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Good news

December 2, 2016

You couldn’t make it up.  A small band of angry women, about to lose their small businesses because of a piece of legislation that they knew nothing about till it was right in their face, angry that the legislation had been made by people who knew nothing about them and hadn’t done the due diligence to find out they even existed, take on the might of HMRC and the EU tax authorities…

… and win!  Yes, the VATMOSS campaign has won its objective of having a sensible threshold to protect small businesses and allow them to grow.  Here’s the press release from the EU yesterday:

To simplify VAT rules for startups and micro-businesses selling online, VAT on cross-border sales under €10,000 will be handled domestically. SMEs will benefit from simpler procedures for cross-border sales of up to €100,000 to make life easier;

The full proposal is here, and there’s a rather good impact assessment here.  Let’s just take a moment to sit back, pop a bottle of our favourite beverage and, well, rejoice!

Now… it’s only a proposal at present, not settled legislation.  So the usual advice is to lobby your MP, your MEP and anyone else you can think of, in order to get it through ECOFIN and into practice.

Question: will the Brexit brouhaha make a lobbying effort from the UK more, or less, likely to succeed???

 

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Consultation trivia

November 8, 2016

So yesterday I managed to polish up the rest of my MTD responses (they were already in draft, but I’ve had the ‘flu so I didn’t get to them in an orderly sequence in the week before the deadline as I’d originally planned) and get them out the door.

I sent six emails, one for each of the six consultation documents, to the five different email addresses listed in them (the business records and voluntary pay as you go proposals share the same response address)

As the evening progressed I had three automated response (from the “process transformation”, “cash basis” and “tax simplification consultation” email addresses)

Think about that for a moment.  Ever set up an “out of office” reply on your email?  If half the HMRC email addresses don’t know how to, or can’t be bothered to, set up a “thank you for your contribution: watch the gov.uk site for the consultation response in the next few weeks” response, well, we have great confidence they can manage to transform utterly the digital offering from HMRC.  Don’t we?

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MTD 7/7 Transforming the tax system through the better use of information

November 7, 2016

I found it hard to engage with this particular consultation, because as far as I can see it’s about the stuff that HMRC ought to be doing to make taxpayers’ lives easier – gather and make use of third party information more efficiently and effectively.  This includes handling information securely, and will, presumably, soak up a great deal of the funding that they have been promised for MTD, because they’ll need to redesign and/or replace existing and legacy systems which are no longer cutting edge or even fit for purpose.

Why consult?  Get on with it, is my view, so I don’t feel I have anything useful to add.

(Except that I’d really like to see some figures on this:

We know that not everyone is ready or able to use digital services. People have a range of needs and we will continue to provide extra support for those who need help. HMRC’s Needs Extra Support Service (NES) provides extra help to customers with additional needs by providing both telephony and face to face specialist contact. NES supports customers through digital tax account registration and queries and for face to face customers, access to digital accounts will be facilitated, via tablets for example. This, along with other existing mechanisms (such as tele-filing and home visits), which support digitally excluded customers in providing their tax information to HMRC, will continue

How many visits are made by how many staff, and how does that compare with the numbers who used to use  enquiry centres when they existed?)

The consultation document is here, the email address for responses is processtransformation.mtd@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and the consultation, like all the other MTD consultations, closes at quarter to midnight tonight, Monday 7th November 2016.  Good luck!

 

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MTD 6/7: Tax Administration

November 7, 2016

The consultation on “Making Tax Digital: Tax Administration” seems to me to be a huge missed opportunity.  It reminds me of when I was working comms for the introduction of the CIS (Construction Industry Scheme) in 2003 or 4 or so, and a colleague from the “door kicking” end of HMRC came to see me.  They objected to CIS, and particularly to the verification process for subcontractors, where subcontractors would provide their name and two numbers and have their status “verified” as eligible either for gross payment or payment under deduction.  Where are we going to get the evidence to prosecute fraudulent claims to gross status, my door-kicking colleague argued, since they would no longer be able to seize the cards that were previously issued to subcontractors and prosecute the holders of forged and stolen ones?

Those of you with long memories of CIS will recall that one of the points of the 2005 scheme was to “design out” the opportunities for fraud in the old scheme – in other words, putting my door-kicking friend out of work was a feature, not a bug!

So with the Tax Administration consultation, I see the dead hand of someone wedded to HMRC’s powers as they stand at present, unable to see that a radical new scheme is a chance to “design out” the quirks and infelicities of  the current rules of administration.

Yes, yes, obviously powers and safeguards have to go hand in hand, so if you fiddle with one you have to fiddle with the other.   And obviously there’s a sunk cost for accountants in learning how the existing rules work so the easiest way forward is to look at the existing rules for putting in a tax return and, essentially, file off the words “tax return” and replace them with “annual summary”.

But most small traders don’t have a clue how the current rules work (that’s why they have accountants, d’oh!) so if you are going to build a system where you’re trying to design accountants out of the process you might as well design them out of the administrative rules, too.

That isn’t what we’re doing, you say, HMRC?  Well make your mind up.  Do you want a system where it’s the poor bloody taxpayer who has to do their own bookkeeping on an app every day and press the “send the results to HMRC” button every quarter?  Or are you going to leave agents embedded in the system?  Because those who deal with clients currently entitled to put in three line accounts are likely to give you three line quarterly summaries and then produce a set of accounts when the requirement to “finalise” the entries kicks in.

What do you want, HMRC, and why do you want it?  It’s a poor show that we’re this far into the process and I for one have very little idea.

 

 

(And, on the impact assessment point again, look at question 6.1, below the cut, which essentially says “please do an impact assessment for us” and at 6.2, which might as well read “and please do an equality impact assessment too while you’re at it”.  For shame, HMRC!)

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MTD 5/7: “voluntary” pay as you go

November 7, 2016

“Voluntary” pay as you go.  How voluntary is voluntary?  I’m already suspicious, given that MTD was originally supposed to be MTE: Making Tax Easier, not “Digital”.  No mandation without representation!  It’s also about rights: the government doesn’t have any right to the money until the day that the liability is crystalised, so this whole “voluntary but we’ll restrict your power to get it back” thing in the consultation worries me.  In fact it reminds me of when my mum was £1000+ in credit with the electricity and I tried to get them to repay her. The damn fool woman on the helpline told me it was their job to prevent their customers getting into debt.  No it isn’t: it’s your job to sell electricity, just as it’s HMRC’s job to collect the right amount of tax when it’s due.

The consultation seems to me to be very light on the consideration of interest when surely that’s the way to get “voluntary” pay as you go moving.  Pay 2% interest on tax paid early and I think the government might find payments were a great deal more timely than they are at present.

Make it easy for people to pay their taxes (a lot of the problems reported by the profession are pure HMRC problems – misallocation of payments, ignoring instructions, making unwanted repayments that generate unfair payment demands) and a lot of the remedy is in HMRC’s own hands.  If they put their own house in order, if the MTD record gave a clear statement of all liabilities and their due dates, if the government paid 2% on money paid before it was due and charged 3% on money paid afterwards, well, wouldn’t this issue disappear altogether?

I’m short of time so I have given the specific questions below the cut but I will actually be responding with an email.  You can too: the email address for this one is makingtaxdigital.consultations@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and the consultation closes – they all do – at a quarter to midnight tonight!!!

 

 

(Final note: I know I’m starting to look like the proverbial man with a hammer, to whom everything looks like a nail, but I have to comment on the impact assessment.  According to the impact assessment, moving to voluntary pay as you go won’t have any impact!  Actually I think this is the one likely to have the most profound impact of all, at least as far as the individual taxpayer is concerned, and I think if it worked well it would have an enormous (albeit temporary) positive impact on the government’s cash flow, sufficient to counterbalance the impacts they’re worried about in terms of overlap relief and other timing changes.)

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MTD 4/7: Simplified cash basis for unincorporated property businesses

November 7, 2016

This consultation is simply about allowing buy to let landlords (all right, all right, and other “unincorporated property businesses”) to use the cash basis.  Chapter 2 of the condoc is for landlords, chapter 3 for rep bodies.  There’s also an anonymous survey which is interesting, long, and in my view quite bizarre (have a look:  it’s a google doc.  I seriously question whether HMRC should already know the answers to these questions, and if they don’t, whether a google docs survey embedded in a consultation document which, frankly, is never going to be read by people who aren’t already tax policy wonks is the way to find the answers.  Try research!  If you really need to know, try paying someone to do the work and find out.)

Of course, if you put small landlords onto the cash basis, you immediately come up with the problem of what to do about tenants’ deposits…

Interestingly they don’t mention that in the “civilians” chapter but in the “professionals” one.  To be honest, by the time you’ve dealt with special rules for deposits, you might as well have done GAAP in the first place, surely?  And if you’re a buy to let landlord and you don’t use an accountant, well, perhaps you should start thinking about getting one…?

 

Again, I’ve put the questions under a cut in case you want to see them, but I haven’t answered them individually.  But if you want to reply (and hurry up: the deadline is quarter to midnight on Monday 7th November!) the email address is propertycashbasis.consultation@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk  – you don’t have to answer every question, you can just email with your comments and concerns.

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MTD 3/7: Simplifying Tax for Unincorporated Businesses.

November 7, 2016

This consultation paper is less about the MTD proposals themselves and more about simplifying the underlying tax rules for small businesses.

Four themes emerge:

  • extending the cash basis
  • doing away with basis period mandation
  • easing reporting requirements
  • abolishing the capital/revenue divide

These are all good things, I think.*

The cash basis, well, I think the smallest unincorporated businesses pretty much use the cash basis without knowing there’s any other basis until they fall into the hands of accountants.

For accounting periods, the proposals seem sensible enough:

define an accounting period as:  beginning when the company starts to carry on business, or immediately after the end of the previous accounting period; and  ending on the earliest of: 12 months from the beginning of the accounting period; an accounting date of the company; or on the date the company ceases to trade.

The current rules are complicated and – although they can be manipulated to put your profits into a tax year later than they’re made – are definitely something I’d abolish, particularly the overlap and gap rules for the first and last periods of trading. However there is a lot of  hedging in the condoc about whether it’s affordable.  Personally I think if the government thinks it will make buckets out of moving to an on demand system they should just take the  hit of the one year adjustment for overlap profits etc.  Although I’d like to see figures!

Reporting requirements: this again is about moving from GAAP (“generally accepted accounting principles”) to cash basis but specifically the adjustments you’d make at year end and which you presumably won’t make under MTD.  It includes things like:

4.13 … adjustments to the closing stock figure;  adjustments for profits where contracts span the period end;  adjustments in respect of provisions for bad debts; and  adjustments for prepayments and accruals.

although to me it illustrates just how debased the national conversation about tax has become that the document then wanders into rules to prevent people mucking about with contracts that last for years (so they would never have to recognize the income)

Capital and revenue

It seems to me the people who wrote the MTD documents may not actually do a lot of hands-on tax work themselves.  Why else is there no recognition that many of the people affected by MTD in future will at present be the people completing three line accounts, and the reporting requirements of MTD are absurdly onerous in comparison?  Similarly there is no value in introducing rules to redefine capital and revenue expenditure when most of the smallest businesses never have to worry about it because their capital expenditure is covered by the Annual Investment Allowance.  A simpler method of dealing with capital/revenue for tax purposes would be to say the AIA is set at (say) half a million, and will go up with inflation.

Finally, I have serious doubts about the costings in the impact assessment: there’s no quantified benefit to companies and what appears to be a big hit for HMRC:

the extension of cash basis will depend on the threshold chosen. Some options are given in the table in 2.17, for which the estimated Exchequer costs range from £40m to £145m. The basis period proposal is estimated to cost about £50m per year.

£50 million on basis period changes, maybe.  But £50 million *a year*?

I would urge you to consider replying to the consultation if you have concerns about any of this: the email address is businessincometaxsimplification.consultation@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and the consultation closes at quarter to midnight on 7 November – move quickly!

(I have included the full consultation question list below the cut in case they’re of interest, but this time I haven’t answered the detail and the paragraphs above represent my answer.)

 

 

 

*Although there’s a big question mark for me in how they would deal with authors’ averaging (I am working on a novel and on a non-fiction book.  When they both sell for millions of pounds ha ha ha I would quite like to be able to “average” the profits over the, currently quite lean, years when I’m actually working on them, rather than pay supertax on the amounts all in one go.  I wonder, also, what other quirks and technicalities of the current rules will need to be worked through for MTD, and just who is going to do that?)

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