Making Tax Digital – Your Thoughts Welcome

As you may be aware, new proposed rules on tax compliance, called Making Tax Digital, are being consulted on at present.  We are planning on preparing our own response to the consultation document, and would welcome your thoughts to take on board and incorporate into our thoughts on a response.  In fact, we would suggest you send in your own response, but we would still welcome your input on the points raised.  They are important.

Of the proposed changes, the “digital tax system” is perhaps the one that will cause the biggest changes to advisors, businesses and individuals.  It is under this that the proposed “end of the tax return” would occur.  Individuals will make changes to their digital tax account throughout the year and it is proposed that information would feed in automatically from real-time PAYE and banks and building societies.

A significant proposal is that, under these rules, businesses will be required to keep digital records and to provide quarterly updates to HMRC with summary data from these records.  There appear to be no proposals to help businesses with the cost of appropriate software.  Bearing in mind there would then be an annual taxable profit calculation due after the year end, what is the reason behind the proposal for quarterly reporting?

It is proposed that this would commence from April 2018 for income tax purposes.  The main exemption from the rules will be businesses with turnover of under £10,000, which would seem to help few.

Some of the particular issues that we will look to raise concern the following:

  • The rules are proposed to be mandatory. This certainly raises concerns for certain taxpayers as noted below.  One has to wonder why the rules should be mandatory, when it is claimed by HMRC that they will be welcomed by most taxpayers?
  • Certain individuals and sole-traders may find the rules particularly difficult. These might include elderly taxpayers and those who are not computer literate, or do not own appropriate equipment/software.  Whilst it may be news to those in power, not all people have a PC and certainly not all have mobile phones with internet access (which was claimed to be the solution to not having a PC).
  • Entering sensitive and important financial information on one’s phone may not be ideal in any event. Other HMRC suggestions include asking a family member for help.   However, this overlooks the fact that financial information can be sensitive even (or perhaps particularly) amongst family members.  We feel that this aspect should not be overlooked in the drive towards digital taxation.  We would commend the article in Taxation by Robin Summers FCA on this point.
  • Businesses will be required to submit information to HMRC on a quarterly basis. This could be particularly onerous in the case of small businesses where a multitude of things could [and will for some] cause problems. It may be fine when things are running smoothly, but why add extra burdens?   Life suggests that, unfortunately, there can be upsets…Family problems, business problems, partnership splits, illness, death of [someone] …etc. etc.…  In such circumstances surely no- one would expect the first priority of a business should be to file an HMRC form, ahead of [say] visiting their dying mother?  Once behind, such a short reporting period would make it increasingly difficult to get up to date.  Recent practical experience with HMRC would suggest a “reasonable excuse” let out may be insufficient!  [See previous blogs and recent case law.]
  • Even for the biggest business, access to accurate up-to-date information at short notice could be difficult. Hence, the idea is likely to cause a significant increase in work on administration.  The proposals suggest this would fall disproportionately on small business.  Such businesses, especially start-ups, may therefore decide to opt out of being “HMRC Customers”.  Creating barriers to joining the “Tax Club” would not, in our opinion, appear to be a sensible way forward.  Do people agree?
  • It may be noted that Stock Exchange listed plc’s do not have a compulsory requirement to publish detailed figures every quarter. Why should it be fair to make a small family firm subject to more onerous conditions?
  • The requirement to keep digital records, “as close to real time as possible” again could cause issues for those with limited access to/comfort with technology. There may also be many in businesses where keeping digital records in real time could prove an excessive burden in a practical sense. For example, someone travelling on a music or comedy tour, where time pressures are high.  For them building a pile of receipts is the best that can be hoped for in the short term.  Their Accountants can then help them do the reporting at the end of the year.
  • Business innovation requires flexibility and imagination, not an obsession with bureaucratic record keeping? Such a tight time table as proposed may be ok for a smooth running, continuing business, but growth and change require intensive resource.
  • Importantly, for those with any conception or imagination on what it is like to run a business, [for example, Accountants with real clients] they may blanche at the thought that the first objective of an entrepreneur should be to file Government forms when he is working all hours to try to get a business to produce a profit.  Yes, there should be an obligation to report to HMRC, but there should be a fair interval between striving for an objective and sending in a report on the result.  Sending in a football score after 22.5 minutes is a waste of resource all round. Outcomes can change over time.  Income Tax is based on the profit for the year.
  • Many businesses are seasonal, so use “quiet periods” to catch up with administrative matters. This often enables them to keep staff employed throughout the year, rather than laying them off.  How does the Government wish such businesses to cope with the change?
  • We feel adding extra administrative burdens can only put up an extra barrier to entrepreneurship. Does the Government wish to reduce the economic benefits inherent in the creation of small business, or just encourage them to join the Black Economy?

Of course, others may have other views.  We would like to hear. Please let us know.

The full consultation documents can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/making-tax-digital-consultations.  Honestly, we would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Confirmation that Dividend Waivers should be treated with Caution

The recent First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) case of Donovan & McLaren v HMRC has confirmed that regular dividend waivers constitute a settlement for Income Tax purposes.

HMRC’s CASE

It was argued by HMRC that the effect of the dividend waivers and the intention of them was to allow higher dividends to be paid to the two directors’ wives than their respective shareholdings entitled and lower dividends to be received by the two directors.

HMRC stated that according to ITTOIA 2005 s.620 the directors’ dividend waivers and the consequent payment of dividends to their wives constituted an arrangement that can be defined as a ‘settlement’ whereby the directors were the settlors. HMRC inferred that the directors waived entitlement to dividends as part of a plan that dividend income otherwise due to the directors would be paid to their wives, therefore constituting an ‘arrangement’ under the settlements legislation. It was argued that this scheme was used for tax avoidance purposes so that the directors and their wives could reduce this aggregate liability income tax by using the wives’ unused basic rate band of tax.

HMRC rejected the alleged commercial rationale for executing the dividend waiver which was to maintain reserves and cash balances in order to accumulate sufficient of each to fund the purchase of the company’s own freehold property. They contended that this could have been more easily achieved by voting a lower rate of dividend.

The settlements legislation also requires an element of bounty to be part of the arrangement. Consequently, HMRC argued that the directors’ arrangement was not one that was entered into at arm’s length and the arrangement therefore contained an element of bounty.

APPELLANTS’ CASE

The two directors failed to provide any evidence to defend their position other than inferences from previous correspondence submitted by them and their accountant. Furthermore it had been admitted by the appellants and their agent in a letter to HMRC that ‘dividend waivers are by their very nature not on arm’s length or commercial’ which substantially weakened their appeal.

They had also argued that structuring the waivers as they did was tax efficient and made commercial sense.

FTT DECISION

The FTT found that the directors had waived their entitlement to dividends as part of a plan to ensure that the dividend income became payable to their wives so as to reduce their aggregate liability to Income Tax. The income which arises from the dividend waiver arrangement clearly arose during the lives of the director and the dividend income paid to their wives from their shares together with the dividend rights attached to them are benefits enjoyed by the directors’ wives. On the balance of probabilities the FTT accepted the submissions by HMRC; including the opinion that there was no commercial purpose for the waivers and that they did not have taken place at arm’s length.

The FTT also found that there was a lack of sufficient distributable reserves within the company were it not for the directors waiving the dividends.

Finally, they rejected the claim by the directors that the discovery assessments raised by HMRC were invalid. All appeals asserted by the two directors were dismissed.

CONCLUSION

This case serves as a reminder that companies need to be cautious when considering the use of dividend waivers. The definition of a ‘settlement’ is wide-ranging and to avoid being caught in an arrangement which may constitute a settlement arrangement it is best to seek professional advice.

There are options that remain effective for efficient tax planning through family companies that can be used without the need for dividend waivers. Seeking professional advice in advance is preferable to finding out the planning did not work in the Courts.

Boyle v HMRC: Crack down on Payroll Tax Avoidance Scheme Continues

In the recent Autumn Statement, George Osbourne announced several governmental counter-avoidance measures that confirm that the net is closing in on those who subscribe to tax avoidance schemes. A failed tax avoidance scheme marketed by Consulting Overseas Limited has been identified by a recent First-Tier Tribunal case of Boyle v HMRC. HMRC has vowed to pursue all other subscribers to the same scheme that Mr Boyle was involved with and will also target others who have used similar schemes to avoid tax.

Mr Boyle was a contractor who originally worked for a company called Sandfield Systems Limited (SSL) and subsequently worked for Sandfield Consultants Limited (SCL) when a significant fall in his income was noticed by HMRC. It is important to note that Sandfield Consultants Limited (SCL) was a company registered in the Isle of Man. The director of SSL was also the director of SCL and Consulting Overseas Limited (COL) which marketed the tax avoidance scheme. The scheme was marketed by COL to the employees as a remuneration package that could achieve income tax and national insurance contributions (NICs) savings.

The FTT found the conclusions of HMRC’s investigation to be correct. The significant fall in Mr Boyle’s income was explained by the fact that about 2/3 of the income generated by the taxpayer was withheld and then paid to him by way of a ‘loan’ made in Romanian, Byelorussian or Uzebekistani currency. When Mr Boyle entered into a contract of employment with SCL it was agreed that he would be paid a salary but he would also participate in the ‘soft currency loan scheme’ arranged by SCL to receive the remainder of his salary. All employees of SCL used the foreign broker Credex International SA, when taking out the loans in question. It was the currency trades organised by Credex that turned the earnings into what the scheme claimed to be “non-taxable foreign exchange gains”.

The FTT found that the loans were not genuine and also found no evidence to prove that the foreign currency ever existed or that Credex was a genuine dealer independent of SCL. Notably the FTT ruled that the monies which were allegedly paid to Mr Boyle as loans in foreign currency constituted emolument from employment/earnings under s.173 ITEPA 2003. Furthermore, according to s.188(1)(b), as the ‘loans’ that were made were essentially written off, the amount written off is deemed to be treated as earnings from employment for that year and therefore should have been subject to income tax and NICs. They also ruled that Mr Boyle was aware that the loans were a means of receiving his income to avoid tax.

The FTT also stated that even if they were wrong to state that the loans were emoluments of his employment, Mr Boyle should be liable to tax under the transfer of assets provisions so there would not be any further grounds for appeal. The numerous appeals raised by Mr Boyle including his claim that he was entitled to credit for income tax which ought to have been deducted by SCL, were rejected in their entirety. It was found that Mr Boyle was liable to income tax for the years 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2003/04 in respect of monies he received as employment income.

This case demonstrates that efforts to avoid tax using offshore vehicles are being increasingly targeted in the crackdown against tax avoidance. This case also suggests that schemes where employees receive ‘loans’ as a form of payment are also being treated with suspicion. It is estimated that more than 15,000 people have used schemes similar to Mr Boyle and that the pursuit of the outstanding tax and national insurance contributions associated with these schemes will amount to over £400 million.

With the courts continuing to find against avoidance schemes, and the host of new regulations designed to increase the pressure on such schemes, the viability of such schemes is seriously called into question. Genuine tax planning, rather than convoluted schemes, appears to be the way forward and Eaves and Co are here to help.

Bank Settlement – Wholly and Exclusively

The recent tribunal case of Mr Vaines v HMRC (TC02965) dealt with whether a deduction from trading profits was allowed under the ‘wholly and exclusively’ principles, for an out of court settlement of a bank claim relating to a previous trade.

If the claim was not settled the taxpayer could be made bankrupt thus preventing him from continuing in his current trade.

Background

The taxpayer, Mr Vaines, was a member of Harrmann Hemmelrath LLP, a German law firm with offices in London, until 31 December 2005.

The taxpayer subsequently became a partner in Squire Sanders & Dempsey.

On 27 October 2009 the taxpayer made an amendment to his tax return for 2007/08, claiming a deduction of £215,455 against his professional income from Squire Sanders & Dempsey.

The deduction claimed was for a payment made to a German bank, under an agreement made by a number of individuals who were connected with his previous law firm, Haarmann Hemmelrath.  The firm had ceased to trade and owed approx. €17m to a number of German Banks.

The taxpayer believed that the risk of challenging the banks through the German courts was unacceptably high; as if he lost he would be made bankrupt.

If made bankrupt he would lose his current position as partner at Squire Sanders & Dempsey.

Following negotiations with the bank, he agreed to pay them €300,000 (£215,455) in full and final settlement of all claims.  This was paid in January 2008 (tax year 2007/08).

An amendment was made to his 2007/08 tax return and a deduction from his professional income from Squire Sanders & Dempsey claimed.

HMRC denied a deduction primarily on the basis that the payment was not wholly and exclusively for the purposes of his trade.

HMRC’s Arguments

HMRC argued that the deduction should not be allowed for three reasons:

  1. Mr Vaines did not carry on a profession or a trade as an individual,
  2. If he did carry on a trade individually the payment was not wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade as it also enabled him to avoid bankruptcy and preserve his reputation, and
  3. If it was wholly and exclusively, it was capital and not revenue expenditure and therefore no deduction was allowed

Tribunals Conclusions

1. Trading as an Individual

 HMRC had tried to rely on a case that predated self-assessment. However this case was found to be superseded by ITTOIA s.862, which states that members of an LLP are treated as carrying out the trade and not the partnership itself.

The tribunal therefore dismissed HMRC’s argument that Mr Vaines did not carry on a trade in his own right.

2. Wholly & Exclusively

The tribunal held that as a matter of fact the purpose of Mr Vaines making the payment was to preserve and protect his professional career or trade.

With this in mind the case of Morgan (Inspector of Taxes) v Tate & Lyle Ltd (1955) states that ‘money spent for the purposes of preserving the trade from destruction can properly be treated as wholly and exclusively expended for the purposes of the trade’.

As a result they found that the payment to the Bank was wholly and exclusively for the purposes of his trade.

3. Revenue or Capital?

The final consideration was whether the payment was revenue or capital.  HMRC contended it was capital and therefore no deduction was allowed.

Mr Vaines argued that no asset or enduring advantage was brought into existence by the payment made to the Bank and as a result it was a revenue expense.

He relied on Lawrence J in Southern (HM Inspector of Taxes) v Borax Consolidated Ltd (1940) where he stated;

‘..if no alteration is made in the fixed capital asset by the payment, then it is properly attributable to revenue’ and ‘it appears to me that the legal expenses which were incurred…did not create any new asset at all but were expenses which were incurred in the ordinary course of maintaining the assets of the Company, and the fact that it was maintaining the title…does not, in my opinion make it any different’

The tribunal found that as the payment was to preserve and protect his professional career or trade it must follow that it is a revenue and not capital payment in line with the case above.

Decision

As a result the appeal was allowed and the payment found to be wholly and exclusively for the purposes of his trade.

Julian Martin v HMRC – TC 02460 – Income Tax where Employee Obliged to Refund Earnings

In the recent case of Julian Martin v HMRC (TC 02460),  the appellant agreed to enter into an employment contract under which he received a signing bonus of £250,000 in 2005/06 the terms of which required him to work for the company for a period of 5 years.

The signing bonus was subject to income tax and NIC’s through PAYE and the net amount received was £147,500.

Mr Martin gave early notice and therefore became liable to repay £162,500 to his former employer.

The appellant made an error and mistake claim for 2005/06 on the basis that whilst the full bonus had been taxed in that year, in retrospect the full amount had not been earned in that year and as such the repaid amount of £162,500 should not be taxable.

HM Revenue and Customs rejected Mr Martin’s claim for relief and argued that the full amount remained taxable despite the fact that most of it was later repaid.

This gave rise to an anomalous position whereby Mr Martin was worse off than if he had never accepted the signing bonus because the tax and NICs were in excess of the amount of the bonus that he actually retained.

The first tier tribunal found that relief should be available on the basis that the repayment of the bonus amounted to negative taxable earnings in Mr Martin’s hands.

 

Employment Income or Gift – The Case of Colin Collins v HMRC

The question as to whether or not monies are taxable as employment income is a common area of dispute in tax.  However, the First Tier Tribunal case of Colin Collins v HMRC involved a particularly unusual set of circumstances to which the question needed to be applied.

The case itself involved the payment of $2 million by a former shareholder of a Company to the taxpayer who had worked for that Company, before subsequently leaving and later being re-employed under the new ownership.

The precise facts of the case led the Tribunal to consider that the payment amounted to a gift by the former shareholder. HM Revenue and Customs had contended that it was a payment in connection with the taxpayer’s former or current employment.

Of significant interest is that the Tribunal set out in their written judgement a list of key points that lead them to their decision:

  • Was the payment gratuitous?
  • Was the payment expected?
  • Was it proportionate (for example in terms of past salary)?
  • Was there any regularity in the payments?
  • Who made the payment?
  • Was there a time delay in making the payment and if so was this delay cosmetic?
  • What was the occasion/reason for the payment?

While the list is of interest, the old adage remains that each case must be considered on its own merits.

Valantine v HMRC – Partnership or Not?

partnership agreement

(Photo credit: o5com)

The case of Mrs Pauline Valantine v HMRC (TC 01644) demonstrates that in certain cases it may be useful to engage in discussions/meetings with HM Revenue and Customs as this could prevent cases being taken to Tribunal unnecessarily.

The key issue in the case concerned whether Mrs Valantine was in partnership with her husband.  If Mr & Mrs Valantine were in partnership then Mrs Valantine would become liable for unpaid income tax/NICs on her share of the partnership profits and unpaid VAT for which she would be joint and severally liable.

The question of liability was particularly relevant because Mr Valantine was expected to declare bankruptcy, therefore if a partnership did not exist then Mrs Valantine would not be liable for the unpaid tax and HM Revenue and Customs could not expect to receive payment.

Based on the evidence before them the Tribunal found in favour of the taxpayer on the basis that the relationship between the taxpayers made it unthinkable that they would have entered a business partnership.

Interestingly however, the Tribunal concluded that HM Revenue and Customs should not be criticised for their handling of the case or for bringing the case to Tribunal.  They went on to say that had the taxpayers been willing to meet HM Revenue and Customs to discuss the case then the case may never had been brought to appeal.

Taxpayers involved with investigations/enquiries from HM Revenue and Customs may find professional advice useful to ensure that matters are concluded both quickly and robustly.

For information regarding our tax investigation/enquiry services please contact Paul Davison on 0113 244 3502 or visit our website www.eavesandco.co.uk

Top Tax Tips for Owner Managed Businesses – Tip 9 – Succession Planning

Top Tax Tips for Owner Managed Businesses

9. Succession Planning

When passing the family company to future generations, it is important to consider the structure adopted to ensure that no unexpected tax liabilities arise on both the outgoing and incoming shareholders.

It may be possible to gift shares to the children in a tax neutral way.  Alternatively a sale of the business to the children through an earn out mechanism could provide a way for the retiring shareholders to withdraw future monies generated from the company at 10%.

Consideration should be given to the income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax implications and the benefit of applying for pre transaction clearances from HM Revenue and Customs.

No reasonable excuse for late filing (Peck & amp; Wilson & amp; HM Revenue & amp; Customs [2011] TC01693)

The taxpayers appealed a fixed penalty of £200 for the late filing of their 2009/10 partnership income tax return.

They appealed on the grounds that the HM Revenue & Customs online submission software was unavailable, and that the return had been submitted before 31 January 2011. They also argued that they had been successful in an appeal under similar circumstances for 2007/08.

HM Revenue & Customs explained that they had accepted their 2007/08 appeal for a late return, as it was the first year that paper returns had required to be submitted by 31 October.  However, their 2010/11 paper return was received on 24 January 2011, nearly three months after the deadline.

The key in this case was that the tribunal stated that as there is no obligation to file online, the lack of software to do so is not a reasonable excuse to why the return was late, as it is clearly stated on the return that external software is required, therefore the penalties were upheld.

A Payment Cannot be Both Dividend and Employment Income

PA Holdings Limited constructed a complex arrangement in order to try and ensure employee bonuses were taxed as dividends rather than employment income.  The company paid a capital contribution into employee benefit trusts, out of which bonuses were paid to select employees in the form of dividends.

The First and Upper-tier tribunals decided that the payments were employment income under Schedule E and dividend income under Schedule F. The effect of this being that they were not chargeable to tax as employment income, only as dividends; but they were earnings for the purposes of NI contributions.

Both parties appealed to the Court of Appeal.  The Court of Appeal overturned the Upper Tier Tribunal ruling that income can be in both schedules E & F. The judge stated that if income falls within Schedule E, it is precluded from falling within Schedule F.

The Court found that the income fell within Schedule E as the amount of payment received by the employee was dictated by the employer.  Therefore the payments were remuneration for employment and subject to Income tax and NICs accordingly.