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Closing the walk-in centre

January 31, 2018

Now that I have finished my tax return (about which I will no doubt be writing more later) I have turned my attention to the consultation on “Making Urgent Care Work Better in Sheffield” which, coincidentally, also closes today.

As this is outside of my usual remit of tax consultations I have posted my response under a cut but click here if you’d like to read it nevertheless. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is it just me?

January 23, 2018

I occasionally post on these pages in January about the agonies of preparing my own tax return. As a retired tax inspector, I often wonder whether I am less or more compliant than the average taxpayer, on the same spectrum as the dentist’s own teeth being a mess and the builder’s house having falling roof tiles. But with the writing and teaching I do I am, frankly, an extremely small business so I also wonder whether I have the same characteristics as other extremely small businesses.

For example: what were you doing eighteen months ago? I am looking at a payment statement from the spring of 2016 which will of course fall into my 16/17 accounts which will be included in the return I will have completed in, gulp, eight days. It is for a few hundred pounds and I had, frankly, forgotten doing the work at all until I found the statement helpfully placed in the right month in my account book. (Yes, I keep my records on paper.)

Now that I remember the gig I also remember that it was a one-off, where they also paid for my hotel and train fare. It doesn’t say on the statement whether this is payment for the work itself, or includes the reimbursement for the train fare. I vaguely remember they reimbursed the hotel directly so I don’t need to worry about that, but do I need to include the train fare in my accounts or not?

If they paid for the work and reimbursed me for the train fare in one cheque, then I need to include the cost of the train fare in my accounts expenses. If they paid for the train fare on a different date or by cash or in some other way, well, the fare and the repayment cancel each other out and I don’t need to include anything in my accounts (or, to be picky, I need to include both).

What I’m actually going to do, of course, is stick the amount of the cheque in my accounts as takings and forget about the train fare, on the grounds that you never mess with the Revenue by under declaring your takings, but that a train fare I might or might not have paid eighteen months ago is neither here nor there.

Of course, if the fabled free software for MTD existed, I would move to keeping my records electronically. I did accept a free trial of some software and found it remarkably easy to have invoices that generated and numbered themselves and added themselves up. However at the end of the free trial the monthly subscription was more than my average monthly turnover so I had to decline.

In short, if there was free software I would use it. If there was free software I would know whether the payment I received was net or gross and my accounts would be that much more accurate. This is why I believe MTD is a customer service initiative and not a money-making device: it’s expenses that I fail to record, not takings. Is it just me?

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It’s that time again

January 19, 2018

Sigh. I’ve tried once already to sign into my HMRC account to make sure I can get my tax return in on time. Today I managed to get through and see the front page, where it tells me I have an overdue payment of £0.80. WTF? So I tried clicking on it, around it, near it, everywhere else on the page, to see if there was any explanation of what the alleged payment is for and why it might be overdue. Nothing, nada, nowt. So I go to the help page, looking for the contact number, thinking it might be a quick phone call.

No contact number.

Nope, apparently now I have to select what the problem is and watch a bloody video telling me I’m too stupid to live (I haven’t actually watched the videos but I imagine that’s the tone, amiright?)

No. Sorry, it’s eighty pence. If you want it, tell me why you think I owe it to you. But don’t expect me to research how your system works before you’ll deign to speak to me.

Poor show, HMRC. You hassle me for petty amounts, you deal with the questions that arise. Otherwise you could just charge everybody a random amount of pence and collect 30 or 40 million quid extra, relying on it being too vexatious to question.

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Plough Monday

January 8, 2018

It’s Plough Monday, the start of the new working year (the first Monday after Twelfth Night and Epiphany).  So here’s a nice piece of intellectual work for you, a research question: how much does it cost to pass a piece of legislation?

No, not the cost of administering the law after it has passed or preparing it before it is presented to Parliament.  How much does it cost to print and promulgate a Bill, to give it a First Reading, to discuss it in the House of Commons, to call a vote, to discuss it in the House of Lords… how much does the parliamentary process cost, and then how much does it cost to, what, courier it over to the Queen for her to sign? (How does that part actually work?)

What I am getting at is, this is a fixed cost which doesn’t seem to me to have been factored into the impact assessment process.

An impact assessment – for tax, a TIIN – should tell you how much a piece of legislation will raise in taxes or cost in tax foregone, and how much administrative burden it will impose or relieve for those it impacts, and how much it will cost or save the administering department.

What it won’t tell you is that base cost of passing the legislation in the first place.

Why should we care?

Well, there are several measures in the latest OOTLAR where the TIIN shows no cost or benefit to the general population, the taxpayer or the department, and that the impact is on only a handful of businesses.

For example, Income Tax: Venture Capital Schemes: relevant investments (page 69 of OOTLAR) says it will affect “a maximum of 100 individual investors”  and “fewer than five companies have been affected by the provisions since November 2015”.

I understand that, following the Wilkinson case, there was a change in HMRC and the Treasury’s approach to extra-statutory concessions, so that a number of useful but trivial exceptions from strict application of tax law have either been lost or have been legislated.

It seems to me, though, that HMRC ought to have a base figure for the cost of the legislative process (divide the annual cost of running the Houses of Parliament by the average number of days it takes to pass a piece of legislation, say?) and a clear power to set and promulgate extra statutory concessions where certain rules are met.

What kind of rules?  What about the total costs and benefits of the change are smaller than the cost of passing a piece of legislation?  Perhaps an overall limit of one (two? five?) ESCs a year so that they don’t become an easy way out of messing up your drafting in the first place?  Perhaps a “one in/one out” rule so that they don’t become another overcomplicating factor (three pages of tax legislation accompanied by a thousand pages of ESCs is an undesirable an outcome as a thousand and three pages of tax legislation, after all).  Perhaps an “affects no more than x number of people/businesses, impacts of no more than y cost on any one business” rule?

But in any event: more options appraisal, less legislation, more ESCs.

What do we think?

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Happy Heinlein Holiday

December 23, 2017

Bonus holiday bloggery: I have written in the past about tax and science fiction, or rather about tax in science fiction.  Next year, however, the distinguished critic Farah Mendlesohn is publishing a book about Robert Heinlein and has kindly answered here a couple of my questions about Heinlein’s attitude to tax and the future. So if you want to find out whether “don’t drink: you might shoot at tax collectors and miss” is something you need to worry about or not head over and read the interview.

See you next year!

 

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Evidence

December 15, 2017

What do we think? The House of Commons Finance Bill Committee are asking for written evidence on this year’s Finance Bill. Is there any point in my writing up my blog posts on measures with nil and negligible impact and asking them to consider a cull? Or would that be teaching my metaphorical grandmother to suck metaphorical eggs as surely it’s the essence of parliamentary scrutiny?

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Glass of almond milk, anyone?

December 6, 2017

There are 100 open consultations listed on the gov.uk website this morning, and 13 of them are from HMRC… do we not think HMRC are legislating too much???

Having a quick flick through to see if there are any which expire soon I came upon this: the draft legislation for the soft drinks industry levy (the tax on sugary drinks).  It is, in my humble opinion, wretched stuff, trying to define in legislation when is a fruit drink different from a vegetable juice different from a milk drink and what constitutes a milk substitute drink.  Treble almond milks and years of anti avoidance legislation after amusing tribunal cases sampling kale, mango and almond smoothies all round?

However my eye was, of course, instantly drawn to the TIIN, or at least to where the TIIN ought to be.  Because, look, here is what it says at the end of the draft SI for the levy itself:

A Tax Information and Impact Note has not been prepared for this Instrument as it contains no substantive changes to tax policy.

What?

No, the other piece of draft legislation (the enforcement provisions, here) has the identical final paragraph.

No.  Just, no.  The TIIN is there to inform parliament about the legislation they are being asked to rubber stamp.  There is little enough genuine scrutiny of this kind of legislative gunk as it is, and at least attaching a TIIN gives readers the chance to see what the likely impact is of letting this go through on the nod.

I was getting ready to write a righteous screed in the manner of Angry of Tunbridge Wells about how it really is appalling that no TIIN has been prepared for this entirely new tax…

…and then I used google.  And of course there WAS a TIIN, and it’s here, from when the primary legislation was published last year.

In order to inform Parliament, surely the last sentence of the draft instruments should read something like “The TIIN for this measure was published in 2016 and may be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/soft-drinks-industry-levy/soft-drinks-industry-levy”

And then I thought, oh, they’re asking for feedback on the draft legislation, and that IS feedback…  So there you go.