Archive for the ‘TIINs’ Category

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Legislative v administrative

June 12, 2017

There’s a hung parliament.  Things are moving quickly: in my head, I imagine someone taking on a new job, running “legislative affairs” like Josh Lyman  in the West Wing.  Someone whose job it is to ring round the new MPs to see if they will stand for this policy or that, as each new idea for the Queen’s Speech has to be fought through separately.

Leaving aside my fantasies about there being someone competent and grown up behind the scenes, let’s look for a moment at what a hung parliament means for taxes?

Three things.  First of all, there’s unlikely to be any huge legislative change.  It’s entirely possible that the proposals to make it compulsory for businesses to keep their records on an app or computer programme and update HMRC four (five?) times a year, MTD (“Making Tax Digital”) for short, will fall.  Why would anyone back MTD when it is going to be as popular as a cup of cold sick with small businesses once they learn how it will affect them?  Kick it down the road and make it Someone Else’s Problem, would be my instinct.

Second, the difficulty in making legislative change is unlikely to apply to actual tax rates: there are different rules.  But then why would a “continuity” government want to change the rates they themselves introduced five minutes ago?  They may have to give sweeties to their supporters (abolition of APD for Northern Ireland, would be my best guess from the weekend press).

But the third thing is that administratively, things will carry on much as before.  The rule for the Civil Service is to carry on doing your job until someone tells you differently.  So the idiotic decision to carry on with the “building our futures” plan and move HMRC into big lumps instead of a distributed network of local offices will probably carry on.  There will be a new Minister, after all.  (Jane Ellison lost her seat so there will be a new Financial Secretary to the Treasury but at the time of writing I can’t see an announcement of who replaces her) so there is no-one with a vested interest in saying “no” and the inertia of “keep calm and carry on” may let this go through.

I think that’s a shame: you may not. But what IS a shame is that there will be no will to change the way policy is made. When the coalition government came in there was a will to do things differently and the political space to think them through . No-one had a vested interest in continuity but in Getting Things Done. So we had Making Tax Policy Better and the invention of the TIIN. Sigh. Ah well, business as usual, at least for a while.

 

 

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The Finance Bill

April 17, 2017

Well now we know that the Finance Bill will receive its second reading on Tuesday, 18th April.

What happened to the first reading, do I hear you ask? No, I didn’t know either, but the Parliament website helpfully tells me here that the first reading is literally just someone reading it out before it’s printed ready for discussion – a formal, one might even say ceremonial, stage.

There is, however, a particularly useful briefing paper, here, which explains the background to the second reading, the change of date for the Budget and the package of paperwork which supports the Bill.

Here’s the thing.  A lot of legislation and regulation comes before Parliament.  Not many MPs are experts in any particular subject: tax perhaps has more than many other subjects.  MPs who are not experts should be able to rely on the briefing papers that come with the bill to ensure they understand it and that it is worthy of being passed into legislation.

But they have to read them.

Seriously.

As I have said before, there are twenty measures in this Finance Bill which raise no revenue, remove no admin burden and save HMRC nothing.  Why, then, are they included in the Bill at all?

No-one is, to be realistic, going to object to the entire Finance Bill tomorrow.  The real work comes in the committee stage, next.  Let’s just hope that the MPs involved in the committee stage actually read the material that comes with the clauses.  The very least we can expect from our legislature is that those twenty measures don’t pass on the nod.

 

(Late edit: I’m indebted to a twitter correspondent for this link, to the Order Paper for tomorrow, which shows the Bill will be subject to a “split committal” – there’s a motion to deny a second reading on the ground that it “is a wholly inadequate response to the economic challenges being faced by Scotland and the UK” and there’s also some split of the Bill which, frankly, I still don’t quite understand,  between clauses “committed to a Committee of the whole House” with the rest of it… “The remainder of the Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.”  No doubt all will become clear.  Or at least clearer.  Watch this space!)

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Writing to your MP

April 12, 2017

My MP is Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister.  He has a pretty good office set up, so that when constituents write to him there is usually some kind of action taken. I took my own advice and wrote to him about MTD, specifically about the TIIN not supporting the change and asking him to make this point in the debates on the legislation.

What his office actually did, of course, was send my email on to the Treasury and then send me the reply.

Here are some extracts from that reply:

I am pleased that your constituent agrees that the overall direction of travel towards a more digital tax system is the right one.

I have already written about that one: practically everyone who replied to the consultation used the tried and trusted formula of “yes, and, but-

The Government has listened carefully to the wide range of views put forward about the MTDfB proposals. Most commentators were positive about the vision of a fully digital tax system that matches what we are increasingly used to from interactions with other service providers.

Yes, that’s the “yes” part of the argument. Yes of course the UK should invest in a modern digital HMRC. Give HMRC the money to improve its service and we’ll applaud.

However the speed of implementation, and the capability of those in scope to adapt, alongside the costs of doing so, were all key areas of feedback.

This is the point at which the letter stops being a response to the points I actually raised and becomes a generic. I asked about the TIIN not providing evidence that the rewards of mandation justified the costs.

In response, the Chancellor announced at Spring Budget 2017 a significant change to the timetable, which will give unincorporated businesses (including landlords and the self-employed) more time to prepare for the changes. Those below the VAT threshold will not have to keep digital records and update HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) quarterly until April 2019. As well as giving them (and their agents) more time to prepare, it will also ensure two full years of testing of the new system and services before they become mandatory for this group. The Government has already responded to other areas of feedback, such as exempting those with an annual turnover below £10,000 from mandatory use, making free software available for the smallest businesses with the most straightforward affairs, and accepting the continued use of spreadsheets (as long as they fully meet the key MTDfB requirements) as a form of digital record.

Sorry, but this is more boilerplate blah, not responding to the actual point at all.

Let me also set out why we are proceeding with these important reforms. The Government is investing significant sums to improve the tax system for all taxpayers, and deliver a modern digital service. There is a growing appetite for this, with millions already using their digital tax accounts to view their liabilities and payments, to claim back overpaid tax, or renew their tax credits.

Now we’re getting somewhere: we’ve had the “yes” and a bit of the “and” – now let’s see if there’s any response to the “but…”

While most businesses want to get their tax right, the amount of tax not collected due to taxpayer error and carelessness is now around £8 billion a year. This not only costs the Exchequer, but it also causes businesses cost, uncertainty and worry when HMRC has to intervene to put things right. MTDfB will reduce the tax gap caused by error by requiring businesses to keep a digital record of their income and expenditure, using software or an app, and to update HMRC quarterly with a summary of that data.

Will it, though? Will recording in an app or online actually cut down on errors and mistakes or will it add more and interesting ways to make errors? And where does the figure of £8 billion come from and how is it calculated? At the same time as Nick Clegg was sending on this correspondence, HMRC were responding directly to me on my FoI request for the underlying computations producing the figure for tax allegedly lost. In summary: they still say no.

Your constituent suggests that MTDfB should be a voluntary scheme. These reforms will deliver a better and more modern customer experience for businesses, where they can do everything they need to digitally. They will have greater certainty over their tax affairs, confidence that they have got things right, and a clearer in-year picture of their evolving tax position, allowing them to plan their cash flow more effectively. More timely digital record keeping will lead to fewer errors, thereby reducing the likelihood of an unwanted HMRC intervention. A voluntary scheme would deliver only a fraction of these benefits.

Would it, though?  If MTD is really going to be a better way, wouldn’t people want to gain the alleged benefits by joining it?Or are we not talking about benefits to the taxpayer at all, but this mythical seventeen grand all small businesses have lost down the back of the sofa?

I would like to reassure your constituent that quarterly updates do not amount to quarterly tax returns. The software will produce a summary of income and expenditure for the quarter using the information that the business has already recorded, and prompt them to send that to HMRC. The update process will be light touch, not at all equivalent to the current annual tax return. There is no requirement for the update to be done by an agent, no penalty for inaccuracy in the update, and no requirement to pay alongside the update.

Are you reassured? I’m not reassured, not even a little bit.

HMRC is introducing the changes gradually, and piloting them thoroughly before mandatory use begins in April 2018 for unincorporated businesses above the VAT threshold. HMRC is running a large-scale pilot and plans to test with several hundred thousand businesses by March 2018, including those who do not currently use software at all, or who may be less confident in moving to digital.

March 2018 is just next year. Where is the software? Where do people sign up? How long will the trial last and when will the results be out? How will success be measured and who will do the measuring? There just plain isn’t *time* to do a proper trial before mandation kicks in.

At Spring Budget 2017, HMRC published an updated impact note for Making Tax Digital (MTD). The changes will reduce error on an ongoing basis by around 10%. MTD will contribute an additional £1.9 billion to the public purse over the next 5 years and just under £1 billion per year thereafter.

They’re called TIINs. This one doesn’t show that the benefits justify the cost. (It really doesn’t. It shows them as the same, with the costs front loaded and the theoretical benefits off some time in the fuzzy future. You wouldn’t buy a fridge on that basis, let alone an intrusive system that will make digital slaves of half the nation.)

We recognise that there will be costs in the transitional period for some businesses, while also recognising that all businesses are different. Transitional costs may be lower for businesses already using digital tools, or where they are eligible to use free software. Businesses that have limited existing digital capability may need to purchase hardware and software, so initial costs may be higher, but net savings will start to be made from 2021-22 onwards. HMRC will ensure that the transition to digital is as smooth as possible and is committed to making MTDfB work for its customers, modernising its services for the benefit of all UK taxpayers.

Boilerplate blah, nothing to do with anything I had asked.

HMRC will start to ramp up its communication activity to raise awareness amongst the business community during the live trial. Agents and the software industry will be key partners in achieving this. As the different start dates for different sizes of business approach, HMRC will ensure those affected by the changes are aware of any new obligations. As with any change to the way people interact with the tax system, HMRC will focus on making sure customers have the right information well in advance of any changes coming into effect.

Because HMRC has a long history of being good at this kind of thing, right? I mean, right??

Please pass on my thanks to Ms Bradley for taking the trouble to make us aware of these concerns.

JANE ELLISON

*Clutches head in hands and weeps* 

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How to prepare a TIIN: the tax impact assessment

February 10, 2017

You may remember that I asked HMRC for the current guidance on how to prepare a TIIN (this was published here on my blog) but that the guidance referred to further guidance on how to do the tax impact assessment part of the process.  I have now received, by way of a further FoI request, the attached tia guidance

Note that the “redacted” areas are where the names of the particular officials responsible for different policy areas have been redacted.  Apparently the “more” areas refer to links to further internal guidance which was not considered to be covered by the scope of my FoI request.

More interesting, though, is the response I had to my question of why this guidance is not part of HMRC’s routine publication schedule, particularly as the TIIN is the tax version of a Regulatory Impact Assessment, and the RIA guidance and instructions are routinely published.

We have not published this guidance routinely for two reasons. Firstly it does not affect the computation of the tax that a customer pays and is therefore of interest only to a small community. Secondly, as you point out, it mirrors cross government impact assessment guidance for internal HMRC use and is not intended to materially differ from it, except to the extent that the impact assessments provided for tax provisions are presented in TIINs, and to explain to HMRC staff how to engage the right processes to generate the impacts.

Hmmmm… I am tempted to point out that another possible reason could be that other government departments’ impact assessments are subject to external scrutiny.  As impact assessment programme manager in HMRC, my job for several years included going to cross governmental meetings and saying (in effect) no, hands off, tax is different!  These days?  I’m not so convinced…

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Tax simplification and better regulation.

January 18, 2017

My PhD-in-progress asks the question whether using better regulation techniques produces tax simplification, a question to which the glib answer is, of course, “it would, if they did”. So in keeping with the Making Tax Policy Better report and the suggestion that this is just the start of a conversation, I have been wondering what progress we might make towards a simpler tax system by making better use of the tools we already have.

Look, for example, at the 51 TIINs published on 5 December to support the draft 2017 Finance Bill.  If you take these and put them into a spreadsheet, listing the three quantifiable fields (exchequer impact, administrative burden and HMRC costs) what do you find?

The measures fall into three crude categories.  Firstly, there are those measures whose overall impact will be greater than £100 million.  Insurance Premium Tax: increase of standard rate, for example, or Abolition of Class 2 National Insurance contributions.  The Chancellor must be allowed to determine how and where he raises the money he needs to fund the expenditure he incurs: decisions about these large measures is political, and we can leave them alone for these purposes.

Secondly there are the measures which have smaller impacts. Personal Tax: changes to bands for ultra-low emission vehicles in company car tax for example will raise some tax, save some admin burden and cost HMRC some money.  Personally if I were an MP debating the Finance Bill I would want these relatively trivial measures to balance out: I would only allow as many measures which increase tax by amounts less than £100m as there were measures which decreased tax or administrative burden by similar amounts.  I suspect if this balance were demanded, the number of such measures might significantly decrease.

Finally there is the category to which I would wish to draw your attention today.  There are fully twenty measures where, so far as I can see, the exchequer effect (the actual tax raised or foregone) is zero, and both the administrative burden on taxpayers and the cost increases or savings for HMRC are either nil or negligible.

The question then is – why the hell are we doing them?  Here is a random selection:

Tobacco Duty: Illicit Trade Protocol – licensing of tobacco manufacturing machinery is a provision to licence tobacco manufacturing machinery.

Co-ownership authorised contractual schemes: reducing tax complexity seems to be a tidying-up of capital allowance rules for operators of co-ownership authorised contractual schemes (CoACS) and their investors, and yet will have a “negligible” impact on the tax they pay or on their administrative costs.

Landfill Tax: definition of taxable disposal will affect approximately 150 specialist disposal firms in England (the tax is or will be devolved in Scotland and Wales) and they will “incur negligible on-going savings through the removal of the requirement to inform HMRC about certain non-taxable activities.”  (HMRC couldn’t have just written them a letter??)

The Treasury and HMRC have an easier ride than other Departments in getting legislation before Parliament: they do not have to bid for space in the legislative programme, and Finance Bills are counted as “money bills” and subject to an easier passage through Parliament as the Lords can only delay rather than amend them.  There is a broad definition of “money bills”  which includes one “which in the opinion of the Speaker of the House of Commons contains only provisions dealing with … the imposition, repeal, alteration, or regulation of taxation…”  Perhaps someone should have a word with John Bercow?  It seems to me that, were he to declare that in his opinion no measure which produces neither tax, administrative burden saving nor government cost saving was a provision regulating taxation… and therefore no Finance Bill containing such measures could be certified as a money bill…

…well, perhaps he might, at a stroke, become tax personality of the year for his services to simplification of the tax system?

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TIIN instructions

January 13, 2017

I have now received a response from HMRC to my Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request for the current TIIN instructions: there are some embedded in the TIIN template here:

170104_tiin_template

and some further guidance here:

170104_wendy-bradley_tiin-guidance

I am obliged to the HMRC FoI team for sorting this out, although of course it is evident from looking at the files that there are further instructions in the TIA (Tax Impact Assessment) guidance which has not  been included.  Nor is there any explanation of why this information isn’t part of the routine publication schedule – there really isn’t anything secret about it, and it’s useful data for those of us who take an academic interest in the way tax legislation is developed and produced, as well as for legal, accountancy and trade organisations who routinely give comments on tax proposals.  How about it, HMRC?

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Simple

May 17, 2016

The guidance for the Civil Service on the so-called “purdah” period before the EU referendum is contained here, in the letter from Sir Jeremy Heywood to Sir Nicholas Macpherson dated 23 February.  It is slightly different from the usual election guidance in that it acknowledges that Ministers can be arguing either side of the case and still expect support (support in the sense of provision of information and services, not in the sense of  cheerleading or even agreement) from their Departments.

Consultations on tax changes are usually in the “don’t publish” category before elections (“government consults on whether to give us all £5000 after the election.  And a pony!” doesn’t go down well with the other parties, after all.)  But equally, this is the time of year you would be hoping they would publish the batch of any consultations coming out of the Budget, so that people have time to look at them before they go on holiday and get a response in before the Autumn Statement.

So what have we got?  Not, frankly, a lot.  The first date is the closure date, not the publication date, of course.

(plus the one about licensed tobacconists I have already briefly discussed here, a purely HMT consultation about corporate contributions to grassroots sports, and a joint DCLG, HMT and VOA consultation on business rates and revaluation)

Is that the right number of consultations for this time of year, with a referendum on the horizon?  Too many?  Not enough?  Who knows!  But it puts an idea into my head.

First of all, enough with the fiddle-fiddling around with bits of the mechanism, like a hobbyist playing with his hi-fi.  It doesn’t matter where you position the speakers, where you put your chair, whether you can hear a difference between the CDs and the vinyl and whether or not you carefully place a sixpence on the record arm.  Stop playing with the system for a moment and just listen to the music!

The tax system, in this analogy, is a complex orchestral piece that will never be finished and never be perfect.  It’s creaking along, and all you are doing by fiddling with it is stopping it from falling over altogether.  Maybe instead of a “purdah” we could have a self-denying ordinance and simply Stop Changing The Tax System for a while: how about, for the rest of this Parliament, say?  Give it a rest!  Listen to the silence!

Yes, I know HMRC and the Treasury will argue they need to stop up the holes that busy people keep nibbling away at the walls.  I call bullshit.

Let’s find out how much it costs to pass a piece of legislation.  Yes, I know all about administrative burden, but I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about “legislative burden”, if you like.  How much does it cost us, the taxpayer, to have HMRC issue a consultative document and read and analyse the responses, for Ministers to reach a decision on whether or not to go ahead and give instructions to continue, for MPs to sit in Parliament and discuss it, for the building not to fall down round their heads while they debate it, for Hansard to report it, for Parliament TV to broadcast it, for it to be printed onto archival quality paper and on vellum and for someone to walk round to Buck House and wait while her Majesty puts her signature on it, for it to be printed and put on sale and put onto the internet…

Let’s look at the TIINs.  Let’s add the legislative burden to the administrative burden and then take away the exchequer impact, and let’s think of a number.  Say, what, ten million quid a year?  Let’s simply make it a rule that no tax legislation will be put before parliament unless the TIIN shows that, after netting off the legislative and administrative burden, the change will bring in at least ten million quid a year.

Tax simplification?  It would be a start.