Archive for the ‘Consultation’ Category

h1

’twas the night before Budget…

March 7, 2017

It’s the night before the Budget. Why does HMRC have four open consultations on the gov.uk website?

Let’s look at them, shall we?

Withdrawal of extra statutory concessions 2017 is a call for evidence that was issued in January and closes at quarter to midnight tonight.  Unless you’re really interested in the withdrawal of extra-statutory concessions, I suggest we leave that one well alone.

Hybrid and other mismatches – draft guidance is some technical guidance for HMRC staff and for businesses on how the legislation on, er, hybrid and other mismatches will work.  It’s complicated stuff coming out of the OECD BEPS project and I really feel as if I ought to buckle down and make an effort to understand it…

However in the real world…

Simplifying the administration of Alcohol Duty published 16 February, closes 26 April.  This seems like a private conversation between the alcohol industry and HMRC but is being conducted in public for the sake of transparency.  Again, I feel as if I ought to care enough to read it through, but again…

Finally we have:

Sanctions to tackle tobacco duty evasion and other excise duty evasion launched on 17 February and closing on 10 May (according to the website) or 12 May (according to the document). Sigh.

Incidentally I notice that the list of “who should read this” starts with “The general public”.  Seriously?  Then how are they communicating that they would welcome views from the general public?

More to the point, what is it doing sitting on the website today, the day before Budget, when you’d expect there to be a clean sheet of proposals ready for the Chancellor to start overwriting the tax rules again?

Could the answer lie in the paragraph on “getting to this stage” where it says that “at Budget 2016 the government announced that they would consult on sanctions to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco and duty evasion.” And, lo, before the next Budget… so they have.

 

 

 

 

 

h1

New Year

January 4, 2017

It’s ‘go back to work’ time, oh joy.   The last time I looked there were 106 open consultations on the gov.uk website. If you filter by the subject area of Tax and Revenue you’ll find there are seven:

  • Technical consultation: draft regulations for the Apprenticeship Levy
  • Hybrid and other mismatches – draft guidance
  • Tax-advantaged venture capital schemes – streamlining the advance assurance service
  • Scope of VAT Grouping
  • Tackling offshore tax evasion: A requirement to notify HMRC of offshore structures
  • Simplifying the Gift Aid donor benefits rules: further consultation
  • Employment Allowance: restricting the allowance from employers of ‘illegal workers’

Yeah.  Still can’t list them in the order in which they close, though.

h1

Worst of all possible worlds

December 6, 2016

You will no doubt remember the six (seven, if you include the summary) consultations on the ambitious “Making Tax Digital” proposals, which closed on 7 November.  At the Autumn Statement there was nothing in the actual speech, but, buried deep in the documentation, there was a statement that the government would be issuing a consultation response in January.

This sounded hopeful, because – if MTD is to be mandatory from 2017 or 18 – then the legislation needs to go into the 2017 Finance Bill and the draft clauses for that were published today, 5th December.

But look what it says here, in OLD (The Overview of Legislation in Draft) at the end of paragraph 6.1:

To ensure that the views of respondents to the consultations are fully considered, the government will publish its response to all 6 consultations, together with draft Finance Bill 2017 legislation in January 2017.  [my emphasis]

So not only is there an absurdly short timescale for the government to consider the multiple responses it is “pleased” to have received on MTD, but it plans to bring forward the legislation, or at least some legislation, anyway, except it will be out a month later than all the rest, shortening the time available for that to be scrutinised.

Poor show all round, I say.

h1

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?

h1

A quick note on citizen stakeholders. And, tents.

September 5, 2016

I bloody hate the term “stakeholder”.  It started off as a reasonable sort of idea, that a business doesn’t just have to answer to its shareholders but has a wider responsibility to its customers, employees, suppliers and to society in general.  The current usage of stakeholder, so far as I can see, is to mean ‘anyone who might affect or be affected by an organisation’, in other words it’s a word in danger of becoming almost meaningless.  Unless you’re HMRC.

Yes, HMRC had its annual “stakeholder conference” today.  Yes, yes, I know it’s going to look like I’m having a massive attack of Lyndon B Johnson’s tent syndrome because I wasn’t invited, but bear with me.  Whoever they invite (here’s the list from the first one, in 2013) they can’t hope to include everyone.

But they bloody should include everyone, because we are all stakeholders in – affected by the actions of – our national tax authority.  At the very least, you’d think a twenty-first century government department with ambitions to make itself one of the most digitally advanced tax authorities in the world could manage to live stream the conference so we didn’t have to follow it second hand on twitter.

Nobody cares, I think I hear you say?  Well, people don’t know what they don’t know.  I have been conducting a little experiment lately where every time I have a conversation with a small business owner (and I mean a really small business – the hairdressers and taxi drivers of this world, the coffee shop owners and pub landlords) I have asked them about Making Tax Digital, the ambitious plan to make HMRC digital by making us all keep records electronically and none of your excel spreadsheets and carrier bags of records either.  None of my small businesses had heard of MTD, unless I have prompted them with the “four tax returns a year” horror stories from the budget before last, and then it’s been a vague, might have come across it.  And then I have (to the best of my knowledge and ability) explained it, and then I have spent the rest of my visit scraping them off the ceiling and advising them to write to their MP and to answer the consultation rather than shouting at me.

In other words, no-one is interested in HMRC until it does something that affects them.  And MTD will affect us all: we are all stakeholders.  Talk to us all, HMRC: not just to the Usual Suspects but to the people who won’t know they’re interested till you interest them.  Because interested is better than furious, honest.

 

h1

MTD: it means “making tax digital”. (Why oh why would we want to?)

August 17, 2016

There’s a big hole in the heart of the seven consultation documents the government published on Monday about MTD, the plan to “make tax digital”, and it is this: why the hell are they doing it in the first place?

Seriously.  The overview document begins

The way you interact with the tax system is changing. From 2018 it will become increasingly digital and most businesses, the self-employed and landlords will need to use software or apps to keep their business records, and to update HMRC quarterly. The underlying tax rules will be simplified to support these changes.

Note the passive “is changing”.  Not the active “we are changing it…”

The main business document tells us baldly that it is consulting on how and not whether to MTD (make tax digital).

At Autumn Statement 2015, the government announced that, by 2020, it would require most businesses, self-employed people and landlords to keep track of their tax affairs digitally and update HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) at least quarterly via their digital tax account. This consultation considers in more detail how these new processes should operate.

The Ministerial introduction tries to allay any fears we may have:

Freeing businesses from red tape and allowing them to flourish is a central part of our long-term economic plan for Britain. Businesses want a simpler tax system.

This is why at the 2015 Spending Review the government announced it would invest £1.3bn to transform HMRC into one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world. We want to create something that is more effective, more efficient and easier for taxpayers.

OK then, but why (in the impact assessment chapter, on page 60) do we identify administrative burden savings for business of somewhere between £85m and £250m globally as against a saving to the exchequer (page 67) of £945 million – plus an uncosted benefit to HMRC from “significant operational changes”, including the orwellian “enhanced risk rules which will build in upstream compliance through nudges, prompts and personalised messaging for businesses” (page 71)

My problem is I think there’s probably a good idea in there somewhere, but HMRC have lost their mojo as far as communications are concerned.  They can talk to “stakeholder groups” all they like but they aren’t reaching the rest of us – and it’s human nature that commentators *cough* who aren’t on the “stakeholder” lists are going to be a bit pissed off that they had to find out about the condocs from twitter or from the Daily Telegraph.  My sole (thus far) academic paper is entitled “Tax Prats and Citizen Stakeholders” and “argues that othering non-professionals as ‘tax prats’ should cease in favour of inclusion of ‘citizen stakeholders’.”  In other words, we are all stakeholders in our country’s tax system and the conversation about a change as sweeping as this one shouldn’t take place only between professionals, whether they be professional tax practitioners or professional commentators.

What would I have done differently?

Well look at online tax returns.  In 2015 85% of us, over ten million people, filed tax returns online.  In 2002 it was seventy five thousand.  Why the change?  Because it’s easier, there’s no compulsion, and because there are benefits for both sides (you can do it later, and it works out how much you need to pay).

I’d have built an app and put it out onto the app stores and let people see for themselves whether it was better.  I’d have had a Hector the Inspector avatar walk you through what to click to get it to work and hired Ewan McGregor to do his Alec Guiness lite voice over.

I’d have made it simple as a game and made it work with all the most common accounting packages.  I’d have made it like a fitness app or a calorie counting app, where you can get the data from elsewhere (a fitbit or a barcode on your shopping, or in this case a bookkeeping app) or you can enter the data yourself… and then press a button to close it off/agree it’s correct.  I wouldn’t have linked it to the HMRC systems but I’d have had it tell users that “if your results for this quarter were repeated for the rest of the year you would need to pay [x amount] of tax and NIC”… and then I’d have worked out a way to make final result (“if you’re happy with the figures, click here…”) flow to the HMRC system, even if that bit had to wait a year or two.  I’d have spent half a million developing a clever, cute little app that did at least some of what the MTD project is supposed to do and put it out there free of charge for people to try if they felt like it, use if they wanted to.  And THEN we could have had a meaningful conversation about how to get people to use it, without arguing about whether we’re talking about four tax returns a year, compulsory photographing of receipts and using the system as a “cash cow”.  If you build it, they will come.

h1

Holiday reading?

July 20, 2016

If I’m reading the Parliament website correctly (and always assuming nothing has changed with the change of Prime Minister), then Parliament “rises” – goes on holiday – tomorrow, 21st July.  They will be off for the summer, coming back briefly for ten days in September before the party conferences, until term starts properly again on 10th October.   (And even then the poor dears will need a break for a week in November – what DO they do all day! – to see them through to Christmas.)

It really makes you wonder about the 65 open consultations listed on the gov.uk website today, doesn’t it?  Are people really going to give up some of their time to give their views on, say, the future of the inter-city West Coast rail franchise (closes 8th August) or the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment: second independent review call for evidence (closes 16th September) when the Minister who signed off on the actual consultation may not be in place when the results are in, and in any event policy priorities are likely to have changed?

HMRC has six open consultations: each of them opened on 26th May and each has a closing date in August (and, great flying spaghetti monster, after all this time and a positive recommendation from the House of Lords Merits Committee why can gov.uk STILL not manage to let you list consultations in order of closure date???)

HMRC also has a new minister: Jane Ellison MP, the new FST.   Maybe the most useful thing she could do on her last day before the recess might be to have a quick look at the six consultations, check whether they still align with the new priorities she’s (presumably) going to be setting for the department, and decide whether they need to go ahead.  It’s my guess that a notice on the website (plus an email to “stakeholders” and other “usual suspects” who might be working on responses to the consultations) to the effect that they’ve been put on hold: take the summer off and come back in September… might be quite welcome.  What do we think?