Posts Tagged ‘SFIT’

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This is not a consultation

September 3, 2012

There was another consultation which closed last week, on the Office of Tax Simplification’s proposal that there should be a “disincorporation relief”.  This is aimed at the one and two person businesses which were advised by their accountants to form themselves into companies to take advantage of the lower rate of corporation tax and who now find themselves mired in the red tape of running a company and would like to get out of it.

It’s a worthy idea, I’m sure – but a damn fool way of legislating it.  If you want to ascertain the views of small businesses, you don’t find out by sticking a formal consultation document onto the HMRC website.  You might just as well put the condoc in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in a disused basement office marked “beware of the leopard”.

Here’s what I sent, although I made a mistake in the third paragraph where I said that the audience for the consultation wasn’t specified – the desired consultees are in fact listed in 1.4:

The Government is interested in views from a range of audiences, including individual businesses and their representatives, as part of this consultation. It is also interested in views from insolvency practitioners reflecting the links to the Companies Act.

But then, since my email (sent to the address cut and pasted from the condoc) never actually reached its destination as the address is “not found”, it probably doesn’t make much difference either way.

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

disincorporation@hmtreasury.gov.uk

Technical details of permanent failure:
DNS Error: Domain name not found

So, waves hopefully to HM Treasury, (you DID pay your broadband bill this month, right?) and…

This is an individual’s response and will also be published in due course, with commentary, on my blog, http://tiintax.com.

I’m afraid I’m completely confused by this consultation. You say in chapter 7 (7.2) that “the consultation is a call for evidence regarding how to help small companies disincorporate”, but I cannot see how you are going to acquire such evidence. The consultation is written in a technical register suitable for communicating with fellow tax professionals and not in the plain English you would use to communicate effectively with micro businesses.

You do not specify at what readership the consultation is aimed, but you appear only to have published it on the government website where – if you’ll forgive me – it’s only likely to be read by “the usual suspects” – professional and interest groups (I am attempting to respond to all the government’s tax consultations as part of a blog project so would include myself in the “interest group” category here). But what you’re not going to do, is reach the small businesses who would be affected by any disincorporation relief.

Given the costs involved (both for the government and for professional and interest groups) in conducting a proper consultation exercise I have to say that I feel this initial stage of consultation would have been better served by an alternative methodology such as the government’s own Small Firms Impact Test. I would be interested to learn whether any such group was in fact convened?

As I said, this isn’t a consultation, this is box-ticking.

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Response on behalf of Mark Prisk. Sort of.

July 20, 2012

You may remember that, on 26 June, I published an Open Letter To Mark Prisk about the small firms impact test, in which I wondered whether he actually knew that such a thing existed, and that he was the Minister responsible for it.  I suggested that he ask his officials to arrange for him to sit in on the next SFIT focus group that was organised, and that he might find it was a long time in coming.

Because I thought it was only polite, as well as publishing it as an open letter I also sent him a copy via his Department, BIS, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.  Here is the reply I received yesterday

Dear Ms Bradley

Thank you for your e-mail of 26 June to Mark Prisk about Impact Assessments and the Small Firms Impact Test. I have been asked to reply and I apologise for the delaying in replying to you.

I was very interested to read your perspectives on the SFIT – and indeed other aspects of regulatory and tax appraisal mentioned on your website. As you will be aware from your previous career, assessing the impact of new regulatory proposals on small firms is not straightforward, and we are always looking to improve our approach both domestically and in the EU. I am sure that the independent scrutiny of IAs through the Regulatory Policy Committee should in the medium term help drive up the quality of appraisal. We are of course always interested in new research or initiatives in this area that would be helpful in improving how things work in the future.

You’ll also be aware that aside from appraisal the Government has taken a number of other actions to minimise new regulatory burdens on small business, including the micro-business moratorium and parallel initiatives at the EU level.

Many thanks again for your email. I hope the new novel is also making good progress.

Yours Sincerely

Well, let’s look at the work of the Regulatory Policy Committee for a moment then.  Their latest report (which covers the calendar year 2011) is published here (although you may find that the link on their website doesn’t actually work but you can get at it via google).  And a quick word search of the document (no, I’m not claiming to have speed read all 63 pages, sorry) finds no entries for the terms “small firms impact”, “small firms” or “SFIT”.  The RPC’s own website explains that

The RPC assesses impact assessments against well established guidance set out by the BRE IA Guidance, IA Toolkit, One-in, One-out Methodology, and HM Treasury’s Green Book.

and we all know that the SFIT – the small firms impact test – is a mandatory part of the “well established guidance” – you can find it in the IA toolkit, with a link to the BIS page here.

Does the RPC think that checking whether impact assessments contain a reasonable assessment of the impact on small firms is part of their remit?  I’d be interested to know.

 

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Closed consultations

July 4, 2012

Since one of the objectives of this blog is to respond to all the government tax consultations (I had seriously thought I could look at ALL government consultations, but have you SEEN how many there are!) it’s conceivable you’re wondering about the ones that closed last week which I haven’t mentioned so far.

Here’s a quick round up.

Above the line R&D credit. Essentially the government will refund some of a large company’s research and development costs in order to encourage investment in R&D. I have nothing to say – it’s a laudable aim, a well written consultation, and includes a decent impact assessment. Stand up, R&D tax credits team, and take a small round of applause.

REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts).  There are proposals to change the REITS regime to encourage investment in social housing.  This, again, would have been an exemplary consultation if it had included an impact assessment showing the estimated costs and benefits of the change.  Without that, in my view, the case for change is not made.

Incidentally, in passing I note that

2.34 In England, the Government has confirmed its commitment to retain the current RPI+0.5 per cent formula for social rent increases for the rest of this Parliament.

and

3.5 As mentioned above, no solely residential REIT exists in the UK. In large part, this is due to the low yield that this sector generates which is insufficient to attract investors.

Quite frankly, if I could invest my savings at RPI+0.5% I’d snatch your hand off, so I wonder whether there might be a role for someone non-rapacious (a union consortium?  A cooperative?) to set up a housing investment REIT seeking its funding from small savers.  TUC please note!

Alcohol Fraud

I’m not sure I understand why this is such a problem but HMRC looks to be working with industry to counteract it.  What they’re not doing, it seems, is looking at the impact on small firms:

Q39. If you are a small business (less than 20 employees) please provide details of the costs and impacts of this measure?

No small firms scoping meeting in advance of the consultation document?  No Small Firms Impact Test work done yet, then?

My only feedback on this consultation, then, is that it looks as if it might have left itself open to judicial review by not doing enough work with small firms at this stage.   You also might think that, given there have already been unsuccessful judicial review proceedings in this area of law – which included the allegation that the consultation and impact assessment were inadequate –  it might have been tactful of HMRC to have done rather better this time around.

Taxing remote gambling

This one is a no brainer. My only comment would be that I wouldn’t be too fussed about any responses  from industry on the difficulty of establishing a customer’s location: they already do it, as I discovered to my cost when I had a hot tip on a horse while I was on holiday in the States and found my bookie’s account was blocked – because it could already detect where I was.  Who knew that my harmless flutter would have been actively illegal in Wisconsin!

Finally there’s the closed consultation on the tax treatment of herbal smoking products.  I couldn’t really have responded to this one, because what’s being consulted on is the design of the tax, whereas what I would have wanted to respond on was the fundamental design of the policy.

Why are we taxing herbal smoking products?

Well, why do we tax tobacco?  For one thing, tobacco is both addictive and actively harmful to its users.  And so we use the price mechanism to try and dissuade people from using it – and it’s also, of course, a good little money-raiser.

So why would we want to tax herbal smoking products?

Are they actively harmful and addictive?  Doesn’t seem like it, although I’ve never smoked any and I have no particular knowledge or expertise.  Or are we actually arguing that, hey, there’s a dangerous thing that we’ve managed to price some people out of using, but they use something else instead, so we’re losing money, so we’ll tax the other thing as well???????

This is the politics of the madhouse.  But it’s not one of the elements up for consultation, because the decision is made, because

It is not intended to cover whether such changes should be made but rather how the transition can be made easier, and to provide a better mutual understanding of this segment of the market.

Now, I’m not normally a Little Englander, but see page 7, chapter 3 of the consultation, the “Legal Background”:

3.1 At present UK legislation excludes “herbal smoking products” (which do not contain tobacco) from excise duty. This contravenes European Directive 2011/64/EC (“the Directive”) which states that:

“Products consisting in whole or in part of substances other than tobacco but otherwise conforming to the criteria… shall be treated as cigarettes and smoking tobacco”

Well what genius thought that one up?  Honestly!