The September finance bill: an overview

While this week’s Paradise Papers revelations have rekindled the public debate and added pressure for further action to deter tax avoidance and evasion, for many businesses and tax advisers the immediate concern is keeping on top of changes already announced.

The second finance bill of 2017 has now completed its House of Commons stages, and will be considered ­– although it cannot be amended – by the House of Lords on 15 November, just a week before the chancellor is set to deliver his autumn budget. Consultation on several measures to be included in the next finance bill closed on 25 October …

My article for AAT Comment, November 7

Consistent application of UK law under threat, Lords committee says

Experts have warned that the complexity of U.K. tax law poses a threat to lawyers’ and judges’ ability to apply it consistently, a House of Lords committee reported, a day after a government minister praised lawmakers’ rapid progress in examining the current, 665-page finance bill.

Experts have warned that the complexity of UK tax law poses a threat to lawyers’ and judges’ ability to apply it consistently, a House of Lords committee reported, a day after a government minister praised lawmakers’ rapid progress in examining the current, 665-page finance bill. The House of Lords Constitution Committee called for changes to the way legislation is developed to enable thorough parliamentary scrutiny and improve the quality of law. Legislation should be made more accessible and easier to understand for both practitioners and the public, the committee said in an October 25 release …

… Members of a public bill committee “rocketed through” the current finance bill efficiently and “in near-record time,” Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride remarked as the committee completed its examination of the bill ahead of schedule on October 24. Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, October 27 (paywall)

Preparing better legislation: Lords call for changes to law-making

Brexit bill ‘unclear in scope and effect,’ UK tax body says

The “abuse of rights” principle against artificial VAT avoidance could be removed retrospectively by the UK’s Brexit bill as currently drafted, and the apparent error illustrates how the bill goes “beyond what seems necessary” to leave the European Union, according to the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

“The government has been clear that its intention is to provide legal continuity during Brexit by copying over the entire body of EU law onto the UK’s post-exit statute book. This is a sensible aim,” said Jeremy Woolf, chair of the CIOT’s EU and human rights subcommittee, in an October 25 release. “However, as currently drafted, it appears to us that this will not be the case …” Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, October 26 (paywall)

UK chancellor urged to improve tax consultation and support investment

Tax professionals and business groups have called on the UK government to improve the tax policy consultation process and take steps to support business investment, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond prepares to deliver the autumn budget on November 22.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation said its message on consultations was simple — that the government should “consult fully before making changes to the tax system, observing closely” the tax consultation framework published in March 2011.

“Too many consultations begin when key decisions have already been made, shutting off potential better options to achieve the same goal,” the CIOT said. Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, October 10 (paywall)

UK tax experts question law firm regulator’s warning over schemes

Solicitors and law firms could face greater scrutiny over aggressive tax avoidance schemes, according to a warning notice issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but tax experts called for clarification of some aspects of the guidance.

“Like the rule of law, tax underpins the effective running of our society and economy,” said SRA chief executive Paul Philip in a September 21 release. “Solicitors play an important role in helping taxpayers meet their legal obligations. The government has been clear that the common assertion that tax avoidance is legal no longer applies.” The SRA regulates 130,000 solicitors and law firms in England and Wales …

“The strongly-worded warning contains some comments that are surprising,” the [ICAEW Tax Faculty] said. “For example it says that when advising a client on a tax avoidance scheme that fails ‘you will leave yourself open to the risk of disciplinary proceedings as well as committing a criminal offence [our emphasis].’ This appears rather sweeping and may need further clarification,” the faculty added.

Judith Freedman, professor of tax law at the University of Oxford, told Tax Analysts that the SRA notice and accompanying press release “do seem to be poorly worded in places.” Read more:

My news story for Tax Analysts, September 22 (paywall)

Tax experts criticise penalty proposals amid UK tax avoidance rhetoric

UK government proposals to penalise enablers of tax avoidance schemes could prevent some taxpayers from getting expert advice on complicated issues, according to the Chartered Institute of Taxation. The proposed penalties should be better targeted at those who deliberately seek to profit from avoidance, CIOT said in an October 12 press release.

Separately, Michael Izza, chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, has warned that politicians have unfairly singled out accountants in their criticism of professional advisers over avoidance.

Read more: My news story for Tax Analysts, October 13 (paywall).

Why do we have tax relief for losses?

Our tax code provides relief for losses so that the profits earned over the lifetime of a business are taxed once and only once. For example, a business has made trading profits of £550,000 and losses of £200,000 over five years, and has no other income. Its net profits are £350,000 and tax is paid on that amount, as shown below:

Losses

The company would be able to claim to have the loss in year 3 set first against the profit of year 2, leaving a smaller loss to carry forward, but the table shows how the carry forward of trade losses works. There are conditions, and special rules for banks and groups of companies.

Bringing forward allowable trading losses is not tax avoidance, and it is worth noting that a similar relief (with some important differences) is available to the self-employed. It is not just for companies.