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Have I got news for you? (Well, have I?)

July 23, 2012

There’s been some very poor reporting of the speech David Gauke made this morning at the Policy Exchange – “cowboy” tax advisers will be forced to “name and shame” their clients, for example.  No they won’t, and, don’t be daft.  Some journalists need to do some research that doesn’t involve google once in a while.

The speech itself is interesting, though, in part because the Minister has a go at what’s acceptable and what isn’t in terms of tax planning:

Legitimate use of reliefs is not tax avoidance:

Claiming capital reliefs on investment is not tax avoidance – when those reliefs were introduced precisely to encourage the investment in question.

Claiming reliefs against double taxation is not tax avoidance – when the alternative would be taxpayers paying tax twice on the same income.

Claiming back tax on legitimate charitable donations is not tax avoidance – any more than ticking the ‘gift aid’ box is.

Not paying tax on your pension contributions is not tax avoidance.

Taking out a tax free ISA is not tax avoidance.

Quite.  (Although you then ask yourself why we then had the ill-conceived consultation on capping charitable tax reliefs…???)  

Buying a house for personal use through a corporate entity to avoid SDLT is avoidance.

Channelling money backwards and forwards through complex networks for no commercial reason but to minimise tax is avoidance.

Paying loans in lieu of salaries through shell companies is avoidance.

And using artificial ‘losses’ deliberately accrued to claim back tax is avoidance.

To which we say “yes!!!!” (And, when are you going to give HMRC the resources to do something about it??)

Where, though, do we find the announcement that leads to the “name and shame” the “cowboys” headlines?  Well, a consultation IS announced:

Today we consult on ways to improve the information available to the public on avoidance.  Publishing warnings for all to see, and making it easier for taxpayers to see if their adviser has promoted failed avoidance schemes in the past.

(which, you will note, suggests that it’s information about advisers that might be made public, not about their clients)

Let us turn, then, to the Tax Updates and Consultation Tracker helpfully provided by HM Treasury, which lists as To Be Published in July a consultation on “Disclosure of tax avoidance schemes (DOTAS)” Hmmm…. the accompanying PDF helpfully elucidates that this will be

Consultation on extending the DOTAS hallmarks so as to capture avoidance schemes that do not currently have to be notified.

Because, as anyone who works in tax would already know, there is already a regime which says that, if you’re going to market an avoidance scheme, you have to tell HMRC about it.  You have to give it a reference number, and you have to tell the people who buy the scheme from you what the reference number is, and they have to include the reference number on their returns.  Avoidance, not evasion, remember?  These are people who are trying to outsmart the taxman, not hide from him.

So have I got news for you?  Or, to put it another way, is this consultation “news” at all?

Well we don’t know what it’s going to say yet, do we.*

But…

Well…

Look at the briefing note which the Law Society produces for its members, telling them what their responsibilities are if they are the promoters of a scheme and reassuring them that they aren’t going to be asked to violate their professional ethics by disclosing privileged information and they aren’t going to be caught by the legislation if they simply give advice to their clients on a scheme that someone else is promoting.

And turn to section 9, “more information”, and the list of legislation on disclosure of tax schemes.  There are thirty two of them.  So far. Including

I seem to recall that David Gauke said, in the foreword to Tax Policy Making: A New Approach that

Business and tax professionals have previously criticised the tax policy making process as piecemeal and reactive, pointing to the wide range of policy announcements in recent years that have been unexpected and insufficiently thought through.

We could discuss whether this vast train of DOTAS legislation is the result of “piecemeal” policy development that hasn’t been sufficiently “thought through”, or is a sensible use of an iterative approach.  Or we could just say that it’s the tax authorities and the tax avoiders playing whack-a-mole.

As the Minister himself said in his speech today:

There are some who might say that consultation documents on tax administration are often an effective cure for insomnia, but this is one consultation that will keep the promoters of aggressive tax avoidance schemes awake at night.

Um… are you sure, Minister?

 

[*Update: not twenty minutes after I’d posted this, I saw in my twitter feed a tweet from Tax Journal which had a link to the consultation itself.  So we DO know what it says.  But – having read through it – I’m afraid the rest of this still stands.  Sorry and all that.  Oh, and could someone from the Treasury please explain why they bother having a tax consultations tracker at all if it isn’t up to date, please?  Thanks!]

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