HMRC consulting on closing another tax avoidance loophole

tax avoidanceThe drive to maximise tax revenue continues with another consultation document of very limited duration.

Launched in April with consultations due to end this coming Friday HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has this time turned its attention to “arrangements entered into by UK individuals and traders that aim to place profits proper to the UK outside the scope of UK taxation” also known as Profit fragmentation.

The consultation, announced in the Autumn 2017 budget, is the first step to drafting new legislation, aimed at dealing with individuals and smaller enterprises who are deemed to be deliberately allocating excess profits to an overseas entity from which they, or someone else connected to them, can benefit.

Examples are described in the consultation document as service providers, such as an entertainer, asset manager or specialist producer of high value items. One such example cited is a management consultant resident in the UK and providing their services in the UK and overseas, where a proportion of the fees are paid in the UK but the rest is paid directly by customers to an offshore company.

The argument made by users of such arrangements is that the offshore company has no assets apart from access to the skills of the consultant who is exercising their skill from the UK.

HMRC argues that all the income comes from a single underlying activity operating solely from the UK and that therefore it should all be taxed in the UK as the consultant’s profits.

It emphasises that any proposed legislation should be properly targeted and not “weigh inappropriately” on those UK businesses that do pay all their tax in the UK.

It admits that there is existing legislation to tackle at least some of this issue and that the legislation, such as the transfer pricing and Diverted Profits Tax, contains specific exclusions for SMEs. It also admits that it can be difficult to identify persons using such arrangements.

It proposes that the legislation should include a legal requirement for people using such arrangements to notify HMRC. It calculates that it will affect “8-10,000 wealthy individuals who control a small number of businesses” and increase tax receipts by up to £50 million.

Assuming that such legislation is adopted it will be announced in the budget this autumn and is expected to commence from April 2019.

While maximising the tax revenue is perhaps a laudable aim I have to question whether the acknowledged difficulties of obtaining the detailed information required from offshore entities, as HMRC mentions in the consultation, for a relatively small number of targets and potential revenue is the best use of HMRC’s limited resources.

As with the HMRC consultation to prevent directors using insolvency to “game the tax collection system” that I covered in my blog of May 15 the question is whether these two consultations are straw clutching exercises resulting from pressure on HMRC by the Government.

 

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