Aha! (an update)

May 11, 2015

OK then; it’s 8pm on May 11th and the consultation on HMRC Penalties still shows up on the list of five open consultations from HMRC… but the consultation itself is shown as closed.  Conclusive proof, I think you’ll agree, that by “12.00pm” the gov.uk website means “12 noon”.

I know, I know: I really will try and get out more.


One small change…

May 11, 2015

Look at one small point from the list of open HMRC consultations: the closure date.  Here’s a reminder of the current five:

  • HMRC penalties (Closes 11 May 2015 12:00pm)
  • Commissioners’ Directions for customs (Closes 15th May 12.:00am)
  • Tax-advantaged venture capital schemes (Closes 15th May 12:00am)
  • Removal of manual customs declarations (Closes 5 June 2015 11:45pm)
  • Reform of the Landfill Communities Fund (Closes 10 June 2015 11:45pm)

So does the first one close at lunchtime or do we have till midnight?  Do the next two close at midnight on May 14th, midday on 15th, or midnight at the end of 15th?  The last two at least make it clear that they close at the end of the day on 5th and 10th, but, seriously, is representing midnight such a difficult concept in the twenty-first century?  It’s a nice notes and queries question, but the Royal Observatory and Greenwich, the owners of GMT so to speak, tell us helpfully that there is no such thing as 12.00am.  Noon is when the sun is at the meridian line, so it’s neither “ante meridian” nor “post meridian” – neither before nor after that point in time.  The “correct” designation is either 12 noon or 12 midnight.  Alternatively you should use the 24 hour clock, in which case it’s 00.00 for midnight and 12.00 for noon.

Please, gov.uk, can you just pick one?



The day after

May 8, 2015

There are 61 open consultations today, still the same 5 from HMRC and 8 from HMT.  So nothing new from either department being snuck out on election day.  There must have been a couple which passed their closing date and fell off the “open” list (and dear god in heaven is gov.uk ever going to work out how to let us filter them in the order in which they close????) because there is also a new one today from the Airports Commission (we have an airports commission???) on air quality.

I’m assuming the Airports Commission is some kind of quango with continuity that means the election passed it by.  Because otherwise it’s an extraordinary time to be pushing condocs out there, surely?


A new day

May 7, 2015

Well, election day, actually.  I’ve been and voted, and now I’m ready for a marathon night watching the results.  I know, I know, I’m sad like that; and, of course, I’m semi-retired so I don’t have to be anywhere tomorrow so I can sleep in as long as I like.

You would think, in the hiatus between governments, that all would be quiet on the consultation front.  I logged on to gov.uk out of sheer curiosity, thinking it would be interesting to see the consultation page with the counter set to zero.

But no!  There are, in fact, some 62 open consultations listed.  I don’t know about you, but I feel that 62 new laws and regulations would be a reasonable score for an entire parliamentary term, not the number of residual bits of leftover legislation not important enough to wait for the end of purdah.  Can we just STOP making new law and try administering the ones we’ve got for a bit?


Of the 62 open consultations I have no objection to odds and ends of measures like Natural England consulting on restricting access to, for example, Widdybank Fell (which looks very nice, by the way).  The world would still continue turning even if we didn’t have a government, (Belgium managed OK for 541 and then 135 days, after all) and so I suppose there’s no reason to stop the process of consulting.  But I could have lived without seeing a serious consultation into reform of the Government Ombudsman service, a paper on what I suspect is the first salvo in the war of the next BBC licence fee and a call for evidence on creating a secondary market in our bloody pensions sliding quietly out while all our backs are turned to the polling station.


HMRC has five open consultations:

and the Treasury has eight, two of them also on the HMRC list, five which (from a quick look, anyway) aren’t connected with tax, and one which may be of interest: Travel and subsistence review.  But which closes on 1 May 2016 at 11:45pm.

2016? Seriously?  I suspect it should read 2015 and it’s an already closed consultation.

It’s the twenty first century.  Keeping and maintaining an up to date list like this shouldn’t be this hard, surely?

Dear New Government: please get someone to make gov.uk work.  Thanks.



Consultation: simplification at last

April 1, 2015

Considering that the provisional title of my PhD is “tax simplification and better regulation”, and that the original purpose of this blog was to monitor and respond to all tax consultations, I’m a little embarrassed to have missed this one.  It’s big.

In what will presumably be the last consultation document published by the Coalition, “A simpler tax system: the fast track to delivery” there are some far-reaching proposals put forward for simplification of the tax system.  This is a surprisingly radical attempt to achieve, at a stroke, the first of the Coalition’s priorities for its tax policy making (which, I’m sure we all recall, were that tax should be simpler, fairer, greener and more competitive).

As anyone involved in taxation knows, there have long been calls for the tax system to be simplified, and as anyone involved in tax policy making knows, it isn’t as easy as it looks. Anyone who gains by tax simplification is unlikely to show any gratitude to the government responsible, whereas anyone who loses under simplification is likely to be vocal in their opposition. However in a gratifyingly statesmanlike-display of cross-party agreement, the new proposals are being put forward in a multi-lateral document endorsed by all the major parties and are widely expected, if enacted by the next administration, to bring about a major simplification of business and personal taxes across the UK.

Building on the proposals in the Budget document “Making Tax Easier: the End of the Tax Return” where there is the aspiration that “it will feel like paying a single tax“, the change – in a project provisionally named unitary taxes – will retain all existing taxes and national insurance, but move to a per person, rather than a per tax, administration. Everyone will have a basic allowance of £12,000 below which they will not pay any tax on any income, gains or transactions. Between £12,001 and the current VAT threshold of £81,000 they will pay 20%, whether on income from employment or self employment, gains from capital transactions or interest on investments. Between £81,001 and £120,000 the rate will be 40% and from £120,001 it will be 60%. There will be no mansion tax, but neither will there be any exemption from capital gains for only or main residential property with the gains from any house sales folded into the unitary tax.  There will be no exemptions, allowances nor deductions – a change likely to have serious repercussions in the savings industry but which was perhaps foreshadowed in the Budget announcement of abolition of tax on the first £1000 of interest payments. The section on ISAs in the consultation document is particularly radical, consisting of three words: “ISAs are out”.  There will be some interesting recalculations to be done with the dramatic adjustment to the inheritance tax thresholds as inheritance tax, too, becomes subject to a one-off unitary tax charge on the estate of the deceased, bringing virtually all estates into its remit.  And of course capital gains tax planning is likely to prove challenging with the abolition of all possible reliefs, whether farming, entrepreneurs or even the minor chattels exemptions and merger of its thresholds with the single unitary threshold.

VAT will remain largely unchanged with its threshold remaining static and the current rules and rates remaining untouched.  However the total exemption for small and micro businesses from the revisions to place of supply rules is a surprising concession and it seems that there will be a further document after the election, on a similarly multi-lateral basis, proposing further radical simplifications including the abolition of all reduced and zero rates and the removal of all alternative calculation methods.

It is perhaps the changes to National Insurance (NI) which are the most radical.  In future NI will be charged at a single rate on all earnings, gains and transactions.  There will be no upper or lower thresholds, and the rate will change annually.  It will be calculated by taking the previous year’s total expenditure on pensions, disability and unemployment benefits (but not in work payments like housing benefit or working tax credits) plus the total cost of the NHS and of personal care provision, and then dividing this by the previous year’s unitary income.  Although National Insurance receipts will always lag behind National Insurance Payments (as pensions and benefits will in future be known) there will be a clear link between them.  If at any point the rise in GDP is such that unitary NI receipts are greater than the previous year’s NI expenditure the excess will not be used to reduce the following year’s rate but to start a sovereign wealth fund, with the intention of, ultimately, building up a capital sum sufficient to make abolition of NI payments altogether feasible, although the timescale is, it has to be said, ambitious.

Preliminary costings in the accompanying TIIN for this radical package seem rather optimistic, in that they suggest an administrative burden saving of more than a billion pounds and an exchequer impact of zero. Furthermore the economic impact appears to assume that the entire tax avoidance industry will close its doors at once and its employees and partners be immediately re-tasked to economically useful activity, thus creating a 5.8% spike in GDP.

Root and branch tax simplification has been the subject of much hopeful persiflage in the past but there have been few concrete proposals. Although these proposals are radical and the numbers are, to say the least, sketchy, it is to be hoped that the tax industry will respond to the consultation in the spirit in which it is put forward. In future, who knows, we may thumb through our slim pamphlets of tax legislation and look back on today as the end of an era.


Tax wizards: to arms!

March 30, 2015

I know I have been banging on about the EU VAT place of supply changes for months now, and that the affected traders are too small for the professional tax press to be much interested (because the people whose businesses are being wiped out are too small to need the services of an agent, often).  But, if you ARE a tax wizard, why not have a look at these interviews with affected traders.  Demand your professional association and professional press take an interest.  This is where HMRC’s stakeholder model breaks down, where there IS no stakeholder group for them to engage with until people get annoyed enough to start one from scratch.

Do tax wizards do pro bono work?  Ask your organisations to add their voices to the campaign.


A worried academic writes…

March 27, 2015

Apparently civil servants can’t have contact with the media any more.  It’s here in the Civil Service Code, under “Integrity” – fifth bullet:

‘Ensure you have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.’

I’m a bit worried about this.  I mean, I’m a retired tax inspector and I think of myself as an academic, mostly, these days, but I also publish a blog – does that make me a member of the media?

Well, no, I suppose not.  A blog is singular.  That’s one medium.  I’ve written for a couple of other blogs, too: Huffington Post, Ekklesia, Guerrilla Policy… they don’t pay, but they are plural: media, not medium.  Does that count?

I make a few quid on the side by writing articles too, when I can.  I’ve been on the Guardian website a couple of times.  I sold a couple of pieces to Pay and Benefits magazine.  And, although most of what I’ve written for Taxation is behind a paywall, including this week’s cover story, there’s this one which isn’t.  If I hadn’t already got a civil service pension, I wouldn’t have had to pay tax on my freelance earnings because they’re barely enough to pay my PhD fees, but does THAT make me a member of the media?

Because, if it does and I am, well, I’m a bit worried.

Because, you know, I used to be a Civil Servant.  For more than twenty years in fact, so it’s not surprising that I know people who are still there.  Do they have to have Ministerial permission to meet with me?  If so, it’s going to be a serious problem when I get to the next stage of my PhD research and start looking for current and former civil servants to interview about impact assessments.

No, it’s a serious question anyway.  The Civil Service Code says very clearly that (except under the whistle blowing provisions) they have to ensure they have ministerial authorisation for any contact with the media.

If I’m ringing up to talk to someone for an article I’m writing for a magazine, then I’m acting as a journalist and I’d expect the rules to apply.  That’s why I wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that – I’d ring the press office and ask them instead, d’oh.  But am I “media” when I’m writing my PhD?  When I’m watching television?  When I’m asleep?

So the next time I go down to London should my friends be sending the Exchequer Secretary a note asking if it’s all right for them to have a cup of coffee and a catch up with me?  If  I’m not writing an article?  If I promise that I don’t have my “journalist” hat on?  Well, all right, if I go and buy a hat that says “journalist” on it and then leave it at home?  Is THAT all right?  I just want to say hello to my friends, but I don’t want to get them into trouble.

And it’s my birthday this weekend.  Tomorrow, in fact.  How about coming out for birthday drink; does that count as contact?  What about contributing to my birthday present?  Does the Minister need to give approval in writing before any of them thinks of sending me a birthday card?

Can they still friend me on FaceBook and follow me on twitter, or does “contact” mean we have to be in the same room?  What about telephone calls?  Can I still go to the Treasury Book Club and if so do the books have to be vetted by the Minister?  Can they contact me by email on their personal accounts to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch’s delivery of the poem at Richard IIIs reinterment yesterday?

Can I wave at them if they’re passing by on a train?  Can we play video games together if we’re in different cities and we confine ourselves to non-verbal signals while we’re killing orcs?  Is playing bridge all right if we stick to Acol and there’s no chit chat over the sandwiches?  How do we feel about co-located activity with an etch-a-sketch?


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