A recent case on trading losses could have implications going forward as it was found that, in the specific circumstances, losses from an acquired trade could be used against profits from the existing trade.

The case in question, Leekes Ltd v HMRC (TC4298), was heard by the First-Tier Tribunal.

Leekes Ltd previously owned four department stores and purchased Coles, a company with three furniture stores as well as warehousing facilities.  Coles had been loss making for a number of years. The Coles trade was hived up to Leekes Ltd and the stores were all rebranded as Leekes stores; however the former Coles stores continue to sell furniture predominantly.

Leekes claimed the brought forward losses incurred by the Coles business against the profits of the combined business for the year to 31 March 2010, which was the first following the acquisition.

HMRC argued that the losses incurred in the Coles business could be used only against future profits from that business, and could not be used against the previous Leekes business.

It was common ground between the company and HMRC that Leekes Ltd succeeded to the trade of Coles Ltd and that the trade consisted of the running of out of town department stores.

The issue at stake was therefore whether Leekes could relieve trading losses incurred by Coles before the succession against the profits of the combined trade after the succession by virtue of the provisions of ICTA 1988, s. 343(3).  Interestingly, HMRC agreed that ICTA 1988, s. 343(8) did not apply in this case.  Section 343(8) deals with situations in which there has been a succession to something different than the trade of the successor company, but in that case specifically requires that losses are kept separate.

Section 343(3) stated that ‘the successor shall be entitled to relief under s. 393(1) as for a loss sustained by the successor in carrying on the trade, for any amount which the predecessor would have been entitled to relief had it continued to carry on the trade.’

The legislation did not make it clear whether it was necessary to stream the losses as it was not clear whether the “trade” referred to was the post or pre-acquisition trade.

The First-tier tribunal found in favour of the taxpayer company, concluding that the Colesʼ trade losses were relievable against future profits of the combined post-acquisition trade for three main reasons:

1. There was no explicit reference to a requirement to stream losses in s. 343(1) and (3), unlike those of s. 343(8) where there is such a specific.

2. That requiring the company to stream losses would involve extensive practical difficulties in application.

3. That such an approach to the legislation is more closely aligned to commercial reality.

This ruling may help to give greater clarity to taxpayers on the treatment of such losses.  As was admitted in the case, the legislation itself is fairly vague and therefore the decision should be useful. It is possible that HMRC may seek to appeal or look to rewrite the legislation to achieve HMRCʼs preferred interpretation.

It should also be noted that ICTA 1988, s. 343(3) is re-written at CTA 2010, s. 944 but the substance of the rules appears to be unchanged in the process.

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.