Tax barrister denounces ‘assessment by computer program’

HM Revenue & Customs defended its transformation strategy after a tax barrister claimed that the move to a centralised administration, with liabilities assessed “according to computer program”, is detrimental to the rule of law.

My news story of March 6 for Tax Notes (paywall) is now reproduced in full with permission:

Tax Barrister Denounces ‘Assessment by Computer Program’ (PDF)

Old versions of tax law on government website – an update

Last week HM Revenue & Customs apologised for linking to some very old legislation, in a guidance note on new criminal offences, and removed the offending links. HMRC guidance at GOV.UK does not normally include statutory references, but if that is going to change there is a clear risk that the same mistake will be made again.

Legislation.gov.uk is described as “the official place of publication for newly enacted legislation”. Great care is needed in relation to older tax legislation, including some of the major consolidation Acts.

For example, go to Income Tax Act 2007 and you’ll see a prominent warning about an apparently very large number of changes that have not yet been processed.

There are also some Acts for which Legislation.gov.uk provides only the original version – for technical reasons, according to the website.

I’ve discussed this lack of progress with The National Archives. “Expert participants”, mainly from the public sector, are helping to update the legislation and have “substantially increased the resources we have available to update legislation”, a spokesperson said. Continue reading

HMRC guidance points to old tax law

You can find out about criminal offences relating to offshore income and assets in a new guidance note on HMRC’s website. But the guidance points to some very old tax law.

While HMRC guidance for taxpayers published on GOV.UK does not normally include statutory references, this guidance note has six.

At the time of writing, there are links to sections 7 and 8 of the Taxes Management Act 1970 as reproduced at Legislation.gov.uk, the “official place of publication for newly enacted legislation”.


UPDATE 22 March: HMRC has deleted the links to sections 7 and 8 and apologised for the error.


The problem is that while some progress has been made in processing changes enacted in annual finance acts, Legislation.gov.uk still presents the original versions of some of the key consolidation acts. The original TMA 1970, which turned 48 last week, is here. Continue reading

HMRC, business records checks and the tax gap

HM Revenue & Customs risks stigmatising small and medium-size enterprises unless it provides a more detailed analysis of the UK tax gap, the Chartered Institute of Taxation warned in January. A delay in publication of an HMRC review of its business records checks programme, scrapped in 2015, appears to have added weight to concerns that the tax authority has overestimated non-compliance by SMEs.

My news story for Tax Analysts ($), published on 16 January, is now reproduced in full with permission:

HMRC Risks Stigmatizing SMEs in Absence of Record Checks Report, CIOT Says (PDF)

Campaigners urge UK to press overseas territories for public registers

Tax campaigners criticised a lack of progress on setting a timeline for the UK’s overseas territories to make registers of beneficial ownership public, after a London summit failed to produce new commitments on transparency. But Theresa May is determined to pursue her predecessor David Cameron’s efforts to secure public registers, a government minister told members of Parliament.

BVI premier Orlando Smith said the annual ministerial meeting between the UK and the overseas territories, held at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on November 1 and 2, was “very cordial,” the Financial Times reported.

Christian Aid joined ActionAid and Global Witness in expressing disappointment that “the UK’s tax havens remain stubbornly resistant to following the lead on transparency set by the UK itself.”

Read more: My news story for Tax Analysts, 11 November (paywall).

‘Aggressive’ Making Tax Digital programme may backfire, UK tax bodies warn

The spirit of voluntary compliance is at stake and some tax advisers may be unable to cope with demand if the UK government continues to pursue an “unrealistic” timetable for implementing compulsory digital record keeping, according to tax professionals.

The warning came days after a senior member of Parliament told Chancellor Philip Hammond that “every effort” should be made to make the Making Tax Digital (MTD) project a pilot programme, perhaps over several years. HM Revenue & Customs told MPs that MTD will help small businesses avoid errors and reduce the tax gap.

The April 2018 timetable is “unreasonably tight,” John Cullinane, tax policy director at the Chartered Institute of Taxation, said in a press release. “There is widespread agreement that digitisation can bring efficiency and other benefits to HMRC and taxpayers alike. The government appears to be forcing the pace in the belief that requiring even very small businesses to go digital in a tight timescale will transform their record-keeping and reduce the tax gap, helping HMRC to recoup its investment in the project.”

Six consultations on MTD will close on November 7.

Read more: My news story for Tax Analysts, 4 November (paywall).

See also:

CIOT press release 3 November.

ICAEW Tax Faculty submission to APPG inquiry into “public confidence in HMRC’s capability to collect tax fairly and effectively,” 28 October.

HMRC defends strategy as high net worth unit comes under scrutiny

A special unit collecting additional tax from high net worth individuals raised £416 million during the 2015-16 tax year, but HM Revenue & Customs has not yet identified which of the unit’s approaches to compliance work are the most effective, according to a National Audit Office report.

HMRC defended its methods after some media reports focused on the NAO’s finding that, while HMRC is currently conducting formal inquiries on about one-third of HNW taxpayers, only one such taxpayer has been successfully prosecuted since the unit was formed in 2009.

Read more: My news story for Tax Analysts, 2 November (paywall).