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What’s the purpose? Clarification

A response to some criticism of one of my articles

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I would like to respond to the following post, and to some of the comments underneath it: https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/any-answers/duff-online-sdlt-advice

Normally, I don't respond to comments on my articles, whether positive or negative. However, I felt compelled to reply to this one. Not because it is critical of my article, but because of the use of unnecessarily offensive terminology such as 'garbage' and 'duff advice'.

Taking the second of those comments first, the article doesn't actually offer 'advice' as such. The sole purpose of the article was to highlight a specific exception from the 15% SDLT charge in FA 2003, Sch 4A (i.e. in respect of development or redevelopment and resale in the course of a property development trade). This exception was referred to in Forest Commercial Services Ltd v Revenue and Customs [2020] UKFTT 470 (TC).

That case was an appeal against a penalty for an error on an SDLT return, where the above exception from the 15% SDLT charge was claimed but subsequently found not to be due. One of the criticisms of my article was that I didn't mention that the case was a penalty appeal. This is true. However, the article wasn't about penalties. That is a completely different article.

Another criticism was that the exception from the 15% charge was subsequently found not to be due. This is also true. But again, the article was not about changes of intention and the reinstatement of the 15% charge. The subject matter of the article was solely the exception itself. The length of my articles in Tax Insider are restricted - in this case, to around 530 words. There was insufficient space to cover anything else.

The article states that in the Forest Commercial Services Ltd case, "a claim for exception was allowed [under the development condition] - but only just". This sentence has been criticised as being misleading, and I take the point that in isolation it possibly does. There is perhaps an over-simplification, albeit bearing in mind that the target audience for the article was non-professional taxpayers. But in the context of the case, the company's appeal would not have been allowed had the tribunal not found that the exception from the 15% charge was probably in point when the SDLT return was submitted. Once again, the purpose of the article was to highlight the existence of the exception - nothing else.

I will accept constructive criticism of my articles. But terminology such as "garbage" and "duff advice" is offensive and unnecessary. Hence this post. 

 

Replies (50)

Comments for this post are now closed.

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By Tax Dragon
27th Sep 2021 22:19

I agree with you.

I happen to think the case citation you chose added nothing to the point you were making in the article, but I don't blame you for using it. In the case, HMRC considered that the behaviour of the respondents indicated that the conditions of the relief weren't met; the tribunal disagreed. This doesn't really cast any light on the conditions. But then, your article doesn't really explain the conditions. If we accept that the article isn't intended for a professional audience, and if it points people for whom the issues raised are relevant towards taking professional advice, we can all calm down a bit.

And, as someone said, it's good to have contributors of your quality in the forum.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 06:22

Many thanks for your comments. I am grateful to you for taking the time to read my post.

As you say, my article doesn't explain the exceptions. Indeed, being constrained to 530 words doesn't lend itself well to including such detail. All I could really do was to highlight one single exception for the benefit of non-professional taxpayers, many of whom are probably unaware of its existence.

Thanks too for your comments about contributing to the forum. To be honest, I deliberately stay away. It's far too confrontational for my liking. Constructive criticism is one thing. But having someone who doesn't know me implying that I'm over the hill and should retire (much as I would like to!) really confirms that I made the right decision in staying away.

Enjoy your day.

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By AdamMurphy
28th Sep 2021 06:49

You are correct about the general tone of this forum. When last chatting to someone from a certain software company the other week, she said “AccountingWeb? Ugh. It’s Facebook for accountants”. Spot on.

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Replying to AdamMurphy:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 08:00

And, to be fair, most of the accountants here would, I suggest, be perfectly happy that someone from a certain software company has no interest in following/participating.

There are genuinely edifying threads. Look at one (a different one, obvs) started by any of the most regular contributors. Most likely, it'll be about a tax or accounting issue that is deserving of airtime. Very often, those threads are short and technical. As they should be. Sometimes regulars' threads are about mental health - and these threads (IMHO) are some of the most uplifting on here.

However, the vast majority of threads are not like that. Sift likes the ocean of dumbed down threads because they're clickbait. It's something one has to tolerate - maybe even contribute to - if one wants the forum to survive. Maybe even to thrive.

Sure, Justin's language was inappropriate. Sure, some pretty offensive comments entailed. And yes there are (IMHO again) some apologies due. Sadly, people who should apologise very often don't. Maybe they're Not Your Kind of People [see what I did there?]. But in the horrible world of internet trolling, believe me Mark, there are far far far far far worse.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By AdamMurphy
28th Sep 2021 08:03

It’s exactly like Facebook because it’s hard to find the wheat amongst the chaff on here.
Who is Mark?

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Replying to AdamMurphy:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 09:17

Yeah but there are contributors whose tax technical comments I take far more seriously than others; contributors whose accounting knowledge seems (to this non-accountant) as good as any; and contributors whose opinions (on tax/accounts technical matters) I can frankly ignore. Following the forum as much as I do enables me to discern the wheat. Contributing as much as I do enables others to know whether (and maybe when) I sow seeds of wheat - and when (most of the time, obvs) I'm spouting nonsense.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 09:07

And the only way to get just wheat, btw, would be to close contributions except to a few paid professionals.

That's a completely different forum. And almost certainly not free.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
28th Sep 2021 09:17

Winnowing being today's word.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 10:57

Sift. Clue's in the name.

Aided by the gentle breeze of legislation and the gravity of case law.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 08:09

I completely agree. Social media is often anonymous. People hide behind usernames and say things that they wouldn't put their names to. I have a Twitter account, and I've been called a "nonce", a paedophile and (believe it or not) much worse.

As you say, confrontation and conflict is clickbait. It happens on virtually every platform. This one is no different. It goes with the territory.

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By AnnAccountant
28th Sep 2021 07:29

"a claim for exception was allowed under the third bullet point above – but only just."

This line is only misleading in isolation, is it? Ok, Let me read down from there.

The next paragraph describes the fact pattern, including the facts that led to the withdrawal of the relief (the directors moving in in July 2016). Nowhere does it say that these final facts led to the withdrawal, thus leaving readers with the impression that such a fact pattern qualifies for the exception - which it does not. Indeed, the main body ends with - "FCS’s appeal was allowed." (which it was, but not on this point - ie the availability of the exception after they moved in).

This is my issue with the article and why I find it misleading.

Indeed, the whole premise of the article reads as though you are drawing readers' attention to some flexibility in the rules that might be helpful to their clients. You aren't as when these taxpayers breached the strict wording of the conditions the relief was withdrawn.

We can agree to disagree but if, even after a fresh read through the article, you genuinely cannot understand this criticism, I will have to take that into account when I see your name on anything from now on. I am a bit saddened by that, but there we go.

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Replying to AnnAccountant:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 08:26

You have completely and deliberately ignored my explanation that the sole purpose of the article was to highlight to non-professional taxpayers the existence of the exception. But please don't let that spoil your narrative.

At the end of the day, I couldn't care less what you think about me or my articles. After your insidious remarks about me being over the hill and retirement, I have no respect for you anyway. I only hope that you are a better accountant than you are a career adviser. Admittedly, that's not a very high bar. But in your case, I suspect that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

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Replying to charteredtax:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 08:46

I really did want to stay away from this thread but this last comment is deserving of a response.

If the sole purpose of the article was to highlight the existence of the relief then you could have used your 530 words far more effectively, without any need to refer to the case. Although if I were writing the article I might have referred to the case to illustrate the fact that relief can be withdrawn if circumstances change (but with the silver lining that penalties can be avoided.).

However, having read the article again and again in an effort to give you some benefit of doubt I am left only to conclude that any reader, professional or otherwise, is likely to be left with the impression that the taxpayers were able to cling on to the relief despite the later failure to meet the qualifying conditions. You can argue that is irrelevant because the purpose of the article was merely to raise awareness, but I don’t think that excuses you for leaving the reader with such a fundamental misunderstanding about the availability of the relief.

I don’t think anyone is disputing the purpose of the article. What is grating to at least some us is your steadfast refusal to acknowledge that the article is misleading.

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter to anyone here - we are able to read the case decision and therefore set aside whatever we may consider to be wrong with the article. However, if your intention is to provide a service to the layman I don’t consider if unreasonable to suggest a note of explanation/clarification.

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By AnnAccountant
28th Sep 2021 08:58

"the sole purpose of the article was to highlight to non-professional taxpayers the existence of the exception."

So you decided to (try to) achieve that purpose by writing an article that described a fact pattern that caused the exception to be withdrawn and that failed to draw this important point to the readers attention.

Got it.

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Replying to AnnAccountant:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 08:57

The tribunal considered the exception. The article highlighted the exception. That is all. But as I say, please don't let this simple point upset your narrative.

As I've said elsewhere in this post, I have no time for anonymous keyboard warriors who seem to have nothing better with their time than to try and prove how clever they are. It's 9am - perhaps try doing some chargeable work instead?

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By AnnAccountant
28th Sep 2021 09:12

I like to get up at 6. Already got about £400 of time on the clock and work to show for it. I'll probably call it a day at 12, go for a run then plant out the winter onions.

It's nice to have time and flexibility in the day and no partners taking a cut of the fees. Hopefully that is something we can agree on as self employed people.

I hope you have an enjoyable and productive day too. All the best.

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By Paul Crowley
28th Sep 2021 09:42

Quite a few people use their real names

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By SXGuy
28th Sep 2021 07:34

Unless I'm missing something (because I didn't read your article) you added the word duff to your title, so I'm surprised you're now offended when someone else uses it

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 07:43

Yes, you are missing something. I have never used slang terms like "duff" in any of my articles.

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Jason Croke
By Jason Croke
28th Sep 2021 09:34

Having written a number of articles for AccountingWeb (which I do to share knowledge, I receive no fee for my contributions), it can sometimes be difficult writing an article within a 500 word limit.

Certainly with SDLT, the nuances of the legislation, I find, make it difficult to explain everything around a case, instead I try and pick one aspect of the case and talk about that, even though there may be several other strands equally worthy of note within the case (often with SDLT cases there is more than one argument put forward by the taxpayer).

VAT articles are much easier to write because there is usually one key point in issue.

It's also about balance, dumb it down too much and nobody reads it, make it too technical and you defeat the objective of explaining something, an article that digs deeply into one paragraph of the law is boring, people will read and interpret articles in a different way in which they were intended, based on the readers knowledge and experience.

As for the SDLT article, I don't see any "advice", so can't see how it can be seen as duff advice, nor is it "garbage", that it has confused some readers is perhaps feedback for the author, but no need for such negativity and hostility.

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By Justin Bryant
28th Sep 2021 10:08

I've not read Mark's comments, but no-one is picking on him (at least not me). My point was simply that there's lots of, shall we say, substandard SDLT articles from reputable firms. I could have picked any others like this other recent one here with a whopping error (I'll leave it to you to spot it). (Also, WP is right to say there are other incorrect SDLT articles on the TaxInsider website.)

https://www.buzzacott.co.uk/news/tax-for-companies-that-own-uk-property?...

This place is a bit of a bear pit at times (which can make it interesting) and you need thick skin. I personally have been called many nasty names here over the years and I've never once reported anyone for doing that. I never called anyone a nasty name in this case. Aweb of course has more inaccurate/misleading tax information than any other website, thanks mainly to the usual suspects.

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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 10:59

FWIW, I hadn't realised that the taxpayers paid the 15% until AnnAccountant pointed it out on the other thread. It seems Dulls was even slower than me to twig this fact.

The fact that the 15% was paid may be irrelevant to the writer. Some readers (ireally among them) also appear to find this fact of no relevance. Others (me among them) would have liked it to have been made clear.

The case itself is quite fun - of little or no use to anyone, but quite fun. Thanks Mark, and thanks Justin, for bringing it to my (and our) attention.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 11:17

So you would have liked the article to make clear that something which was irrelevant to the point of the article was irrelevant?

Wouldn't that make the point irrelevant in of itself?

I could have made many other points in the article. But with a 530 word maximum, I was unable to do so.

We can go on all day long pointing out "if the article said this" or "if the article said that"...and 'if' my Uncle was a woman, he'd me my Aunt!

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Replying to charteredtax:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 11:41

That would be all very well, Mark, if the article was for your eyes only. However, it is clear that it was intended for a wider audience. My issue being that it is not obvious to the reader what the point of the article was - when writing an article, you do need to put yourself in the position of the reader and try and understand what they are going to take away from it.

"Mark McLaughlin looks at a case on an important exception ..."

Not "Mark McLaughlin looks at an important exception"

So, in looking at a case one would normally expect a discussion of all features of that case. The fact that you have chosen to discuss only those features that you consider to be relevant to your purpose of the article, which purpose is not clear at all, is the problem here. However hard you try to argue that the missing information is irrelevant to that purpose, the simple fact remains that readers are likely to go away with a mistaken impression that the taxpayers managed to avoid a 15% charge entirely.

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Replying to Wilson Philips:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 12:05

The fact that the 15% charge was ultimately incurred is completely irrelevant to the point of the article, which was to highlight the existence of the exception for taxpayers. But do please continue - don't let that one simple fact spoil your critical narrative.

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Replying to charteredtax:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 12:21

I will continue, then. The point of the article is obvious to no-one but yourself (or at least was until you attempted to explain what the point of the article is). That does not alter the very simple fact, to which you appear to be oblivious, that readers are likely to leave with the misunderstanding that the 15% charge had been avoided completely. Let's face it, the outcome of the case itself is utterly irrelevant to your sole purpose - even if the taxpayers had lost the appeal your purpose in raising awareness of the exception would have been fulfilled. So you could, as I said earlier, have used your 530-word allocation much more effectively.

You don't seem to care at all about the fact that, although the article may well have met your unstated objective, readers will nevertheless have gotten the wrong end of the stick. As a professional tax writer, that attitude does you no credit whatsoever.

And with that I'm done.

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Replying to Wilson Philips:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 12:40

"Let's face it, the outcome of the case itself is utterly irrelevant to your sole purpose"

Once again, you have deliberately ignored my previous comments. Because the tribunal affirmed that the exception was in point when the SDLT return was submitted. Had the taxpayer lost, what would have been the point in highlighting a case in which the exception didn't apply? It's an utterly absurd point you're making.

Thank you for your advice about my use of 530 words. I shall take that wealth of experience of article writing you appear to possess into account when I write my next article. Or then again, maybe not.

Goodbye!

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Replying to charteredtax:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 14:04

charteredtax wrote:
Had the taxpayer lost, what would have been the point in highlighting a case in which the exception didn't apply?

Why not? If the alleged sole purpose was to raise awareness of the exception/relief then the discussion of a case in which it did not apply because the conditions had not been met would have been just as useful. In some ways, more useful as it may have highlighted pitfalls to look out for.

There's no question that the article achieved what you apparently set out to do - raised awareness of the exception/relief. There's also no question that the narrative is very likely to mislead readers to the wrong conclusion. It is you that is deliberately ignoring that point. And in doing so ("I don't care, because it isn't relevant to the purpose of the article") leaving yourself open to deserved criticism.

I may not have a wealth of experience of article writing, but I have written several and what I do know is that if I had been asked to pen something on the exception/relief and when it would and would not apply I would have made a better and clearer job than your effort.

Goodbye, indeed.

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Replying to Wilson Philips:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 14:17

"There's also no question that the narrative is very likely to mislead readers to the wrong conclusion."

What "wrong conclusion" is that, exactly? The article doesn't call for a conclusion, because, as you have just admitted, "There's no question that the article achieved what you apparently set out to do - raised awareness of the exception/relief".

As for you writing articles better articles than me, I've never seen any of yours. Would you care to share them?

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Replying to charteredtax:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 14:46

The article may not call for a conclusion but you really are being extremely naive if you believe that readers will not draw their own conclusions from what they are reading. But you don't seem to care about that. Some of us take more pride in our work.

The "wrong conclusion" has been explained to you so many times I'm bewildered that you still have to ask - the mistaken conclusion being that the taxpayers were able to avoid a 15% charge altogether.

And I'm pretty sure that you will have read some of my work - assuming that you read Tax Adviser and Taxation.

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Replying to Wilson Philips:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 14:58

"the mistaken conclusion being that the taxpayers were able to avoid a 15% charge altogether." What relevance does that conclusion have to an article on the existence of the exception, for the benefit of taxpayers? None whatsoever.

I don't agree with you. Simple as that. You can insult me about pride in work as much as you like. The fact that you do so says much more about you than me.

Yes, I read Taxation and Tax Adviser. And no, I don't recall reading one of your articles. Hence the question.

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Replying to charteredtax:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 15:30

charteredtax wrote:
"the mistaken conclusion being that the taxpayers were able to avoid a 15% charge altogether." What relevance does that conclusion have to an article on the existence of the exception, for the benefit of taxpayers? None whatsoever.

The relevance is that the mistaken conclusion is drawn from that very article. At least most folks here are well-enough informed to realise that something was wrong with the article and to check the case decision. Most non-professional taxpayers wouldn't get past the first sentence in a judgement and are therefore inclined to rely solely on the words of the article. (Which of course begs the question as to why you thought it appropriate to reference what is quite an esoteric tax case in an article purportedly written for the benefit of the lay taxpayer.)

Not caring about what conclusions may be drawn from one's work does display, for a so-called professional, an appalling lack of pride.

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 12:04

It was just honest feedback from this reader.

If you weren't so defensive about your article (which was neither duff nor garbage), you might be able to do some winnowing of the feedback you've received - and learn therefrom.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 12:17

I don't normally defend my articles. But then I don't normally have people suggesting that I'm over the hill either!

I've taken your point on board, and the point of one or two others. But I don't necessarily agree. And I don't consider that disagreement to be defensive. I've simply tried to clarify and explain for the benefit of those who don't shoot first and ask questions later.

One point I have certainly learned from this is that my policy of steering well clear of the toxicity of the AccountingWeb Forum was definitely the right one.

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 14:28

charteredtax wrote:

So you would have liked the article to make clear that something which was irrelevant to the point of the article was irrelevant?

Yes, because I'm in practice. Knowing what happened stops me filing away as being of interest something that didn't happen - namely that a 15% charge was avoided because of an initial purpose.

charteredtax wrote:

Wouldn't that make the point irrelevant in of itself?

No.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 14:46

"Knowing what happened stops me filing away as being of interest something that didn't happen - namely that a 15% charge was avoided because of an initial purpose."

The 15% charge would have been avoided had the intention not changed. The purpose of the article was to highlight when the exception applies - not when it doesn't apply.

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Replying to charteredtax:
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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 15:33

So why choose a case where the intention changed?

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 18:27

Because it is the only case of which I am aware where the exception was considered either way.

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 18:27

Because it is the only case of which I am aware where the exception was considered either way.

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By Tax Dragon
28th Sep 2021 11:00

.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
28th Sep 2021 12:39

To be clear I tend to read very little re SDLT (for one thing we have LBTT up here, for another I am clueless).

Notwithstanding I am supportive of anyone who makes an effort to highlight anything on here, the article may or may not be clear, I am not qualified to comment, but the poster took the effort to write it and for those of us who do not write articles, who do not make the effort, we should just say thanks.

By chance I have just finished a call with the Secretary of a fishing club of which I am on the committee, one of the points during the call was my observation that members never appreciate the freely given efforts of the committee, they make mistakes, as everyone does, but they try, and that trying needs supported. Similarly , where contributors have made an effort, even if we do or do not believe their contribution was clear enough, covered all bases etc , we should give them the benefit of the doubt because they at least tried.

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By The Dullard
28th Sep 2021 14:34

This has all got a bit silly.

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Replying to The Dullard:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
28th Sep 2021 14:42

Now the Dead Parrot Sketch

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By Duggimon
28th Sep 2021 14:46

As someone with only limited knowledge/experience with SDLT, I read your article before reading your post and the rest of this thread. From it I understood that Forest Commercial Services Ltd did not have to pay the 15% SDLT rate as their intent had been to use the property as trading stock at the time.

I gather from subsequent clarifying posts that this is incorrect.

Your article is misleading. It starts with the line "Mark McLaughlin looks at a case on an important exception from the higher rate of stamp duty land tax." yet you say that's not what it's about and the case is irrelevant to the point of your article.

You mention in your first line regarding the case that it "concerned a penalty for an error in an SDLT return", but the outcome of the case is not clear. Your comment on the result was "FCS’s appeal was allowed", read together with that line, makes it somewhat ambiguous as to whether the appeal was about just the penalty levied or about the entire tax.

Those lines do not appear next to each other though, they are separated by three paragraphs, all discussing how the specific situation with FCS relates to the exemption criteria. That reduces the ambiguity in the mind of the reader leaving the heavy implication that the line "FCS’s appeal was allowed" means the exemption applied.

The result of your article is that I am now aware of the existence of the exemption, in that you have succeeded, however had I not read the responses on here, I would also be under the impression that should circumstances change and the property be put to a different use, the exemption would still apply because the intention was there at the outset. This is clearly wrong.

I have no agenda here, just offering my opinion as someone generally familiar with tax and tax articles but unfamiliar with the subject matter of your article.

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 14:51

You are dissecting and analysing a 530 word article intended to give non-professional taxpayers a general indication of the existence of an exception from the 15% charge, and nothing more.

A much longer and much more detailed article on the subject. But I didn't have that luxury. However, you are of course free to express your opinion.

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Replying to charteredtax:
By Duggimon
28th Sep 2021 15:33

Rather than dissecting and analysing, I was only trying to be clear about what I took from your article. Your article told me the exemption extends to businesses who buy a property that qualifies at the time but is later put to a different use. It does not.

It was a 530 word article that gave me an incorrect description of the exemption. If you had deleted the last 408 words of it, it would have been more correct and less misleading, I don't think the relative brevity of the article is the issue.

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Replying to Duggimon:
Psycho
By Wilson Philips
28th Sep 2021 15:53

On the contrary - I think the article would have been far better (taking into account the alleged purpose) if all but the closing paragraph had been omitted.

a) Concise and to the point
b) Unamibiguous, leaving no room for misinterpretation
c) Meeting the objective of raising awareness of an important exception

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By charteredtax
28th Sep 2021 18:31

Thank you. I note your comments.

You are entitled to your opinion. And I am entitled to disagree with it.

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Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
28th Sep 2021 18:07

If nothing else, I am impressed that this battle has managed to take part simultaneously across two threads. Bravo people!

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Tallula Brogan
By Tallula Brogan
29th Sep 2021 11:45

The moderating team has decided to close any further comments on this thread. Thank you.

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