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Review: Notes from the tax lecture circuit

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10th Jul 2013
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With the 2013/14 tax lecture season looming and accountants planning their CPD requirements for the rest of the year, Robert Lovell rates four tax lectures he attended during the past year or so.

The assignment was to attend a handful of lectures to get a flavour for the tax circuit and give AccountingWEB members an idea of the available options.

This overview draws together impressions of the sessions attended. But several of the lectures led to news stories that made their way onto the site. Some of these articles were among our best-read content at the time and went on to spark lively discussion between community members, which demonstrates how a good lecture doesn't just freshen up your technical knowledge, it can stimulate ideas about how to apply your expertise in new ways.

AccountingWEB wanted to get a good cross-section of organisations, venues and presenters. PTP, SWAT, Mercia and Tolley were kind enough to let us observe and report on their proceedings.

We experienced four very different presenting styles and encountered a wide range of tax topics. Most of the lectures took place near Bristol, where the AccountingWEB office is located, with the exception of one session in Newbury. The venues included a rugby club, a golf course and cinema.

PTP

Mark Ward, a director of the Professional Training Partnership (PTP), presented one of the company's regular ‘Quarterly Tax Updates’ at the Bristol Golf and Country Club in Almondsbury, north of Bristol.

The venue was located on the M4/M5 interchange and took place in a pleasant clubhouse with magnificent views of both Severn Bridges, the Severn Estuary and the surrounding countryside - a great venue if you fancied playing a few holes before or after the lecture.

Ward qualified with Arthur Andersen in 1989 and since 1993 has been lecturing on a wide variety of tax matters to both students and qualified practitioners. The PTP  session covered everything from the Finance Bill 2012 and changing tax legislation, including ESC C16, Entrepreneurs’ Relief and Seed EIS as well as recent tribunal decisions and how they might affect clients.

Ward spoke about the case of C Huhtala v HMRC [2012] UKFTT 79 (TC), better known as the ‘Sailing author’ on AccountingWEB, who was allowed an appeal in part to claim expenses for relocating his boat to southern France against his self-employment income.

In the subsequent article that appeared on the site, Tribunal rules in favour of sailing author Ward said that in view of the difficulty in getting HMRC to agree to a deduction for expenses, the case highlighted what could be done.

“Writers must get a deduction for some things like travel and subsistence, but at what point do you start trading as an author - when the book is bound and ready for sale?” he asked.

Ward also covered the upper tribunal JD Wetherspoons plant and machinery case in which the pub chain lost its latest appeal to claim capital allowances for pub refurbishments. Ward got a lively discussion going at his lecture by getting the attendees to debate several hypothetical scenarios of what would or would not be allowable.

Even with these interchanges, Ward got through a lot of content in the three-hour session, which included a brief mid-afternoon coffee and biscuit break.

He’s a very good lecturer with years of experience, and skilled at relating the changes in legislation and tribunal decisions to the normal working practices of accountants and advisers.

7/10

Check the PTP website for upcoming lectures and seminars, priced at £49-£59.

SWAT UK

A few months later SWAT UK lecturer Robert Neeve was at the same venue for a session entitled ‘Case Studies in Direct Tax’.

Neeve qualified in 1979 and has been a senior tax manager with Ernst & Whinney and Pannell Kerr Foster. He was involved in in-house training and client seminars at both firms. Since setting up his own tax practice in 1992 he now concentrates on lecturing in tax for CIOT examinations and CPD courses.

As anyone who has ever encountered rush-hour congestion in Bristol will know, I made sure I left plenty of time to reach the venue by the 9.30am start time.

Neeve’s direct lecturing style helped delegates appreciate the various taxes that come into play when a transaction or event occurs. Some of the topics covered included property taxation, termination payments, changes to a partnership, family investment companies and 50% tax.

The lecture was based around practical examples and getting attendees to consider the treatment that might apply in any given situation.

One case made it into an article on AccountingWEB, about difficulties the VAT flat-rate scheme were causing for accountants.

Neeve highlighted a theoretical scenario where a married couple own and let properties individually, and also jointly. In his example, the husband’s business is subject to the flat rate scheme at 10% for VAT, which applies to all his business income including rental from his individual property and future rentals of the former home.

Neeve pointed out that the flat rate would not apply to his share of income from the jointly owned property if the taxable person is accepted as the couple, rather than the husband.

In such a situation, this point should be confirmed with HMRC to ensure it will accept the couple as a separate VATable person. “HMRC is starting to pick up on this a bit, but it’s not actively targeting it,” he said.

Neeve also added a bit of welcome humour to his session, playing up to this southern audience with multiple references to him being from “oop north” and crying “oh calamity” whenever attendees stumbled across a difficult situation.

This engaging style encouraged plenty of questions from the floor. After outlining the specific case, Neeve would ask “any thoughts?” which really seemed to get people involved rather than just being presented at.

The course materials included 35-pages of notes, which attendees were allowed to annotate and take away. Overall this was a very practical and informative course with numerous examples and illustrations.

8/10

Visit the SWAT UK website for the latest tax lectures, available from £58.

Tolley

The following month Tim Good was in Bristol to lecture at the Tolley ‘Summer Tax Update’.

Good is one of the most prolific lecturers on the post-qualified tax lecture circuit and speaks several times each week to professional audiences all over the country. In addition to his Tolley lecturing, he was a founding partner and director of PTP. He now runs Absolute Accounting Software and is one of the lead presenters on TAXtv.

This lecture took place in an old cinema on the grounds of the Redwood Hotel and Country Club in Failand, south west of Bristol. The impressive setting allowed for a much larger audience, and with the use of a tablet device, Good was able to engage and relate effectively with the crowd.

In addition to being very funny, Good has the ability to make even the most obscure tax point very clear and entertaining. He frequently livens up potentially mundane topics with informative and often personal examples. In particular Good offered a good range of practical tips and suggestions on how to deal with specific issues, with the emphasis falling heavily on the ways in which accountants can help their clients to exploit the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls.

One such example focused on mortgage interest relief, and actually went some way to addressing a discussion that had originally sprung up on Any Answers.

Tax relief on a second residence sparked a lively discussion on the site after AccountingWEB member Cariad71 put forward a complicated scenario. Good highlighted the example at the Bristol lecture and in the resulting article on AccountingWEB, Any Answers Answered: Mortgage interest relief, he pointed to the common error that tax relief for the interest depends on the purpose for which the loan was taken out.

“This has not been the case for several years. Instead we must consider whether the interest is incurred wholly and exclusively for the purpose of the letting business.

“A combination of Example 2 at BIM 45700 and Example 3 at BIM 45690 should be sufficient to resolve the query in the taxpayer’s favour,” Good said.

In addition to a 70-page hand-out, attendees were given an ‘actions points sheet’ at the start, to help focus on how your clients will be affected and what action should be taken. In addition to an assessment sheet, Tolley also provided details of a seminar survey (via Survey Monkey) to provide feedback on the session. This information will be used to help plan its future lecture programme.

Overall, an excellent speaker and three hours of time very well spent, including the delicious giant chocolate cookies during the break.

9/10

Visit the Tolley website for full details of their seminars, which cost £54.90 (if booking 10 sessions) or £105 for a single seminar.

Mercia

The final session ‘Capital Taxes and the Family Company’ took place in Newbury and was presented by Mercia lecturer Andrew Burgess.

Conveniently just a short drive down the M4 from Bristol, the lecture took place at the Newbury Rugby Club in Berkshire – an unusual sporty venue for such an occasion, but perfectly practical in every way. The cosy seating arrangement gave his lecture a more intimate feel, and while perhaps not the most important thing on every attendee’s mind, the coffee and biscuits served in the middle of the session were of a very high standard.

Burgess has clocked up more than 40 years working in tax, serving for 14 years in the Revenue, including a period as district inspector of a large PAYE district. In his final post he was in charge of what was then the Solihull Special Office. After another 20 years in practice he joined Mercia in 2003 and has established himself as a well-respected tax lecturer.

Through his encyclopaedic knowledge of tax, Burgess stressed how best you can helping your clients and what you should be making them aware of.

Having a 64-page documentation pack to hand was very useful throughout, which included recent legislation, practical examples and advice.

To break things up a bit he also interspersed a tax trivia quiz throughout the session to “ease the tedium of the afternoon”, as Burgess put it himself!

Topics included Entrepreneurs’ Relief, IHT, family clients, and earn-out issues, among many others.

The new statutory residence test (SRT) came up for discussion and the practical issues posed for those considering emigrating to escape capital gains tax (CGT). Burgess commented: “The SRT resolves some of the ambiguities that led to situations such as the Robert Gaines-Cooper Supreme Court case, but the extra clarity has come at the cost of more onerous requirements.”

In a follow-up article on AccountingWEB, Practical issues on emigrating to escape CGT, he ran through the upcoming changes and advised that the first step to take was to consider automatic non residency.

Overall, this was a solid three hours of CPD packed with key examples, advice and occasional interesting digressions from the core subject.

8/10

Check the Mercia website for upcoming courses, available from £51.

PTP

SWAT UK

Tolley

Mercia

Lecturer

7

8

10

8

Training organisation

8

8

9

8

Content

7

7

9

7

Venue, facilities and refreshments

7

7

9

8

Total

29

30

37

31

What and who do you like on the current CPD tax circuit? Are the any particular lecturers or courses that keep you keep coming back? What qualities do you look for in a tax lecturer, and how often do you find them? Feel free to comment below to help AccountingWEB expand our CPD lecture review archive.

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Replies (6)

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
11th Jul 2013 14:47

I was on the tax seminar speaker circuit for many years

As may or may not be well known I no longer lecture on tax issues as such*. 

When I did speak on the circuit I was aware that, like many of the 'usual suspects' I could well be speaking for SWAT one week, Mercia another and so on. Very few lecturers speak exclusively for one provider.

When I authorised staff to attend courses in the dim and distant past I was reluctant to allow them to attend those where the speaker was a professional lecturer or author. I was of the view, that the speaker had to be able to share commercial and practical experience for attendance to be worthwhile. Everything else could be got from a book or, these days, online.

More recently I realised that different people have different learning styles and preferences. Some prefer to hear and to watch a speaker rather than just to read. Thus some people will get plenty of benefit from attending talks presented by professionals, especially those who are excellent communicators - whether or not they are also in practice.

Mark

*There were two reasons I stopped lecturing on tax issues:

1) I did not want to have to keep trying to remain fully uptodate with tax rule changes; 

2) A few years after leaving practice I felt uncomfortable sharing technical tax knowledge that did not come with the related commercial and practical experience. 

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By A mum and an accountant
11th Jul 2013 13:46

In the past...
If I like a lecture or not depends on the lecturer. If I go with one company over another it would depend on the cost as well as which lecturers they have.

I would even go to a lecture, even if I had to pay for it, if I liked the lecturer and I thought it would be useful.

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By pauljohnston
12th Jul 2013 11:57

Mercia and Coffee

I went to a number of Mercia lectures in 2012 at the he Royal Society of Medicine 1 Wimpole Street.  The quality of the lectures varied greatly.  However the coffee didn't - it was always awful.

On a positive note I found this a really helpful article.

Thanks (2)
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By kershcliff
12th Jul 2013 13:16

Obscure Points

Whilst it is difficult to structure courses to suit everyone - the main bug bear I have is that on average 25% is useful, 25% is interesting and 50% is obscure and has little relevance to 99% of the attendees. If lecturers prefaced their remarks by asking - how many attendees are interested or involved with topic X - then they could reconsider whether to merely advise that there was an issue to consider and swiftly move on - or to give the topic more detailed attention. At this point I have to say that being a practitioner herself, Rebecca Bennyworth rarely falls foul of the above - so when I see her lecturing - I book. 

Thanks (1)
By Jon Stow
13th Jul 2013 12:19

As a PTP lecture client

...for a number of years, I have to say that I have found both Tim Good's and Mark Ward's presentations very useful, and also very entertaining. They are also interactive with questions and contributions from “the floor” encouraged. This means that we get to hear a good deal about current practice, which of course keeps both we attendees and our presenters on top of HMRC's latest attitudes.

 

Attending tax updates in person and paying in advance also avoids the one issue I have always feared, but not so far succumbed to, which is with recorded seminars putting off until next week what I should be looking at today. :)

Thanks (1)
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By Sheila Morrison
18th Jul 2013 10:42

Tax lecture circuit

The GOOD review (excuse the pun) of Tolleys confirms why I changed from other providers. They always have the best lecturers (Rebecca Benneyworth  being one of them) and I always look forward to hearing Tim Good speak. They sometimes have inappropriate lectures but never bad lecturers.    Mercia are very good on specific subjects such as Property Taxes.                                                                                                                                                                                     Sheila Morrison

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