Today’s round up

October 5, 2012

We have three consultations closing today.

Let’s start with The Use of Rebated Fuel for Gritting in Rural Areas.  OK then: there’s a kind of fuel (“red diesel”) used in farming etc which has a lower rate of fuel duty applied.  It’s dyed red so that it’s easy to see whether you’re using it or not. Got that?  Well…

In recent winters, during periods of extreme weather, HMRC have, by way of a temporary relaxation, allowed tractors being used to grit rural roads to use red diesel. HMRC is now considering whether to formalise this approach.

This looks so obviously sensible to me that I’m tempted to say, well, what the heck are you consulting about, then?  Just carry on being sensible and don’t muck about “formalising” it.  We’re supposed to want to simplify the tax regime, remember, and avoid unnecessary regulation?

But the consultation document is clearly written and, in particular, has the tax impact assessment written in a way I haven’t seen before, where they simply answer the seven questions involved:

What are you doing?

Why are you doing it?

Why are you doing it this way?

What will it raise?

What will it cost customers?

What will it cost the public sector?

What are the other impacts?

as a readable narrative that actually makes sense.  Bravo!  Here’s the answer I sent:

I’m not responding to your list of specific consultation questions because I neither drive, use red diesel nor live in a rural community. That said, as a citizen stakeholder with a particular interest in consultations, I think this consultation asks the right questions of the right people and I applaud the decision to make its existence public rather than conducting it “informally” without bringing it to the attention of the wider public.

My personal response would be that neither legislation nor any other form of regulation of this is necessary and you should continue to operate under HMRC’s powers to manage the tax system. However if there are any unintended consequences (which I see you are seeking to assess in your final three questions) then perhaps you could proceed by way of an extra statutory concession, if you’re still creating new ones, so it’s clear under what circumstances you’d expect to see it operate.

Kudos to the team involved.  Next!

Well, next we have Inheritance Tax: Simplifying Charges on Trusts Now, see, I have problems with the underlying concept of this.  Because it seems to be all about making life simpler for people who have stuck their assets into a trust in order to avoid (legally) the full weight of inheritance tax.  Remember, in spite of what the Daily Mail and the other tabloids would have you believe, inheritance tax doesn’t affect most of us – you have to leave £325,000 before your estate has to pay anything at all and most of us outside London have houses worth less than that.  And, don’t forget, a married couple gets twice that, because the nil rate band is per person, so houses up to 650k are safe from the taxman.  And, don’t forget as well, that YOU don’t pay inheritance tax, your estate does – and, as I personally don’t believe in inherited wealth – I can’t really see the panic that sets in when people with a couple of million contemplate the possibility of forty per cent of it going back to the public purse after their death as being particularly, well, serious.

So trusts are used to avoid it, and there are rules to stop everyone putting everything into trust, so you have to pay a charge when you put the asset into the trust and then every tenth year after that – and this consultation is about whether it’s possible to simplify the calculation of the charge.

Hmmm.  It’d be a lot simpler to charge a flat rate 20% on entry and then 10% every ten years.  Let’s do that, eh?  No?

Well it’s true that I don’t know enough about trusts and how they work to make any useful contribution to the discussion on this – the problem is, that I don’t trust anyone who does to have the interests of the taxpaying citizenry as a whole in mind rather than the narrow interests of those rich enough to exercise the privilege of tax planning.

Here’s what I sent anyway.

Can I first of all say that I believe that this consultation needs to balance the interests of the wider taxpaying population against the narrow interest of those wealthy enough to exercise the privilege of tax planning via trusts. As one of the former rather than the latter, I’m very much against any simplification which gives a relaxation of the regime. To that end I’d be in favour of achieving simplicity by making the tax charge on entry into a trust a flat rate 20% and keeping the exit and periodic charges at the same rate but without any adjustments for reliefs or historic values or other adjustments. In other words, simplify the whole regime so that any distribution is charged at the same flat rate (whether capital or revenue) and the periodic and exit charges are also flat rate on the current asset value. Presumably calculating what this flat rate should be to arrive at roughly the same charge as if the trust did not exist would be do-able? If trusts are entered into for legitimate, non-tax reasons then a result which gives roughly the same result as you would get without the trust is eminently reasonable. And if trusts are entered into for tax planning reasons… why on earth is it a legitimate object of policy to facilitate legal avoidance?

Finally, your tax impact assessment says you have no evidence to suggest the measure will have any adverse equalities impacts: I cannot agree. You say there are only some 900 trusts affected by ten yearly or exit charge calculations each year. You have not given due consideration to equality if you have not considered the privilege accorded to these 900 taxpayers in contrast to the treatment of the rest of the population.

And finally, we have the technical consultation on Delivering a cap on income tax relief.  This, you will remember, is the proposal to stop rich people claiming all the reliefs that exist (on their investments in start up companies, for example) so that they reduce their income down to nothing and pay no tax for the year.  There was a bit of a furore over the inclusion of charitable donations in this and the proposal has now been revised to exclude charitable giving from the cap.  This seems fairly reasonable to me, although I would point out that in a democracy we have this thing called a government, which we elect, which is charged with collecting a contribution from everyone and then deciding on where the priority areas for spending are – the NHS or the army?  Street cleaning or child support?  The arts or sciences?  Bread or roses?  Allowing millionaires to opt out of this and decide to fund their own priorities is… well, Not Cool.

Nevertheless, I haven’t really got anything to add to the actual consultation, per se.  The impact assessment is really good, too, until you get to the end…  well, anyway, here’s what I sent to them.

Since this is a technical consultation I find I don’t have any useful insights to contribute in response to the specific questions on page 16 of the condoc. However I have a few comments in response to your final question, on the tax impact assessment.

I thought the TIA was exemplary in its clarity, particularly in the impact on individuals and households and in the consideration of equalities impacts. Well done.

However I think I might have to take issue with your assessment of the possible impacts on small businesses. I’m not clear from the consultation document how many of the reliefs now to be capped are designed to enable the funding of start up enterprises which are likely to come into the category of “small”. The section on “other impacts” in the TIA rather glosses over any substantive analysis of the effect on small firms and I wonder whether you have done any proactive consultation (with small firms who have benefited from early trade losses reliefs or qualifying loan interest relief, for example?) to make sure these proposals won’t have any unintended consequences. In an era where we are constantly being told we are in such a financial crisis that benefits, pensions and public sector salaries need to be frozen or cut and that austerity plus growth is the only policy that will save us, I would find it very strange if the proposal were to be legislated without some clearer assurance that this change will not impact negatively on growth by impacting on the flow of finance to start ups.

One comment

  1. […] you may remember that I responded last year to a consultation on The Use of Rebated Fuel for Gritting In Rural Areas.  I thought it was a good consultation – clear and well written, with a good impact […]

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