be issued without either the taxpayer’s prior consent or the tribunal’s approval.

There have also been a number of other cases highlighting the inadequacy of HMRC’s approach to human rights law.  For example, in Bluu Solutions Ltd v RCC [2015], the Tribunal confirmed that a tax penalty, which is meant to be punitive and to deter, is “criminal” for the purposes of Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  This provides taxpayers subject to HMRC penalties with additional protection stating that taxpayers have the right to a fair trial and requires that the taxpayer is presumed innocent, with the burden of proof on HMRC.  Also proceedings have to be brought within a reasonable time, and the taxpayer must have enough resources and time to defend against the penalty.

Further protection is provided by Article 7 which requires that any penalty should have a clear basis in law and therefore where there is genuine uncertainty as to the underlying tax law, it could potentially be a breach of Article 7 to impose penalties based on non-payment.

These points all provide extra protection that advisors should bear in mind when assisting clients faced with HMRC investigations.  If you have any concerns over HMRC’s approach then please contact us and we will be delighted to assist.

No Private Residence Relief on Uncultivated, Separate Land – Fountain & Anor v HMRC

Private Residence Relief (PRR) is a very useful relief for taxpayers and prevents Capital Gains Tax from being paid on the sale of a primary residence in most cases.  There are aspects of the rules which can be complex and these continue to cause difficulties for some taxpayers.

In a recent First-tier Tribunal case, Fountain & Anor v HMRC, the Tribunal found that the taxpayers in question were not entitled to claim PRR relief in respect of their disposal of a building plot, which they had argued was part of the grounds of the house.

The taxpayers owned an area of land behind their home which had previously been used in their haulage business. The business was closed and subsequently part of the property was divided into five building plots. Most of the plots were sold or gifted in 2006 and a new home was built on one of the plots for the Fountains, who moved in in January 2007. Their previous residence was then sold in February 2007 together with a field. The last plot (named ‘Plot 2’) was sold later, in December 2009 and led to the Tribunal case.

The taxpayers argued that Plot 2 formed part of the garden or grounds of their new residence on the basis that they were on the same title deed and the plot had formed part of the garden of their original home and continued to be used for their domestic use and enjoyment.

The Tribunal agreed that Plot 2 had indeed formed part of the grounds of their original home, however they did not believe this was relevant to the disposal in question. They also found that being on the same title was irrelevant.

The Tribunal found that Plot 2 was uncultivated and was physically separated from their new house by a separate plot which had a further house built on it and had been fenced off. They did not believe that Plot 2 has ever formed part of the garden or grounds of the new house.  No private residence relief was due and the appeal was therefore dismissed.

When dealing with PRR claims, it is important to thoroughly analyse the facts of the specific case and take previous case law into account.  Such planning at the time could help to prevent a nasty surprise in the future.  Eaves and Co would be delighted to assist if you have any queries on disposing of your home and the tax implications.