How HMRC keeps a watchful eye

Mark Lee's recent article on clients querying tax schemes is very timely, as HMRC continues to turn the screw on offshore evasion in collaboration with US and Australian tax administrations.

The tax authorities are currently sifting through a mountain of data on offshore tax evasion data. But we should not be surprised at the increase in activity against these tax schemes, as the Revenue had pre-warned us about the strategy in in its December 2012 paper,  Lifting the Lid on Tax Avoidance Schemes.

It described proposals for improving the information available to taxpayers about such schemes and the risks of using them. However, what it really meant was that...

Continued...

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Comments

Yet more confusion of avoidance and evasion?    1 thanks

Tomazaan | | Permalink

This is an interesting article and I welcome HMRC's increasing ability and willingness to track down those who are not paying the tax that they should.  However I wonder if it contains deliberate(?) muddle between avoidance and evasion?  For example:

"So far the anti-avoidance departments have concentrated on the easiest targets. Several individuals were caught out after appearing on the Channel 4 television programme 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' having spent thousands of pounds on lavish family weddings. HMRC queried how could they afford it and of course they could not."

Surely this is indicative of evasion, not avoidance?

Connect seems a great bit of software    2 thanks

hiu612 | | Permalink

As frustrating as the outcome can be, when HMRC open an enquiry with the outcome seemingly already in hand, and the client caught bang to rights, its hard not to be quietly impressed with the computer system and to see HMRC finally using technology to fuel a joined up, targetted and risk based approach to its activities. It must be set to become the biggest 'encouragement' to accurately declare tax liabilities since self assessment was first introduced. As for the "Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" angle, i've never fully understood why Danny Dyer's Deadliest Men, and co, are able to brazenly strut about on Channel 4 documentaries free from recrimination. I wonder if the "Gypsy" targets declared the earnings from Channel 4 for allowing themselves to be filmed?

Connect seems a great bit of software

hiu612 | | Permalink

As frustrating as the outcome can be, when HMRC open an enquiry with the outcome seemingly already in hand, and the client caught bang to rights, its hard not to be quietly impressed with the computer system and to see HMRC finally using technology to fuel a joined up, targetted and risk based approach to its activities. It must be set to become the biggest 'encouragement' to accurately declare tax liabilities since self assessment was first introduced. As for the "Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" angle, i've never fully understood why Danny Dyer's Deadliest Men, and co, are able to brazenly strut about on Channel 4 documentaries free from recrimination. I wonder if the "Gypsy" targets declared the earnings from Channel 4 for allowing themselves to be filmed?

No enforcement?    2 thanks

The Black Knight | | Permalink

They might know, but where's the enforcement?

Big fat gypsy weeding? no one noticed the Porsches and the Range Rovers then or perhaps they were just stolen?

Where is the POCA in these cases surely they can just confiscate cars and cash until a demonstration of where it came from is provided.

HMRC should be milking it big time.....COP9.....prosecution

but they are not are they.

 

Also agree with avoidance / evasion confusion  comment above.

Can we please keep the two subjects separate? They are different issues after all?

"Evoidance"    1 thanks

mikewhit | | Permalink

In fact, one of the editors could do worse than trawl through the site on a quiet Friday afternoon, with Google, checking occurrences of the two terms for correct usage.

Martin Lewis suggested there R 3 Tax actions: Plan, Avoid, Evade    2 thanks

dstickl | | Permalink

The Black Knight wrote:

...  Also agree with avoidance / evasion confusion  comment above.

Can we please keep the two subjects separate? They are different issues after all?

 Better still - as Martin Lewis very recently suggested on a TV 'money' prog - there are three possible - but some illegal - Tax actions [Plan, Avoid, Evade].  

So can we at AWEB please set an example, by keeping the following THREE (3) subjects separate, for clarity of thought and concomitant professional discourse: 

(1) Tax Planning - encouraged by the laws enacted by democratically elected Government/s, etc; e.g. ISAs, etc, are legitimately legal. [What good accountants do]

(2) Tax Avoidance - discouraged by democratically elected Government, etc, and perhaps specifically contrary to law/s already enacted too; e.g. artificial & complex transactions/schemes such as very detailed [e.g. via a multitude of companies and/or structures], but often secret, 'non representative'  transfer pricing activities, etc, that seem to fail to adequately reflect the commercial reality. [In My Honest Opinion: some mischievous MPs/lawyers/etc abuse and confuse the "mass" debate, by apparently attempting to assert that ALL so-called 'tax avoidance activities' are "legal" - apparently on grounds that same have not yet been proved contrary to law by court]

(3) Tax Evasion - i.e. fraud/theft/lies, contrary to the law/s passed by democratically elected Government, some of which may not yet seem to be enforced by HMRC etc. 

Agreed ? 

3 is clear.

Sperethiel | | Permalink

3 is clear.

1&2 are indistinguishable.  Certainly the PAC seem to be of the opinion that anything to reduce liabilities is 2 (note comments on patent boxes).

There is no means to determine what is "approved" and what is not without being psychic.  And, more importantly, not psychic as to what parliament was thinking but as to what an appointed (i.e. not democratically elected) judge thinks parliament was thinking.  (Frankly, I take the view that parliament thinking would have been unlikely, but...)

Britain is a common law jurisdiction, which, as I understand it, means that anything that is not proscribed is legal (cf a civil law jurisdiction - such as most of Europe - which prescribes what is legal.

S

 

agreed    2 thanks

The Black Knight | | Permalink

1&2 are distinguishable, avoidance is now a dirty word but using its' meaning today it is important to notice that it is contrived and artificial and only done for the avoidance of tax (hello Ramsay) the steps of which go round in a circle?

This is not the same as structuring your affairs in a tax efficient manner.

There possibly needs to be a culture change on this side of the fence too?

Tax laws used to serve a purpose....to help pensioners....help the self employed entreprenuer who was risking his house and providing capital etc etc etc. Dare I say it selfishly to grow the economy.

It wasn't to sell more bicycles or free lunches, and it wasn't just a method of financing a baby factory and free housing and ridiculous pensions for labour voters and other government layabouts.

Unfortunately HMRC didn't go to the doctor (tribunal) when they first noticed the lump and now it's a bloody big terminal cancer.

Not agreed

Tomazaan | | Permalink

Please, please, please remember that tax avoidance is LEGAL.  It may not have the desired tax outcome but that is totally different from saying that it is ILLEGAL.  You may not approve of tax avoidance or you may approve of some strategies but not others.  That is a matter of opinion and I expect that there are as many different opinions as there are practitioners.

In my view there is:

(1) Tax avoidance - legal, but possible not acceptable and maybe not tax effective

(2) Tax evasion - illegal, totally unacceptable and never tax effective.

ISAs, pension contributions are examples of tax avoidance.  They may be blessed by Parliament but it does not stop them from being ways in which you can reduce the amount of tax that you pay.

 

avoidance

The Black Knight | | Permalink

Pensions and ISA's are not avoidance they are just claiming tax relief?

next you will be saying that claiming tax relief on expenses is avoidance?

 

mydoghasfleas's picture

It is 3

mydoghasfleas | | Permalink

I agree with Black Knight. There is a strong distinction.  I discuss with clients using pensions, VCT, EIS, property capital allowances, incorporating companies, LLPs, timing dividends, timing capital expenditure.  All of these are with an eye to reducing tax.  If I am doing that I am assisting them in avoiding paying a higher amount.  Legal, possible, totally acceptable avoidance

I have clients who participate in BPRA schemes, which, in my view, is state sponsored avoidance; the legislation approves 100% initial allowance against income tax on capital expenditure on building renovation.  The capital allowances cause a loss and that loss can go sideways.  The client has taken £100,000 worth of property and received £80,000 allowances.  When he sells his CGT base cost is still £100,000 if there is a profit but the capital allowances are not subject to a balancing charge and he has walked away with his income tax liability reduced by £36,000.  He suffers no loss on his capital asset but has used a scheme to reduce the liability by £36,000.  This is clearly what the legislation envisaged.  Legal, possible, encouraged by legislation avoidance.

Then there are the elaborate schemes, generating losses, making income disappear, converting it to capital and other connived structures.  Legal, perhaps possible, exploitative if successful.

The first is clearly tax planning, so, probably, is the second.  The third is capital A avoidance.

As regards multinationals with transfer pricing, thin capitalisation and the ilk, I doubt you could comfortably fit them in the above definitions because there is all the moralisation that clouds judgment.

With the HMRC software it's about time HMRC had something that worked though I doubt it should get any kudos for obtaining it.  HMRC makes so many IT decisions, many of them bad, inevitably it must occasionally get one right.  Tomazaan is right, this software is surely suited to evasion detection rather than avoidance targetting and muddies the border.

 

To say tax avoidance and tax    2 thanks

nathan666 | | Permalink

To say tax avoidance and tax planning is completely indistinguishable is just putting your fingers in your ears and saying i'm not listening. If you can't distinguish it is because you don't want to.

Whilst I admit there are grey areas, there are also clearly Black and White areas to. It doesn't take much intelligence or moral fibre to work out what is what.

 

 

 

Scrap Corporation Tax    1 thanks

Dutchnick | | Permalink

Firstly there is some real twaddle being peddled by the politicians, I would ask them what they have done personally to pay more tax! (not expecting too many replies!)

I was wondering what the effect of scrapping Corporation Tax would be? It brings in about 5.7% of total UK tax take as I understand it but if you are smart it is almost an elective tax (ask Google, Starbucks etc) and anyway in the end it is paid to someone who pays tax in their income. In scrapping CT all the tax havens at a stroke would perish, they would love that! Could the UK authorities then have a straight 1% turnover/capital tax or a hefty Company return/registration fee? As every company in the world would move to the UK have we got enough people to handle it all? Think of the jobs. Just a thought – answers on a postcard please......

 

 

A bit of popular codology    1 thanks

Donald6000 | | Permalink

Thanks again to HMRC - "We will make it look as if we are doing something" - prize circus performance.

They would be better off pondering on how £18TN of global monies has been secreted into various tax havens and no doubt a large amount of criminally evaded taxation within that lavish total. They would be better off pondering on how to get hold of some of that money, which would solve the fiscal deficit of most of the civilised world.

Big Fat Gipsy Wedding looks like small fry compared with what's really going on.

 

Tax planning

arnold28 | | Permalink

dstickl]</p> <p>[quote=The Black Knight wrote:

(1) Tax Planning - encouraged by the laws enacted by democratically elected Government/s, etc; e.g. ISAs, etc, are legitimately legal. [What good accountants do]

 

Yet back in January Goldman Sachs had to backtrack on their simple idea to delay bonuses until after April 5th when tax rates went down to 45%, as reported in the FT -  

"In the face of withering criticism Goldman Sachs has abandoned a plan which would have allowed bankers to benefit from a cut in the top rate of income tax by delaying UK bonus payments until after the new UK tax year.

The Wall Street bank decided at a board meeting on Tuesday not to press ahead with the proposal after the governor of the Bank of England attacked the proposal."

 

 

they didn't have to do anything

The Black Knight | | Permalink

arnold28]</p> <p>[quote=dstickl wrote:

The Black Knight wrote:

(1) Tax Planning - encouraged by the laws enacted by democratically elected Government/s, etc; e.g. ISAs, etc, are legitimately legal. [What good accountants do]

 

Yet back in January Goldman Sachs had to backtrack on their simple idea to delay bonuses until after April 5th when tax rates went down to 45%, as reported in the FT -  

"In the face of withering criticism Goldman Sachs has abandoned a plan which would have allowed bankers to benefit from a cut in the top rate of income tax by delaying UK bonus payments until after the new UK tax year.

The Wall Street bank decided at a board meeting on Tuesday not to press ahead with the proposal after the governor of the Bank of England attacked the proposal."

 

 

this is just sensible tax planning...hardly avoidance is it.

They may have been bullied into paying more tax than they ought (or their employees were)...but that is not the law.

what business does not time its expenditure?

and certainly not in the same league as offshore trust dabbling, or umbrella companies for that matter, or loan cleansing.

all of this stems from a lack of understanding....who would want this governor in charge of our finances? sounds a complete buffoon?

 

It's a great pity ....

Campbell Grant | | Permalink

that HMRC's 'main' computer system (costing how much?) is not as smart as the £45m Connect system is reckoned to be.

It's a great pity that the 'main' system is seemingly incapable of aggregating various sources of taxpayers' incomes (despite online filing schemes) and then not being to timely calculate any under/over payment of tax  

 

 

 

 

 

HMRC IT

mikewhit | | Permalink

Well they cannot even use declared SATR income as input to Tax Credits income declaration ... and want people to repay TC, due to them not being notified about change in circumstances - when the Left Hand already has all the data !

Plan, Avoid, Evade

Wayne Pulman | | Permalink

Point 2 says that tax avoidance activities are apparently legal on the basis that they have not been proved contrary to law by court. Last time I checked the basis of our legal sytem was innocent until proven guilty. I would suggest therefore that the MPs/Lawyers/ etc are, on this occasion, entirely correct.

Also the view that "good accountants" just do (1).

Interesting take on what constitutes "good".

 

 

The term "good" is used in (1) in the sense that such accountant

dstickl | | Permalink

Wayne Pulman wrote:

... Also the view that "good accountants" just do (1).

Interesting take on what constitutes "good".

 The term "good" is used in (1) in the sense that such accountants keep their clients on the straight and narrow, i.e. out of the proverbial "ESS HAITCH ONE TEE", etc.   These "1st class" accountants are attractive to risk averse people who want to preserve their money with some measure of certainty.

"Mischievous" is the adjective I'd use to describe the "2nd class" accountants in (2), because they assert / claim that their work is legal - perhaps on a racy / assumptive basis - whilst their clients run the risk that it may not be legal, and such clients would have to stand the concomitant costs/consequences.   This is a bit like building and selling a car that can exceed the speed limit - and claiming it's always legal - whilst the client may or may not be caught as breaking the law (by a court), if same was actually exceeding the speed limit as observed by an independent observer (e.g."God").   These "2nd class" accountants are attractive to risk seeking clients, who believe that high risk always leads to high reward, whilst forgetting the "handcuffs, etc" possibility. 

"Criminal" is the adjective I'd use to to describe the "3rd class" accountants in (3). 

Agreed

Again not agreed

Tomazaan | | Permalink

There is a difference between a tax scheme not being effective and a tax scheme being illegal.

The accountants in (2) may be "Michievous" but if what they are doing is advising on schemes, then presumably they will be asserting that the scheme is EFFECTIVE ie will achieve its aims.  The scheme may not be effective but this does not mean that the scheme is illegal. 

What may be illegal is to tell someone that a scheme will be effective when that is not certain.  However that does not mean that the scheme itself is illegal. 

Being moral about tax avoidance/ tax planning is a slippery slope.  In my view John Mills (who is reported to have avoided £1.5 million in tax because he gave shares to the Labour Party rather than post tax earned income) was sensible (even if I don't support his political affiliation).  Yet even this straight forward so-called "tax avoidance scheme" is deemed to be outrageous by some. 

 

 

cima insists on a code of ethics 4 professional accountants ...    1 thanks

dstickl | | Permalink

Tomazaan wrote:

There is a difference between a tax scheme not being effective and a tax scheme being illegal.

The accountants in (2) may be "Michievous" but if what they are doing is advising on schemes, then presumably they will be asserting that the scheme is EFFECTIVE ie will achieve its aims.  The scheme may not be effective but this does not mean that the scheme is illegal. 

What may be illegal is to tell someone that a scheme will be effective when that is not certain.  However that does not mean that the scheme itself is illegal. 

Being moral about tax avoidance/ tax planning is a slippery slope.  ... 

Sorry, but cima asks that I comply with a code of ethics for professional accountants: 

http://www.cimaglobal.com/Documents/Professional%20ethics%20docs/code%20FINAL.pdf

So as a professional, I have to publicise it, e.g. the preamble:     As Chartered Management Accountants CIMA members (and registered students) throughout the world have a duty to observe the highest standards of conduct and integrity, and to uphold the good standing and reputation of the profession.  They must also refrain from any conduct which might discredit the profession.  Members and students must have regard to these guidelines irrespective of their field of activity, of their contract of employment or of any other professional memberships they may hold. 

Items relevant to this thread inc: 100.1 , 310.2 , & the definition:   Independence is:

a) Independence of mind – the state of mind that permits the expression of a conclusion without being affected by influences that compromise professional judgment, thereby allowing an individual to act with integrity, and exercise objectivity and professional skepticism

b) Independence in appearance – the avoidance of facts and circumstances that are so significant that a reasonable and informed third party would be likely to conclude, weighing all the specific facts and circumstances, that a firm’s, or a member of the audit or assurance team’s, integrity, objectivity or professional skepticism has been compromised. 

What I find very puzzling is that some AWEB readers appear to me to try to attempt to suggest that such a code of ethics is unrealistic for professional accountants !

Equally, I'm very puzzled by a report in The Times, of Thursday 6 June 2013, page 3, column 1, entitled "Accountant's job is to cut bills, rules judge", by Alexi Mostrous, where paragraph 6 states:    Mr Justice Silber found that a "reasonably competent" accountant would have recognised that, as a "non dom", Mr Mehjoo was eligible for tax schemes not available to ordinary UK citizens. [Avoidance loophole to be closed? Late EDIT:  Sometime?  Never, perhaps?]

I note that paragraphs 3 to 5 of The Times report state:   Mr Mehjoo, who won asylum in the 1980s after claiming he would "get a bullet in the head" if sent back to Iran, had already tried to avoid a £850,000 tax bill on the sale of his co-owned business, Bank Fashion Ltd.   In 2005, he paid £200,000 to enter an aggressive tax avoidance scheme run by a provide called Montpelier.   But when that failed he sued his local accountancy firm, Harben Barker, for failing to give better tax planning advice.

SUM UP QUESTION: Does the above Times report suggest to any AWEB reader/s that some immigrants sometimes take an unethical advantage at the expense of those indigenous UK tax payers who actually fund public services in the UK, including the public services' costs of immigrants and asylum seekers and associated systems? 

Hard working taxpayers ...

mikewhit | | Permalink

dstickl wrote:
SUM UP QUESTION: Does the above Times report suggest to any AWEB reader that some immigrants sometimes take an unethical advantage at the expense of those indigenous UK tax payers who actually fund public services in the UK, including the public services' costs of immigrants and asylum seekers and associated systems?
What, you mean immigrants like Starbucks, Apple etc ?

Funny how HMRC likes to change the rules when it has tiny fish in a barrel (MSC, IR35 ...) but not when transfer pricing is "evoiding" billions ...

Interesting Q: immigrants like Starbucks, Apple etc ?

dstickl | | Permalink

mikewhit wrote:

dstickl wrote:
SUM UP QUESTION: Does the above Times report suggest to any AWEB reader that some immigrants sometimes take an unethical advantage at the expense of those indigenous UK tax payers who actually fund public services in the UK, including the public services' costs of immigrants and asylum seekers and associated systems?
What, you mean immigrants like Starbucks, Apple etc ?

Funny how HMRC likes to change the rules when it has tiny fish in a barrel (MSC, IR35 ...) but not when transfer pricing is "evoiding" billions ...

Interesting QUESTION:  immigrants like Starbucks, Apple etc ? 

I'm tempted to clarify: Are they appropriately resident, with identifiable local sales, appropriate local content, etc, and with that alleged local content / sales etc activities being appropriately locally taxed?           Over2U

bookmarklee's picture

Professional ethics

bookmarklee | | Permalink

@dstickl asks about the Guide to Professional Conduct for those advising on tax. In this context I believe that CIMA is also a party to the same Guide as applies to members of the other profesional accounting and tax bodies.

As regards the Times report on that case last week, I am currently writing an article for AccountingWeb that will clarify the position. Suffice it to say that the Times headline and report is, at best, misleading.

Mark 

 

 

@mark: Thanks 4 advice that U'll write RE: The Times report ...

dstickl | | Permalink

@mark: I believe that you are correct that the cima ethics code should apply mutatis mutandis to all other British professional accountants.   Perhaps some of them could confirm this, if they were to check their ethics code against the cima web link, please? 

Also, perhaps those who assert that "1&2 are indistinguishable", i.e. that "tax planning" is the same as "tax avoidance" as I set out above on Thursday 23 May, could explain if/how/in what way their assertion doesn't contradict their ethics code(s), please?

RE: report in The Times, of Thursday 6 June 2013, page 3, column 1:  Thank you also for your advice that you will clarify this court judgement soon.   REASON: I'd be glad for any sensible clarification of what IMHO seems to be an instance of where the results of so-called  "diversity policies" can allegedly be to the monetary detriment of hard working indigenous taxpayers, some of whom - and perhaps you can guess what's coming next [in accordance with my ethics code duty / definition of independence] - are e.g. worker / state pensioners who are apparently under the "IR35" threat of having to pay British employer's national insurance contributions (even though they're aged over state pension age) plus British income tax, etc ! 

Don. 

bookmarklee's picture

Don

bookmarklee | | Permalink

A few years ago I sat on the pan-professional working party that updated the Guide to Professional Conduct for those working in tax. The working party included representatives of all the major bodies and all adopted the same Guide and wording. This referenced the fundamental ethics that applies to all CCAB accountants across all areas of accountancy work.

Mark

Mark - Accountants and Ethics

Donald6000 | | Permalink

Mark, accountants and ethics? You are of course kidding. Either that or you don't think that any of us has experience of the real world. Don't insult our intelligence please.