Top-slicing relief frequently occurs in tax exam questions but it’s rarely encountered in real life, so many advisers don’t know how to perform the calculation. But apparently, neither does HMRC.
Case in point: HMRC’s calculations of top-slicing relief on a chargeable event gain were found wanting in a recent FTT case: Marina Silver v HMRC (TC07013).
In May 2015, Silver surrendered a life insurance bond and the insurance company issued a chargeable event certificate showing a gain of £110,721.93. The term of the bond was 21 years. Her other income in 2015/16 was £31,101.
HMRC argued (and Silver disagreed) that as her adjusted net income (for the purposes of ITA 2007 s 35) was £141,822, she was not entitled to any personal allowance. Judge Mosedale agreed with HMRC: the chargeable event gain counts as income, and if the adjusted net income exceeds £121,200 (for 2015/16) then the personal allowance is withdrawn. Every tax return software product does this.
Silver argued that she was entitled to top-slicing relief of about £22,000 under ITTOIA 2005 s 535. According to HMRC, she was only entitled to about £2,000 of top-slicing relief. The actual figures may differ slightly as the judgment does not give all the information needed to calculate them accurately.
Judge Mosedale agreed with Silver that HMRC wanted to overcharge the taxpayer by about £20,000.
Anyone who has heard Tim Good or Giles Mooney lecture (or viewed TAXtv) in the last two years will know that this is the same argument Good and Mooney have been putting forward since they realised HMRC’s error while preparing their own tax software.
Good commented: “I wasn’t getting the same answer as the Revenue software and further research led me to the conclusion that they were getting it wrong and I was getting it right. We knew this issue would probably have to go to Tribunal and I’m delighted that Barbara Mosedale has agreed with Silvers’ and my logic”.
Although the top-slicing calculations are complicated, the statutory provisions are not. As Judge Mosedale says in her judgment: “S536 clearly directed a hypothetical tax calculation to be carried out on certain assumptions. It would be wrong to carry out the calculation without using those assumptions consistently. Consistently applying the assumption that Mrs Silver’s income was only £36,373.43 meant that she was (in this hypothetical scenario) entitled to a personal allowance in this calculation”.
Judge Mosedale goes on to say: “Moreover, parliament’s intent with top slicing relief was obviously to allow a person who has taken income over a number of years to have relief when provisions taxed them to the entire income in a single year, as here. The relief was intended to make the tax liability approximate to what it would have been had the income been taxed in the year it was actually received. So when carrying out the hypothetical tax calculation it made every kind of sense that the taxpayer should be treated as entitled to the reliefs that that hypothetical income would have entitled her to”.
The next stage
HMRC is believed to be planning to appeal this case to the Upper Tribunal so we can expect them to continue to resist top-slicing relief claims based on the interpretation of the legislation, now endorsed by Judge Mosedale.
In the meantime agents and tax advisers should:
- identify clients who may have been overcharged tax (many of these will be deceased estates);
- calculate the top-slicing relief as directed by Judge Mosedale;
- if the client has been overcharged - amend the tax return.
All tax years from 2011/12 onwards are worth looking at because that’s when the tapering of the personal allowance was introduced when total income exceeds £100,000.
Tax returns already filed for 2017/18 can be amended by 31 January 2020.
SA tax returns for 2019/20 should be filed using the correct basis of calculation for top slicing. As far as can easily be checked, every tax return software product has simply used the same basis as the incorrect HMRC calculator so advisers will either have to file a paper return or file online and then submit an amendment on paper.
Good confirms what he’d do for affected clients: “Personally, I’d pay the incorrect tax and then seek to recover it at a later date rather than have to deal with HMRC demands for penalties, surcharge or interest. Overpayment relief claims can be made within four years from the end of the relevant tax year. So claims for 2015/16 and 2016/17 are still in time.”
How to calculate the correct relief
Back in September 2017, Tim Good wrote a detailed technical article about this problem, including worked examples detailing exactly what the issues are.
Absolute Software has also made its top-slicer checker free to use. This will identify whether the HMRC figure is right or wrong.
About Rebecca Cave
Consulting tax editor for Accountingweb.co.uk. I also co-author several annual tax books for Bloomsbury Professional and write newsletters for other publishers.