Elbrook (Cash and Carry) Ltd – Payment of VAT Assessment Would Cause Hardship

Arguments are inevitable between taxpayers and HMRC over interpretations of key phrases in the legislation. These often revolve around penalties, appeals and what constitutes ‘reasonable’. In a recent case, the Revenue lost on the grounds that the taxpayer would have suffered ‘hardship’ if required to pay a VAT assessment before appealing it (as according to VATA 1994, s.84 one of the conditions for appealing is that the tax must be paid).

The taxpayer had won the case at the First-Tier Tribunal, and the Upper Tribunal noted that it could only overturn the finding in that case if they had made an error in law.

The Upper Tribunal noted that the test had to consider not just the ability to pay, but “the capacity to pay without financial hardship”. It was felt the possibility of obtaining new finance should be ignored in the circumstances (which seems to go against standard HMRC practice in cases regarding difficulty paying). It was only if other sources were likely to become available they should be considered. The judge agreed with the First-Tier Tribunal that approaching their bankers would not have been suitable as it could have caused further financial difficulties through the bank becoming concerned.

Overall, the judge agreed with the conclusions of the First-Tier Tribunal, even though the decision could perhaps have been worded better. The case highlights that it can be worth challenging HMRC interpretation. They are Civil Servants, not the judiciary, so there are independent arbiters of the rules!

Please contact us if you have any concerns about HMRC practices. We have extensive experience in such matters. Often HMRC are right, but not always. They will only be kept to high standards by rigorous, independent review. This is in the best interests of everyone, including HMRC.

Response to Making Tax Digital – Sanctions for late submission and late payment

 

Eaves and Co have submitted a response to the HMRC consultation document of 20 March 2017 in relation to sanctions for late submission and late payment as part of Making Tax Digital.  We have reproduced our response below.

 

Please feel free to comment.

 

Response to Making Tax Digital – Sanctions for late submission and late payment. Consultation document – 20 March 2017

 

This is a very difficult document to respond to, because it is so wrong headed.  When Chancellor Osbourne announced it, it was alleged to be a liberating move.  He has since been relieved of his position.  The legacy of ‘Making Tax Digital’ remains.  My concern is that, as currently drafted, it runs a high risk of ‘Making Tax Dysfunctional’.

 

  1. Fundamentally, if it is such a good idea, and is going to work well, so that ‘businesses flock to it’, there is absolutely no reason to make it compulsory.

 

  1. In a free society, businesses should have the discretion to run their own affairs as they see fit.  The proposals extend the historic system of annual filing to filing 5 income tax returns per year.  This is not ‘liberating’, it is adding extra commercial pressure and cost.

 

  1. The Federation of Small Business puts the costs at 10 times the HMRC estimate.  For bigger businesses the extra costs may be more.  As one provider put it, even the cost of a training seminar may well exceed FSB estimate.

 

  1. These costs would just be a burden if the system was compulsory with ‘sanctions’, as proposed.  If there was a benefit, which added to efficiency businesses would (and should) pay for appropriate software at market price.  No need for Government interference.

 

  1. On this theme, which bit of the equation:-

Government + Big Computer Idea = Cost Effective Happiness

has even been proven true?

 

  1. HMRC say that the Making Tax Digital programme will not save them material costs.  If the benefits therefore ensue to business, should they not be given the choice?

 

  1. There should be no sanctions if they decide their current systems are adequate, or perhaps even better than the HMRC ‘private licensing’ proposals?

 

  1. Everyone should be equal before the law.  Self-employed tax payers already suffer extra burdens in that they are more often called upon to file annual tax returns.  To make it 5 returns per annum is unfair and oppressive, especially if the stress of potential sanctions is imposed.

 

  1. Businesses are already obliged to maintain and produce adequate records to prepare relevant annual returns.  Understandably most view it as an unprofitable burden, accepted as part of the benefit of being a citizen of a democracy such as the UK.  Politicians should recognise though that the equation and relationship are each fragile and based on mutual trust.  To multiply by 5 the burden risks suggesting a taxpayer is untrustworthy and (with sanctions) ought to be punished for errors in compliance.  This is not a route to encourage the levels of voluntary compliance that the UK has been fortunate enough to experience historically.

 

  1. Recent case law on ‘reasonable excuse’ highlights the lack of HMRC sympathy and understanding on the pressures imposed by tax compliance, so would not seem to be adequate protection.

 

  1. In any event, this is starting from the wrong perspective.  Individuals and businesses should be free to act as they see fit to benefit the economy as a whole.  They should not be restricted by regulation to act in accordance with Government dictat, unless the action they propose is harmful.  There is already an obligation on business to keep adequate records.  This should include the freedom to keep them in accordance with specific, tailored business requirements, suitably for the business concerned, rather than following a generic algorithm designed by someone with no knowledge/interest in the particular business.  Surely it is patently obvious such freedom must be better for the UK economy as a whole.

 

  1. To suggest that a single ‘app’ can successfully organise management accounts from every business from baking creak cakes to running a portfolio of investment properties is too bizarre to be believable.  Any accountant will tell you the key profit indicators are going to be different.  The business software market can respond, as appropriate, but buying a government approved Trebant (historic reference) will only end in tears.

 

  1. Distorting the business software market by imposing ‘Government Requirements’ is providing anti free market protection for the software houses concerned.  This must be unfair and an inappropriate use of Government power.  Why?  Would this not be illegal under EU rules whilst we are still a member, pending finalisation of Brexit?

 

  1. In a secular, capitalist society, why can there be an exemption for ‘religion’.  Why not allow a simple commercial decision: ‘This adds cost, stress and burden for (no) business benefit.  I choose (or choose not) not to do it’?  That would allow those believing in Making Tax Digital to move ahead, without distorting the rest of the crucial, small business economy.

 

  1. The benefit claimed by HMRC is that small businesses would keep better records.  Some small business have poor records, it is true, but they tend to be at the bottom end of the spectrum.  As businesses grow, especially when they take on staff, record keeping becomes more important.  To state the obvious, losing a cash receipt when it goes to a pilfering employee costs 100% of the receipt.  This is undesirable for the business!  Compare to saving 20% on income tax?  Bigger business have controls.  Bigger businesses tend (by definition) to make more profits, so the ‘tax saving’ by imposing MTD is I suspect mythical.

 

  1. In any event, to put it into context Tesco recently paid £108m to avoid being prosecuted for financial fraud, plus more again in compensation.  How many window cleaners taking the odd tenner in cash would that amount to?  Compulsory MTD looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and so, in the way of many such initiatives has the appearance of overzealous behaviour by the State for little/no benefit.

 

  1. There may well be an argument to say that the idea is discriminatory in that it prejudices:-

a) Entrepreneurs who do not have English as their first language.

b) Those self-employed with learning difficulties etc., who may well earn a decent living with a ‘hands on’ a labouring job making them proud and independent, but would find quarterly reporting unfairly daunting.  Should they be forced on to Government benefits?  To what end?

c) Entrepreneurs who do not trust electronic intercourse for financial transactions.

 

  1. With regard to the latter HMRC have been somewhat patronising about ‘elderly’ taxpayers.  It is age discrimination in itself?  They have then pointed out that such people often use mobile telephones etc.  True, but there is a huge difference between making a telephone call and engaging with third party electronic transactions which may not be totally secure.

 

  1. The internet is inherently insecure as has been proven by a series of hacks into various Government and Business computer systems.  The NHS was recently severely disrupted by ‘relatively unsophisticated’ hackers.  The CIA has been hacked – despite (presumably) top quality security and operating protocols.  Why would any nation therefore risk putting much of its economic output on to a single system, which is also going to have the ability to demand money?  Do you think the odd criminal or foreign Government might fancy the ability to have even just a day of receipts (I’ll take 31 January, please)?

 

  1. The underlying ethos is that ‘Digital’ is the best.  It is new.  It is the way forward for the future.

 

Fine; then let it compete in the Market Place.  If it is good then there is absolutely no need to make it compulsory and penalise those who trundle along behind.

 

‘Digital’ is best [as a hypothesis].  Prove it by not requiring sanctions.  Freedom for taxpayers to choose.  Yes, comply with the law to submit annual returns but no to 5 times that obligation.  (Choice for business to focus on their own key profit indicators – not arbitrary rules set by centralised dictat.  If we were customers we would have gone elsewhere!]

 

  1. The proposed exemptions for MTD are noted.

 

There is a religious exemption.  How do HMRC intend to ‘police’ claims under that heading.  In this context I note the firm swearing by Elizabeth I on her Coronation, that the State should have ‘no desire to make windows into men’s souls’.

 

What is to happen if someone claims the exemption?

Making Tax Dysfunctional

Those Impossible Situations – A Fair Tax System?

HMRC have over recent years spent a fortune on “Management Consultants”.  Consultants preaching efficiency often talk about an 80:20 rule, pointing out that the majority of “profits” come from the “best” customers.  Great, if you are a focused, private sector profit generator.  What though if you are a Government body, which surely ought to be run by Civil Servants trained to treat all citizens equally?  We are not “customers”, despite HMRC Newspeak.  As a Firm we tend to deal with taxpayer exceptions and unusual situations, so understand that not everyone is “average”.  We believe that the tax system should cater for those who, for whatever reason, do not fit within the “normal” generality.

We are keen that the tax system should be administered fairly, in accordance with the law.

A current fear is that the present HMRC focus on penalties, with much greater fines than in the past, may result in unfairness.  The current system may result in a breakdown of trust.  Currently, it is common place for there to be greater penalties for innocent arithmetic errors in tax computations, compared to deliberate theft, say in terms of shoplifting, which apparently is below the police threshold in most cases.  Current treatment appears bias against the small business or individual taxpayer.

Here is a ‘hypothetical’ situation to consider:

  • A UK resident taxpayer leaves UK part way through year to take up a new job abroad

  • Technically, having been resident at the start of the tax year, he would be resident for the whole of it, but his new job contract means he can expect to meet the conditions for “split-year treatment” for full-time work abroad. This means he is treated as non-resident from the date he leaves the UK.  This would be common sense in most peoples’ view, not tax avoidance.  Practically, in such a situation, it also means he does not write to tell HMRC about his overseas employment.  He pays tax to the local country where he lives and works.

  • However, to get the split year UK treatment, the rules require that the taxpayer be non-UK resident in the following tax year too, by virtue of work abroad. Of course, the happy recipient of the new job offer expects to meet this, because he is going to be working abroad and intends this to continue.

  • Suppose though, for whatever reason; say, illness/ sickness/ redundancy/ war/ sheer misery at the job not being what was promised, the taxpayer returns to the UK after some months. As a result therefore, he becomes UK resident again.  Not only does this affect his tax residence status for the year of return, it also means he fails to meet the conditions for non-residence for the preceding year.

  • As a result of this, the worker is now taxable on all worldwide income for the whole of the previous tax year as well.

  • Technically, HMRC may then argue for late notification and issue penalties, even though the individual involved acted perfectly properly, in terms of his anticipated and existing circumstances at the relevant times for notifying HMRC. The required dates altered after the event, because of changed circumstances!

  • HMRC may say “They may not take the point.” With respect, that is not the principle at stake.  Ordinary, innocent actions should not be subject to a potential fine, which may [or may not] be released by State discretion.   That is not the Rule of Law, but the empowerment of bureaucrats, with obvious dangers of corrupt dealing.  We are not suggesting HMRC are corrupt, but experience with history and other jurisdictions makes the risk…kind of obvious!

We would be interested to hear people’s thoughts on how a fair tax system can potentially impose a punitive penalty on ordinary law-abiding citizens for being as “morally suspect” as to get unexpected illness?

Practical experience and thoughts on the principles welcome!

The Result is in …..

We have opened the right envelope!

Congratulations and thank you for all who correctly entered our ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ Quiz.  Eaves and Co are pleased to announce that the winner is Catherine Rogers of Ashford Rainham Ltd.  David Stebbings recently handed over her prize.

 

IMG_20170217_154204 (1)

For completeness here are the answers:-

 

The name Santa Claus evolved from Sinter Klass, a nickname for Saint Nicholas. What language is Sinter Klaas? Dutch

 

What fruit is traditionally used to make a ‘Christingle’?  Orange

 

Who ‘Rattle and Hum’ along to Angel of Harlem?  U2

 

Which carol is about a 19th Century Duke of Bohemia? Good King Wenceslas

 

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is the first line from which literary classic by Louisa May Alcott? Little Women

 

Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is a territory of which country? Australia

 

In the song ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, how many swans were a-swimming? Seven

 

The North Pole, said to be Santa’s home, is located in which ocean? Arctic Ocean

 

The name of which of Santa’s reindeer means ‘Thunder’? Donner

 

Marzipan is made mainly from sugar and the flour or meal of which nut? Almond

 

Which traditional Christmas plant was once so revered by early Britons that it had to be cut with a golden sickle? Mistletoe

 

Who was Jacob Marley’s business partner?  Scrooge

 

The initial of each answer spells out DOUGLAS ADAMS.  The quote attributed to him on our website is ‘I’m spending a year dead for tax reasons’.

We are not, so look forward working with you again this year.  Remember the new tax year starts on 6 April.

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?

Open letter to John Pugh MP, House of Commons

UPDATE:  Please See Below for Response from Mr Pugh MP

Dear John,

We have met before some years ago to discuss tax and the financial situation generally.

I realise you are no longer in power, but I would draw your attention to two of the consultations released by HMRC over the Summer with the following comments:

Strengthening Tax Avoidance Sanctions [HMRC 17 August 2016]

1. I fear the proposals put forward by HMRC are disproportionate, ill-defined, with a gap of potentially years between the behaviour HMRC allege they have a problem with and ‘punishment’. Further the proposed punishment would not necessarily fall on the person who may benefit from the behaviour, which encompasses ‘any agreement, understanding, scheme, transaction or series of transactions (whether or not legally enforceable)’ but, it is proposed by HMRC, would be imposed on an independent advisor.

2. Tax rules are incredibly complicated. Surely it is not in the public interest to discourage a market for independent, professional advice?

3. The above definition would seem to encompass every commercial action, unless I am mistaken? Can you think of anything not caught in the proposed rules. Thus, under these proposals, every commercial action appears to be within the scope, if (probably many years later litigation finds they have been caught by a technicality). This means what amounts to an offence would only be determined ‘ex post facto’? Surely, wrong in principle, constitutionally. How can any responsible person act professionally and be sure they are compliant?

4. The proposal from HMRC is that an advisor would have a defence if they followed the opinion of HMRC(!) How is that ‘independent advice’? What about the occasions when HMRC are proven wrong by the Courts?

5. In addition to the proposed penalties being wrong in principle, the level suggested is such that an individual advisor could be made bankrupt and thus losing their professional membership and livelihood without actually performing nor even suggesting any action with illegal intent. Surely, this is disproportionate?

The HMRC consultative document actually says that it does not expect those devising what they see as ‘artificial schemes’ to be caught by the penalties. Apparently they ate typically companies based offshore. Is it fair to punish UK professionals when the authorities believe that the true problems lie elsewhere?

Conclusion

It seems to me to be a much simpler and more equitable system to be to allow a ‘reasonable defence’ for both taxpayers and advisors that they had received/given independent advice (with appropriate professional qualification/experience) without that advice being in any way compromised by being rewarded as to results.

If desired, this could be combined with professional rules to prohibit fees being linked to outcome. That way there would be no incentive to bias any advice towards ‘aggressive’ behaviour.

Making Tax Digital

This sounds as though it might be a good idea. Certainly, it has some sound points in terms of efficiency. However, there is an underlying principle of compulsion which is disturbing, especially when the computer systems referred to do not yet seem to exist, have not been fully tested, and seem to anticipate that all businesses will have to pay for them.

Points

a) A big concern is the idea that businesses will have to file every 3 months in ‘real time’. The current requirement is that businesses have to file an annual return within 10 months of the year end. The new proposal represents an enormous extra burden, which in practice would fall particularly hard on small businesses many of whom are currently not even aware of the consultation.

b) As an accountant, I would generally encourage keeping good management accounts. This though should not be compulsory, nor be State monitored. The idea seems to come from someone with no empathy for the pressures on running a small business. No lack of work/sickness benefits for the owner, etc. etc. Compulsion on this scale would have to cover such items as:-

  1. Serious business disruption through unanticipated economic events
  2. Illness, death of a parent/spouse/child.
  3. Emotional/financial impact of divorce.
  4. Internal commercial problems, such as management disputes, employee problems, fraud etc.

These are serious issues which can hit everyone, and create further potential for subjective interpretation and ultimately undesirable court cases. HMRC suggest the 3 month filings may not be used for anything as this stage. If so, why impose an unnecessary burden?

There are a number of points of detail which need to be addressed, but fundamentally, with such huge powers on their side already I do not believe HMRC are short of powers. Giving arbitrary powers such as suggested would be counter-productive. Not everyone has access to/is comfortable with a computer, perhaps especially the elderly. Suggesting family help may seem good as a ‘sound-bite’, but then how much family tension/concern may it give rise to, particularly in cases where family finances are a sore subject?

I realise some of the points above are probably somewhat deliberately provocative. I believe the process though is important. Key issues as far as I am concerned is that the proposals are too vague to enable honest compliance and in addition risk stilting economic progress by imposing State burdens for no benefit and (according to the HMRC commentary on the 3 month reporting) to no required end.

I look forward to your considered reply.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Eaves

cc Consultation body

Response from John Pugh MP:

“Dear Paul,

Thank you for your email regarding the two recent consultations launched by HMRC.

The proposals on strengthening tax avoidance do seem broad and vague. It appears that the punishment for avoidance would fall not on the person who is benefitting from tax avoidance but on those who facilitate it. Moreover, the Government is not at all specific on what constitutes avoidance. I hope that the Government’s response to the consultation will define what constitutes facilitating tax avoidance more clearly in order to give firms such as yours better guidance on how the law will change.

On quarterly reporting, I have had a number of Southport businesses and accountancy firms contact me in recent weeks who are concerned about the increased administrative burden this will have on them. They are also worried about reporting their accounts incorrectly under this new system.

I accept that quarterly reporting may make it easier for HMRC to identify accounting errors, ensuring that businesses pay the taxes they owe. However, I do not think that the benefits it provides are enough to justify the extra administrative burden it places on companies, independent of the requirement to keep records digitally. It seems to run against the Government’s stated aim of “putting people and profit, not paperwork, first”.

The Government must ensure that companies pay the tax they owe, but their approach must recognise two things. First, it must minimise the additional burden placed on businesses. Second, the enforcement of new regulations should not be a cash cow for HMRC.

Because of the large number of companies who have contacted me on this issue, I will be raising my concerns with the Minister in the next few weeks, and I will let you know what response I receive.

Many thanks and best wishes,

John”

Thank you for your response.

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.