Posts Tagged ‘OOTLAR’

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Informal consultation

July 3, 2012

So I had another look at the 29th June iteration of the tax tracker and noticed this:

Heritage maintenance funds

Consultation on easing a restriction for trusts that are heritage maintenance funds and which have deferred, or may defer, capital gains tax charges arising from the resettlement of assets from one to another.

Informal

May

So it’s an informal consultation… which means there’s no formal consultation document for us to read.

What’s it all about, then?

In the 2012 Budget document it was announced that

2.76 Heritage Maintenance Funds (HMFs) – Applying with effect from April 2012, the Government will legislate to ease a restriction for trusts that are HMFs and which have deferred CGT charges arising from the re-settlement of assets from one HMF to another. (Finance Bill 2013)

OK let’s break that down.  Whatever it is will apply from April 2012 – ie it’s already in effect, whatever it is.  But it won’t be in the Finance Bill till 2013.  So far so good: a technical change can be done like that – announce it now, and legislate it later – because the few people to whom it will apply will know about it from the technical press and there’s maybe a long lead-in time for a transaction.

But what *is* the change, and who are they consulting about it?

Well I strongly suspect we can get the answer from Google: if you put in “Heritage Maintenance Fund” as your search term, the first entry you get is a link to the HMRC Instruction Manual at TSEM5800 telling you that a heritage maintenance fund is a fund set up to maintain a historic building, and that if HMRC staff come across them they shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about them but pass them on to a specialist unit in Nottingham. (I paraphrase).

The second entry, however, is a link to the Historic Houses Association page where the HHA helpfully explain that they want these funds (which are intended to build up the money to maintain historic houses and which are therefore exempt from Inheritance Tax) to have special treatment for income tax and capital gains tax as well.  They have a lobbying paper which sets out their stall, and where they argue amongst other things “the public benefits of privately owned heritage” – to which the only answer is, surely, “well they would, wouldn’t they?”

I have no beef with historic houses or the HHA but I read between the lines that the Historic Houses Association have lobbied for changes and have succeeded in getting, not all that they wanted, but at least one small concession.

Which begs the question, with whom is HMRC and/or HMT currently informally consulting?

It’s not just a point for the policy wonks amongst us.  Essentially the government is telling all of us not to worry our pretty little heads about it.  The point of an informal consultation is to talk to the people who will be affected by a decision to make sure the legislation works in the way it was intended to work.  In effect, the government says “I’ve decided to give the Widget Industry a tax break on oak widgets but not on mahogany ones” and then talks to widget industry representatives about whether this will distort the market or have any unintended consequences for the beech-, tin- and plastic-widget makers.

What an informal consultation doesn’t do, however, is let in any light on the wider question for the citizen.

There’s no Impact Assessment with an informal consultation.  So there’s no indication of how much it will cost to give the Heritage Maintenance Funds some but not all of what the Historic Houses Association might want, and no indication of the benefits that might accrue.  A TIIN will no doubt be published in due course with the actual legislation – but, isn’t that a bit late, for legislation that won’t even be published till next year, but which is already in force?

But let’s not worry our pretty little heads about it.  I’m sure Nottingham Trusts Office and the Historic Houses Association between them have it covered.  So that’s all right, then.

There’s an easy way to satisfy the citizen that the lobbyists haven’t taken over making tax legislation.   In the written ministerial statement that introduced the TIIN for tax changes, David Gauke said:

From Budget 2011 onwards, the Government will publish a tax information and impact note for tax policy changes at the point at which the policy design is final or near final.

So, er, if legislation is going to be backdated to last April, doesn’t that mean the “policy design” is already final?

How about it, Minister?

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I wonder…

April 4, 2012

I saw a tweet yesterday from the Institute of Economic Affairs, linking to their blog entry making fun of the length of this year’s Finance Bill – at a mere 686 pages.  And, sad person that I am, I went over to the Parliament website and had a look at the legislation they were mocking.  It goes by the splendid name of the Finance (No 4) Bill 2010-2012 (HC Bill 325) and does, indeed, stretch to three volumes – although only volume one contains the clauses of the Bill.  Never fear, there are also 38 Schedules to it, making up the second and third volumes.

Is it fair to make fun of the length of the Bill, when it comes from a government committed to tax simplification?  Well one of the problems I can see with tax simplification is that there isn’t much of a common agreement of what we mean by “simplification”.  Is a long Bill inherently adding complexity?  Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a long-ish Bill to be needed to repeal some of the clutter that’s accreted around our tax system over the years?

Hmmm…. Let’s take a look at one example.  Let’s all turn to clause 8, High Income Child Benefit Charge… which says (I think I can legitimately quote it in its entirety without falling foul of Parliamentary copyright):

Schedule 1 contains provision for and in connection with a high income child
benefit charge.

Simple enough: this seems to me to be parliamentary-draftsman-speak for “yes, there’s something about child benefit and tax, but it’s long and boring so we’ve stuck it in one of the schedules for the wonks amongst you”.  (I’m guessing: I don’t speak parliamentary-draftsman with any fluency)

Are you with me so far?  Good.  Let’s go and have a look at Schedule 1, then.  No, go on, it won’t hurt. Yes, I know it takes up seven whole pages of the bill (pages 130-136, to be precise)  but all is says is, in effect, well, if you have a child and claim child benefit, then you start to lose the child benefit once your earnings hit £50,000 in a year and you lose it altogether when your earnings hit £60K.  The rest of the schedule is various rules to cope with the fact that we have independent taxation (you’re taxed as an individual, not as a family) but because the model for benefits is the nuclear family, it all gets a bit tricky deciding who’s actually receiving the benefit and who they’re connected with for these purposes.

When the proposal to remove child benefits from high earners was mooted we all saw the stuff in the press about the inherent unfairness of a family with two earners just below the higher rate tax bracket keeping their child benefit when a family with one earner just into the higher rate and one stay-at-home partner would lose it. The government’s solution seems to be to say we’ll ignore the high earnings threshold (which, you may have noticed, isn’t being indexed so is gradually creeping down to the “you call THAT higher paid?” level) and instead we’ll taper it off between the arbitrary limits of £50k and £60k.

We can agree someone on £60k is higher paid, right?  Roughly the MP/middle range Civil Servant sort of level? Well, let’s leave that aside for the moment.  One person on £60K – end of child benefit.

I don’t have a child.  Or a partner.  Or any particular skill in parsing legislation or interest in the intricacies of how the child benefit clawback is going to work.  Nobody pays me to understand this stuff any more, and my brain started to scream in desperation and demand coffee and chocolate around clause 681E(2)(c).

My point is: it’s complicated, because the policy objective is complicated.  Saying “if you earn more than x, you get no child benefit” is reasonably simple.  But that’s not what’s being said.  What’s being said is “if there’s child benefit, then look at all the people who might be getting it, or might be involved in looking after the child we’re talking about.  The one of them who earns the most, loses an amount the same as the child benefit once they hit £60k annual earnings.”  (I can’t be absolutely sure that’s how it works because, as I said, I gave up on page two of the seven pages.)

Now, if you go back to “about me”, you’ll see that I’m a former tax inspector.  In other words, I’m supposed to be able to parse tax legislation.  And if I’m having trouble, what about the rest of the people involved?

After all, this isn’t the law yet – it’s a Bill.  It has had its first reading, will have its second reading on 16th April, and will then go into the Committee stage where it will be scrutinised.  Then there’s a Report stage and… well, you can google it as well as I, but the timetable is laid out here.  So Parliament will look at the Bill, and their expert scrutiny will make sure that what’s actually passed into law is correct, works as intended, and fulfils the government’s aims?

You’d think.  But have a look here: this is OOTLAR, the  Overview Of Tax Legislation And Rates, published with the Budget.  Yes, it’s another hearty 208 pages (with weaselly numbering of pages 1-26 and then A1-144 and B1-26 – I don’t vouch for my addition which makes that 196, but the printer tells me it would be 208 pages to print)

Go straight here, to page A23 and the Tax Information and Impact Note (TIIN) for this chunk of legislation.  The TIIN tells you in plain English what’s being proposed and what the impact will be.  And you’ll see a few oddities.

Like what, do I hear you ask?  Well look at the equalities impact:

Analysis suggests that this policy would affect the 51 to 65 age group more than other age groups, but this is because they are generally more likely to be higher earners with children. No other significant affects on protected groups have been identified.

Now those of you familiar with the Equality Act 2010 will realise that there are several “protected characteristics” that are relevant to equality – the government’s own guide to the Public Sector Equality Duty reminds us that they include

  • pregnancy and maternity
  • sex

and I would have thought that they might be a bit more relevant to a child benefit restriction than age.  Will the taper of child benefit for people earning over £50k impact more women than men?  Will it have any impact on people who are mothers? Or in the words of the guidance:

The Equality Duty has three aims. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:

eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act;

advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it; and

foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

You see, I don’t know, but I suspect that losing an amount equivalent to child benefit from my earnings because I had once had a relationship with someone and they had a child and received child benefit for him/her might not foster good relations between the person sharing the protected characteristic of maternity and the person who doesn’t.  And I’d also wonder whether the change will be helpful in advancing equality of opportunity between people who have children and people who don’t.  I’m not saying I know the answers, but these are the questions I’d have asked, and they don’t seem to be answered in the TIIN, or in the distributional analysis that was published with the Budget but which looks at the overall impact rather than the impact of individual measures like this one.

And then look at the impact on business.  You might think that, if you’re going to lose the child benefit, you might want to go to your employer and say, look, can I drop my hours a bit so that I earn just under £50K instead of just over?  I’ll still get the same amount of money but at least I’ll be able to pick up the kids from school once in a while.  So there might be an impact on businesses if they have enough people in that sort of pay bracket who might conceivably want to have that conversation – and then if you start allowing the people WITH children to work more flexibly, the people WITHOUT children might very well start asking for the same kind of flexibility.  And, again, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s an impact that has to be taken into account.

Well what does the TIIN say?

The charge will apply to individuals so there will be no direct impact on business or civil society organisations. To the extent that there are changes in labour supply, businesses may be affected. The introduction of a taper raises the marginal tax rate for households in the taper range. Affected households will have an increased incentive to reduce their gross income, for example through increasing non-taxable contributions or working less.

Yes, I think that kind of means what I just said, although you’d think they’d have some idea of how many people it was likely to affect and so how big the impact might be, and maybe whether there’s any particular industry or sector or size of business that’s more likely to have employees in the taper range.  But look again.

They haven’t said anything about the possible impact on small businesses.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were a small business with one or two workers and one of them decided they want to change their hours to avoid losing their child benefit it would be a bigger deal than if I were a big firm with dozens of people in that sort of pay bracket, no?  And there’s a thing called the  Small Firms Impact Test which the government has committed itself to do for all changes that might add to or reduce costs on businesses for exactly that reason.

Ah, but the link says the small firms impact test is a mandatory part of the “Impact Assessment (IA) process” I hear you say, and this isn’t an IA, it’s a TIIN?  But look here: at the Written Ministerial Statement made by David Gauke in March last year, when he replaced IA for tax changes with the TIIN process.  He said:

This new approach will consider a wider range of impacts and cover a broader range of policy changes than the existing impact assessment regime for tax.

In other words, the TIIN isn’t any less effective or rigorous or serious than an IA, but it’s broader, covers a wider range of impacts for more changes than were covered by IA.  Wouldn’t you think that would also include the “mandatory for IA” small firms impact test?

So, yes, if I were an MP sitting on one of the committees or speaking on one of the debates around this year’s Finance (No 4) Bill, I’d want to ask whether we’re sure the “High Income Child Benefit Charge” has been written with “due regard” to equality, and whether there was any consideration of the possible impact on small businesses if people ask to change their hours as a result of the changes.

So that’s one provision.  Anyone doing any analysis of the other six hundred pages?