Archive for the ‘Regulation’ Category

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Nailed

December 11, 2015

They say that, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Well, my particular “hammer” is regulatory impact assessment, particularly that contained in the TIINs for tax measures.  So when I was asked to comment on the draft CIS legislation here I naturally turned to the explanatory memorandum to see what it had to say about the TIIN.

This is what it says:

A Tax Information and Impact Note covering this instrument was published on 10 December 2014 and is available on the HMRC website at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/ta x- inf ormat ion-a nd- impact-notes-t iins.

I’m not by any means a conspiracy theorist: I’ve worked in HMRC and seen what can go wrong with publication.  When I looked at this for the first time, on Wednesday night, I dropped a line to the HMRC contact and to their press office with a question and with a mild comment that I was surprised they had linked here, to the overarching list of ALL of HMRC’s TIINs, rather than here, to the actual TIIN for this measure.  You will see that someone has helpfully tried to remedy this since then, but for some reason the revision contains random spaces so isn’t a clickable link.

Nevertheless, if we look at the TIIN for “Improving the operation of the Construction Industry Scheme” published on 10 December 2014 (and there is only one listed) we can see that the impact on business reads as follows:

These proposals are expected to relieve some of the regulatory burden of the CIS scheme.

The following measures, nil returns, joint ventures and repayments are expected to have a negligible impact on businesses. The measures simplifying the qualifying conditions for gross payment status will Benefit companies and partnerships by increasing their cash-flow.

The main changes to the CIS will take place in 2016 and 2017 and it is anticipated that it will affect approximately 40,000 businesses. Approximately 5 per cent of sole-trader contractors (2000) may require additional support as legislation is introduced to make verification and online filing mandatory.

Estimates of the impact on businesses will be established and published once details of the measure have been finalised.

(my emphasis)

Now, my question to the responsible official and to the HMRC Press Office was, where are the revised estimates for the impact on business, as the measure, or at least this bit of it, is about as final as you can get, surely?

Impact assessments are an enterprise that ought to be at the heart of government – an explanation of the evidence that underlies a policy decision, made transparent for the citizen to see for themselves that the government is making good, rational decisions.  They are important in the making of delegated legislation like Statutory Instruments because no parliamentary time is devoted to the Instrument’s discussion.  SIs are passed or not as they stand, and the mechanisms around their production are supposed to ensure that all the relevant factors have been taken into account before they are put before Parliament to be rubber stamped.  The Explanatory Memorandum should tell us what is being done, why, and in what policy context, that equality and human rights have been considered, that there has been consultation with those affected and the impacts have been considered, with a special mention on those impacts on small businesses, and that there is appropriate guidance in place.  Parliament should be able to take it as read, that all that needs to be done, has been done.

What we have with this draft SI is a link to an impact assessment which promises an update, but what we don’t have is an update which supports the legislation.  I suspect that the problem is simply that the original TIIN was badly drafted and that the promise of further consideration of the impacts refers to the previous paragraph, the difficult bits about mandatory electronic filing that haven’t been legislated yet and not to the whole package, but that’s not actually what it says.

It depends on your point of view.  If I had still been working for HMRC then I would have told the official what I have said above, and asked that the TIIN was updated or else the original clarified, perhaps by a note in the EM.

If I were an MP, I would consider it insulting to be asked to rubber stamp something that wasn’t ready to be passed on the nod (and I might well be asking my researcher to talk to the HoC library about his entry in Wikipedia “The last time a draft statutory instrument subject to affirmative procedure was not approved by the House of Commons was on 12 November 1969 when the House rejected four draft Orders relating to parliamentary constituencies.”)

If I were a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments I might want to draw the attention of the House to this SI on ground ix: “any other ground which does not go to its merits or the policy behind it” i.e. that the impact assessment has not, as promised, been updated.

It’s a small thing, but it shows either a contempt for the Parliamentary process or – and much more likely – that HMRC’s staffing levels have, finally, reached breaking point.

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Tax wizards: to arms!

March 30, 2015

I know I have been banging on about the EU VAT place of supply changes for months now, and that the affected traders are too small for the professional tax press to be much interested (because the people whose businesses are being wiped out are too small to need the services of an agent, often).  But, if you ARE a tax wizard, why not have a look at these interviews with affected traders.  Demand your professional association and professional press take an interest.  This is where HMRC’s stakeholder model breaks down, where there IS no stakeholder group for them to engage with until people get annoyed enough to start one from scratch.

Do tax wizards do pro bono work?  Ask your organisations to add their voices to the campaign.

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Small firms impact: not waving but drowning [Part 2 of 4]

February 5, 2015

A TIIN is supposed to answer seven questions.  (They are here in the TIIN instructions – the TIIN instructions still aren’t published by HMRC – and why not??? – but let’s assume the basic principle is still the same as “in my day”.)

The questions are:

What are you doing?

Why are you doing it?

Why are you doing it this way?

What will it cost/raise?

What will it cost the customer?

What will it cost the department?

Are there any other impacts?

“Why are you doing it” is a powerful question in the “better regulation” mindset, which basically reflects a worldview in which regulation is a Bad Thing in and of itself.  The idea is that regulation is nothing more than Red Tape, which would be Strangling Business unless it was itself regulated.  “Why are you doing it (at all)” is really the question, if you think that having no regulation at all is the ideal.

So why is the government doing MOSS at all?  Well let’s see.  The policy objective field of the TIIN (still on page A111) is where the answer ought to be, and it says:

Policy objective The measure will make business to consumer (B2C) supplies of BTE services taxable where they are consumed, thereby removing an incentive for businesses to locate offshore. This will level the playing field for UK BTE suppliers and is consistent with the Government’s aim of fairness in the tax system. The MOSS business simplification scheme is intended to reduce the administrative burdens and costs associated with this rule change and multiple VAT registrations for BTE suppliers, particularly for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Translated into English, I think this means there are two objectives:

  1. The main objective is to stop big companies from gaming the system by setting up shop somewhere with a low VAT rate.  Instead of VAT being charged where the supplier is located, from January 2015 it is charged (for electronic services like e-books) where the customer is located.  So small companies should have a more “level… playing field… consistent with the Government’s aim of fairness…”
  2. Because this change comes with associated costs for small companies, there will also be the “mini one stop shop”, the MOSS, which stops you having to register for VAT separately in each member state and instead handles it all in once place, the place the seller is located.

Now, I think the objectives are good ones in themselves.  Let’s make it easier for authors to sell their own works, for craftswomen to sell their own knitting patterns, for musicians to sell their own tunes, directly to the customer without having to lose a slice of their profits to a multinational selling for them.  And, yes, let’s keep the administration as simple as possible.

So what went wrong?

Let’s go back to the TIIN, to the summary of impacts that starts at the bottom of page A112.

Screenshot 2015-02-05 14.14.50

The first line shows you how much money the government expects to get as a result of this change.  The numbers are in millions of pounds, and the plus sign means the government expects to get this much tax in from the change.

The first few months of 2015 are still in the 2014-15 tax year (the tax year runs from 6th April one year to 5th April the next year).  So between January 1st and April 5th 2015 the UK government estimates it will make £70 million in VAT from the changes.  In a full year, it thinks it will make an extra £300 million plus, with the numbers rising over time.

I think we can all agree three hundred million is a sum worth having.  For the government, it’s the cost of, say, the entire NHS radiotherapy service (table 9 page 28, 2011-12 figures).  But look at this: “The MOSS element of the measure is expected to have a negligible impact on the Exchequer.”

Now, I understand “negligible” in an impact assessment to mean “less than £100,000 across the entire affected population”, which is what it used to mean in 2012 when I was last working for the government.  But have a think about that.  The entire farrago of MOSS is expected to bring in less than a hundred grand?  Seriously?

Because one of the seven questions written into the tax original impact assessment proposals, and which was still there when I obtained the TIIN instructions and published them on my blog, is

why are you doing it this way???

Why the hell are you imposing this business-busting system on people from whom you expect to raise peanuts, when you’re still going to get the moolah you want from the big businesses it’s really aimed at?  Is this really the only way?

Option appraisal is one of the key elements of impact assessment methodology: generating and assessing all the possible ways of solving a possible policy issue and then choosing the best one, even if it’s the option to “do nothing” – that’s how governments tell themselves they solve problems.

So where is the options appraisal in this TIIN?

Don’t bother to look.  It isn’t there.

Look instead at the assessment of the economic impact.

This measure should have positive economic impacts by minimising distortions to the location of the economic activity and increasing competition between large and smaller suppliers within the sectors affected.

Well perhaps it “should”.  In an ideal world it would.  But in this imperfect world, HMRC completely overlooked the one-woman kitchen-table microbusiness and introduced a system which, far from “minimising distortions” and “increasing competition” will in fact wipe out the micro businesses or else drive them into the arms of the very businesses whose behaviour caused the policy problem in the first place.

A proper options appraisal might have included:

  • excluding micro businesses from the regulation altogether
  • allowing a longer lead in time before the regulation affected small and micro businesses
  • unilaterally setting a threshold below which the regulations do not apply
  • making payment processors legally responsible for operating the regulation
  • devising a MOSS which itself operated as a payment processor for micro businesses (instead of a paypal or worldpay etc button you could have a MOSS button – your money would come to you VIA the government, but come to you guaranteed VAT-compliant)

There might have been good reasons for and against any or all of these.  But if you don’t ask the right questions of the right people, well, you’ll never know, will you?

 

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Intrastat

February 27, 2014

You’re going to have to bear with me.  I’m going to talk about Intrastat, and about Administrative Burden, and unless you’re a statistician by trade or inclination, they’re about the most snooze-worthy topics imaginable.  Try and stay awake at the back  –  I’ll smuggle in a joke or a quiz somewhere- (or consider printing this entry out and reading it in bed and you’re almost guarantzzzzzzzz…)

I’m awake.  Honest!

OK then, look at this page of incredibly boring trade statistics.  Or don’t, but DO read this explanation:

These statistics record the movement – for trade purposes – of goods between the UK and both EU and non-EU countries.

They are collected from the EU-wide Intrastat survey and from Customs import and export entries, both administered by HMRC.

Now, I read this as meaning we’ve got trade statistics collected by two different methods; within the EU via Instrastat, and outside the EU from “Customs import and export entries”.  So my first thought is, are we comparing like with like?  I’m guessing that there are good reasons why not, because the EU is supposed to be a free trading zone and there are different customs duties applied to goods from outside the EU.

Intrastat is statistics (the “stats” part) from trading inside, “intra”, the EU.  With me so far?  But there’s no need, theoretically, for people to tell the authorities what they’re exporting and importing within the EU, so the Intrastat process seems to be finely balanced between forcing people to provide data that gives them no individual benefit, and obtaining data which does have some kind of collective benefit.  The benefit or otherwise of having trade statistics at all is left as an exercise for the class.  Write on one side of the paper only, and, please, refrain from showing your workings.

Now the UK is pretty groovy in the field of administrative burden; we have a high threshold for VAT registration (is it still the highest in Europe?  Anyone?  Bueller?) We used to have a serious programme of reduction in administrative burden …

All right, it’s probably time to talk about administrative burden now.  Get an expresso, I’ll wait.

“Administrative burden” is a way of conceptualising the cost of regulatory action.  Think about it this way.  If the government makes you spend one afternoon a year filling in your tax return, you lose an afternoon out of your life.  You could have been reading a book, watching bad telly, taking your kids to the park…  But there isn’t – theoretically – a monetary value to stick on that.  But if a business has to spend an afternoon filling in forms, there conceptually is a hard monetary cost to that.  The three hours your hairdresser spends filling in her tax return is three hours that she isn’t cutting hair, so she’s theoretically lost 3 x her hourly profit.  That’s the measure of the “administrative burden” of regulation.

(Sidebar for the excessively caffeinated; in 2010 the government decided  your time in the “reading a book, watching bad telly…” example does have, if not a cost, at least a value.  It’s £14.20 an hour.  So there.)

So.  There’s an “administrative burden” – a cost to business of the time they spend filling in and sending off the forms – to “intrastat” – the statistical information about movement of goods inside the EU.

Now interestingly enough the last government had a five year mission… I mean, it set up a five year programme to reduce the administrative burden on business by 10%.  Although, rather heartbreakingly for those of us who might have agonised over some of the work on it, by the time they’d gloriously achieved the target there was a new government who didn’t give a hoot about what the previous government had done but certainly wasn’t going to let anyone crow about them having reduced the regulatory burden when the new narrative was all about the red tape challenge.  So the results were in an unpublicised Budget paper called “Delivering a new relationship with business” and oooh look at paragraph 2.5 on, would you believe it, Intrastat:

2.5 On 1 January 2010 the exemption threshold for completing Intrastat forms for arrivals was reduced from 97 per cent to 95 per cent. All VAT registered businesses who reach the threshold for their value of arrivals or dispatches (goods arriving from or going to other Member States) are required to submit Intrastat declarations on a monthly basis. The threshold reduction means that around 6900 businesses will no longer have to complete the arrivals declaration and will benefit from a share of the estimated £1.8 million admin burden savings.

Now my calculator says that £1.8m divided by 6900 is £260.  So it cost £260-ish to fill in an Intrastat survey each year back in 2009?  It says it in the impact assessment, so it must be true.

Well if we look at the consultation into a further “simplification” of intrastat (closing date for comments 8th April) there are a couple of draft TIINs for the options under consideration.  Tick v.g. to the policy team for correct use of TIIN to cost out the options under consideration, by the way – the idea of doing an impact assessment is to look at the costs and benefits of options and decide on the best policy action according to the balance of costs and benefits.

So we are currently looking at options.

One of them, is the EU proposal to collect data only from exporters.  You can see the benefits: if you only ask one side of the transaction to report, you can halve the amount of data collected.  So I sell a million widgets to France and there’s only one form to fill in, the one saying I sold them, and not two – one by me and one by them – but provided the data is shared across europe the total information collected is still the same.

However we don’t seem to like that idea.  I’m not sure why, but the condoc drips condescension towards it:

“Theoretically, there are superficial benefits to be achieved by doing this…”

and

“It also appears to make the existing asymmetries between Member States data disappear overnight.” (and no, not my emphasis!)

Let’s have a look at the options and what they’d cost.

Option One – SIMSTAT proposal – removal of the requirement to submit arrivals declarations (with additional data requirements at dispatch)

In other words the EU proposal, to make the data collection one sided, from the sender only.  So you’d only collect information from exporters (and not from both importers and exporters) but you’d made the exporters give a bit more detail.

If you look at page 12 of the consultation document you’ll see the impact assessment suggests HMRC would have to spend £1.1m on computer equipment and the administrative burden on businesses would go UP by £0.6m.

(Irrelevant joke insert: What do you call a man with a plank on his head?  Edward.  I told you I’d smuggle in a joke if you stayed awake till the end.)

Then there’s option two, which seems to be the worst of all possible worlds: increase the data requirements on exporters and (slightly) reduce the numbers required to give information on imports, or, as the condoc has it

Option Two – SIMSTAT proposal (with additional data requirements at dispatch) – reducing coverage for arrivals to 90% to meet national requirements

This one still costs HMRC £1.1m AND increases the admin burden by £2.3m.  So let’s not do that, eh?

(oh, and Irrelevant Joke data: you have to pronounce it ‘ead wood)

Then there’s the Third Way.

Option Three – Alternative simplification proposal: 93% coverage for arrivals and dispatches (used for illustrative and comparative purposes)

This one apparently doesn’t cost HMRC anything AND it reduces the admin burden by £3.6m a year.  Oh, and it takes 8500 of the smallest businesses out of having to produce stats at all which, my calculator suggests, will save them £423 each and that seems quite a lot more than the £260 it was costing businesses in 2009 but there you go.

Now impact assessment theology would suggest it’s a no-brainer that you simply do that one; achieves the same objective and costs less.

So why are we having a public consultation on it?

The consultation is directed at people who either have to produce intrastat declarations, or make use of the resulting trade statistics.  But it’s the “how did we get here” bit of the consultation that interests me:

The EU Commission have put forward a proposal to modernise the Intrastat system which is targeted for implementation from 2017.

To offer a more immediate simplification, during 2013 HMRC informally consulted with businesses required to submit Intrastat declarations and users of Intrastat data on a proposal to reduce the coverage of trade on which data must be collected by the Intrastat system for arrivals from 95% to 93%. The UK, along with other Member States, worked with the EU Commission to deliver this change and as a consequence the EU legislation has been amended resulting in an increase to the Intrastat Exemption Threshold for arrivals from £600,000 to £1,200,000 from 1 January 2014.

So are we saying that we’ve already achieved option 3 and we don’t want any further change?  And that further change will add to HMRC and to businesses’ costs?  And we’re trying to persuade our fellow states that we don’t need to make any further change?

Well then, I go back to, why the consultation?

Are we – I wonder – hoping that affected international businesses will kick up a fuss in other european states and get them to back the UK proposal/status quo?  Or are we genuinely looking to confirm or refine our costing data, since there seems to be some question over the cost of the increased data requirements on the exporters if we went to the asymmetric method.

Speaking as a PhD student, wouldn’t it be cheaper, or at least more efficient, to spend some money on getting some research done?  Stick a few grand in the pot, get the other member states to do the same, and get someone to lead a research project and send a bunch of eager young PhDs and post-docs out to get some actual data from some actual businesses and write it up in a comprehensible way?  (And dear god no, I’m not pitching for the work!)

In other words, while Oliver Letwin might not think that consultation is the place to gather “views”, I’m not entirely certain it’s the right place to gather “data” either.  And maybe this is an instance where data would be more valuable than views.

(Irrelevant joke insert: What do you call a man with three planks on his head?  Edward Woodward.)

Thank you for staying awake.  As you were.

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Three. Probably.

January 15, 2014

A search on “open consultations” in the category “HMRC” on gov.uk today tells me there are three open consultations.  I’m not sure I believe them after the shenanigans I reported on in my 7th January post (customer service tip: if someone tells you a site isn’t working, the least helpful response is “I don’t currently see any technical problems…”) but let’s roll with it.

The three are:

Real time information: legislative changes.  Opened 29th November (so why didn’t it show up when I searched on the same terms on 7th January?) and it closes on 24 January.  Incidentally, wouldn’t it be really, really helpful if you could search on closing date on gov.uk?  Or at least that you could tell from the search results when the consultation closes and didn’t have to click through to find out?

Onshore employment intermediaries: false self-employment.  Opened 10 December, closes 4 February.

Assistance with electronic filing of VAT returns.  Opened 20 December, closes 14 February.

So let’s start with the Real Time Information (RTI) one.  RTI, in case you didn’t already know, is the PAYE equivalent of Universal Credit – it’s the New! Improved!  All-singing!  All-dancing! method of making sure that Universal Credit will work because the government will know, from timely information from employers, who has worked where and when, so people will – perhaps, if it all works, fingers crossed – finally be able to dip in and out of paid work without screwing up their benefits for six months.

But from an employer’s viewpoint, it’s a royal pain.  You have to report payments to employees when you make them, not at the end of the month or quarter or year or whenever you can stop to draw breath.

There’s little point looking at the actual consultation, because this is one of the Finance Bill consultations – in other words, the policy has already been decided and we’re not being asked for our opinions on whether it’s a good idea or not, just for technical comments on whether or not the regulations that have been written will actually work as described.  And I don’t really feel like doing the government’s unpaid copy-editing for them this morning so we’ll skip that.

There are a few interesting things we might want to think about, though.

First of all, the TIIN (surprise!)  They aren’t publishing a TIIN with this because they’ve already published one.  In fact they’ve published two, one for the penalty regime here and one for the actual policy change.

The one for the penalty regime says that there will be no actual exchequer impact.  In fact the government says it doesn’t expect to get any money in from these penalties at all, or at least an amount which shows up as “nil” on a TIIN.  If memory serves, that’s something like a quarter of a million threshold (grateful if anyone can confirm or amend this figure please?)

That’s a good thing, of course.  The point of penalties is to change behaviour, not to collect money.  The idea is that people should make the change to RTI and get used to sending the same information they would always have sent, just a bit earlier and in a different way.  I can see two problems with that.

First of all the level of the penalty.  It needs to be a “smacked wrist” amount – enough that you know not to put your hand into the fire but not so great that your parents get done for child abuse.  So if you’re a small business with up to nine employees, it’s a hundred quid.  Enough to make you want not to incur it, but not enough (one hopes!) to bankrupt you.

But look at paragraph 16 of the condoc:

16. Regulation 67I sets the size of the late filing penalties as follows:

 £100 for schemes with 1 – 9 employees;

 £200 for schemes with 10 – 49 employees;

 £300 for schemes with 50 – 249 employees; and

 £400 for schemes with 250 or more employees.

If I have 300 employees on the average wage of £26,500 then I’m paying out over half a million in wages every month (£26,500 x 300 / 12 = 662,500).  Now, in comparison to £662,500, is £400 a “smacked wrist” or is it, well, peanuts?  An amount which it might very well be worthwhile my incurring so I can sort out my RTI submission at my own pace?

In other words, I think they got the gearing of the penalties a bit wonky.  But it’s too late now, we’re not being asked to comment on that.

Secondly, as I have commented before, there’s not a great deal of point charging “smacked wrist” penalties if you don’t actually go out and collect them, and is HMRC now committed to sending someone round to knock on the employer’s door if they incur a £100 or £400 penalty and explain to them how it arose and, more to the point, what they can do to avoid incurring another?  Otherwise I think that “exchequer effect – nil” may turn out to be, shall we say, optimistic?  Or should that be pessimistic?

And finally, what about the equalities impact?  I said in my response to the consultation on the actual policy that I was worried about the impact on “care and support” employers, which is HMRC jargon for people who have employees but who aren’t businesses.  People who employ nannies, for example, or, more worryingly, people who are given a “care budget” instead of a home help and have to get on and organise their own support package including paying their carers and working out the tax due on their pay.

In the TIIN for the actual policy it says under equalities impacts that

Care and support employers will also have the option to file RTI on paper, and those wishing to use this option will report RTI from April 2014. This date has been deferred from April 2013 in line with customer feedback, to allow more time for HMRC to thoroughly test the new paper forms and guidance with customers who will use them.

So.  We’re not publishing another TIIN.  We’re not updating the equalities impact, then?  Has there actually BEEN any testing of the impact on care and support employers?  Are they happy, or at least confident they’ll be able to comply?  Does anyone know?

Sigh.  I’d write to my MP again, but it’s Nick Clegg and I think he’s probably getting sick of hearing from me about inadequate government equality impact assessments by now.  Over to you.

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Guest Post: The Honest (White) Collar

January 7, 2013

This is a guest post by FTD the barrister and author behind the forthedefence.org blog.

With much fanfare this week Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs announced their top thirty two tax cheats of 2012. Reminiscent of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ the mug shots of these ‘tax cheats’ was shown on television, in the newspapers and has been widely publicised on the internet.

If you missed it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmrcgovuk/sets/72157632409515581

I don’t like it. I don’t like it because it’s crass and tabloid.

And, I don’t like it because I’m proved right.

In 2005, I was a law student and in the early part of the year the Inland Revenue was merged with HM Revenue & Customs to become HMRC. I remember writing a scathing essay about how the ‘co-op culture’ of the Inland Revenue was incompatible with the ‘cop culture’ of Customs.

Combine that with the prospect of staff being moved over to the Serious Organised Crime Agency on the horizon and it was all getting a little culturally confusing.

Traditionally…

England and Wales have had three ‘law enforcement’ agencies to deal with as individuals. The police, the revenue and customs.

Of those, the most ‘enforcement’ driven was customs. Customs for centuries have raised billions of £s for the treasury by enforcing the law with regard to import and export. They have very little protective function and a very high enforcement function.

If you ask the older wigs around Temple what Customs were like, they will tell you some stories. If you were against a dodgy customs officer then they put a bent copper in the shade.

Remember, the police are still tethered (although pulling) to a leash: policing by consent. British sensibilities would never allow a police force which was full enforcement orientated. Comparatively, Customs were set up with no such leash, they had a job, catch the rum smugglers etc, extract the duties owing.

Of course, not everyone tries to smuggle dodgy gin, or commits criminal offences – but, everyone does pay taxes. So, at the other end of the scale was the Inland Revenue. An enforcement agency to an extent, but an agency which tried to co-operate with the tax payer to obtain dues owing.

My fear was always that customs culture would overwhelm the co-operative culture of the Inland Revenue.

By example, prior to 2006, today’s advertised top taxcrims would have been dealt with by:

Operation Inertia – MTIC fraud (VAT) – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Hippolamp – Tobacco duty evasion –  would have been a Customs job.

Operation Recuprical – Tax fraud –  Inland Revenue (possibly police)

Operation Reinforce – Import duty evasion would have been a Customs job.

Operation Rust – Alcohol duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Tulipbox – VAT fraud – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Snowbank – Duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Tousle 95 – Tobacco duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Hazel Lamp – Tobacco duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

Operation Vara – Import duty evasion – would have been a Customs job.

… should have been a customs job.

Clearly this latest piece of HMRC PR is a customs job. And, combined with the eyes. yes, you’ve all seen the ‘undeclared income eyes’ on bill boards, the tube, the train on the sides of buses.

It would seem to me that customs culture has won out. Combat don’t co-operate. The days of Moira Stuart, the cartoon of the Revenue man in the bowler hat: tax doesn’t have to be taxing are gone.

Culturally

Why do I say it’s wrong? I don’t know the figures, whether enforcement or co-operation are better. But, what I do know is that a culture of enforcement rather than co-operation widens the caste of people who are to be potentially criminalised, not only is that crass, it’s wrong.

It’s all too us and them, the Government suspects everyone, suspects we’re all at the tax dodge. Forget the fact that most of you pay your taxes PAYE.

People are less likely to be open with HMRC if they think they are a suspect rather than a customer. Afterall, to coin a phrase which all coppers love to hate, ‘my taxes pay your wages mate.’

FTD

Visit forthedefence.org for more blog posts about criminal justice today in the UK.

 

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Starbux redux

October 19, 2012

So the original Reuters investigation into Starbucks’ tax position reported that

There is no suggestion Starbucks has broken any laws. Indeed, the group’s overall tax rate – including deferred taxes which may or may not be paid in the future – was 31 percent last year, much higher than the 18.5 percent average rate that campaign group Citizens for Tax Justice says large U.S. corporations paid in recent years.

But on overseas income, Starbucks paid an average tax rate of 13 percent, one of the lowest in the consumer goods sector.

After the press furore earlier in the week there was also, as you would expect these days, a bit of a twitter flurry about the circumstances around the whole position.  The point I hadn’t picked up on earlier was that the 31% tax figure in the US consolidated accounts may not represent tax actually paid.  It might simply be a provision for the tax that they would have to pay if they eventually distributed the profits back to the US.

Which is the same as paying it, right?  Just paying it next year rather than this?

Well no, actually, or at least not necessarily.

In 2004 there was a weaselly-named piece of US legislation called the the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.  The premise was that, if US-based multinationals repatriated the profits they were keeping offshore they would use the money to create jobs, no, honest, guv.  So wouldn’t it be a good idea to offer them a tax break to do so?  Instead of charging them, say, 35% tax, just charge them 5 and a quarter per cent.  Because, you know, half a loaf is better than none, so 5.25% of a squillion is a lot better than 35% of nothing, and look at the jobs that would follow!

Yes, look.  Apparently – and I’m shocked, shocked! to read it – the companies took the money AND cut jobs at the same time.  Stellar!  As the Congressional Research Service politely puts it,

While empirical evidence is clear that this provision resulted in a significant increase in repatriated earnings, empirical evidence is unable to show a corresponding increase in domestic investment or employment.

I don’t know much about US politics except what I see on the news or read online, but I gather that there is lobbying afoot to introduce a similar tax break again…

But I stress, this isn’t about Starbucks or any other multinational.  It’s about regulatory capture of nation states by multinationals, so that tax arbitrage – finding the jurisdiction with the lowest effective tax rate and putting your profitable operations there – becomes a legitimate way of structuring your business.  And for governments it becomes routine to be offering a ludicrously low tax rate in the hope that multinationals who relocate will at least let you have crumbs from their table in sales taxes (VAT)  and the personal taxes you can levy on their employees (PAYE).

But as Richard Murphy points out, this is privileging large multinationals over indigenous small businesses.

Hmm… has anyone else noticed the disappearance of the Small Firms Impact Test from the BIS website since Michael Fallon took over from Mark Prisk?  (Was it something I said?)  I put in an FoI request a while ago to see the minutes of the cross Whitehall Better Regulation, consultation and economist networks’ meetings and am being fobbed off that they need time to think about it, because it may be exempt under the “formulation of government policy” exclusion, apparently.

What policy could they possibly be formulating?

Well, the coalition have already thrown away the rules about consultation, quietly slipping a new set of guidelines onto the Cabinet Office website.  And, if you look very, very closely at the last line (item 9) of this very boring and obscure document about Changes to Impact Assessment and Regulatory Policy Scrutiny, you’ll see that

A full update to the IA Guidance will be issued in the autumn, following the conclusions from the Better Regulation Framework Review.

Google “Better Regulation Framework Review” and you’ll find one hit, the link above (actually you may now get two, one being this blog)   But my point is you won’t find a public announcement of any such review.  Who’s conducting it?  What external input are they having into it?  And who will lay me a tenner on the Small Firms Impact Test making it into the next version?  Interesting times!