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HMRC Given New Powers Against Tax Scheme Promoters

by Jason Gorringe, Tax-News.com, London

20 November 2017


The Chartered Institute of Taxation has highlighted that two significant new penalties for tax non-compliance are now effective, following Royal Assent to Finance (No. 2) Act 2017.

The first of these is a substantial penalty for "enablers of defeated tax avoidance," which comes into effect in relation to enabling actions carried out on or after the date of Royal Assent and tax arrangements entered into on or after that date.

The second is a penalty for "failing to correct relevant offshore tax non-compliance," which applies to failures to correct inaccuracies and omissions existing at the end of the tax year 2016/17 within the period from April 6, 2017, to September 30, 2018.

CIOT said: "The enablers' penalty is the latest in a series of measures to tackle, in particular, marketed tax avoidance. The penalty applies to anyone who enables the use of tax avoidance arrangements that HMRC later defeat either in a court or tribunal, or by agreement between the parties that the arrangements do not work, and focuses on abusive schemes. It targets individuals and entities that make a profit from enabling abusive tax arrangements by imposing a fixed 100 per cent fee-based penalty on everyone in the supply chain."

Chris Davidson, Chair of the CIOT's Management of Taxes Sub-committee, said: "The enabling penalty is a significant provision to support HMRC's continued offensive against tax avoidance. Setting the penalty at the level of the enabler's fee should act as a very strong deterrent to anyone considering enabling abusive tax avoidance schemes in the future. By focussing on abusive tax arrangements, the measure will help tackle those who enable tax avoidance while ensuring that the ability of the overwhelming majority of tax practitioners to provide genuine professional advice to their clients is protected."

"It is reassuring that HMRC have said that provided advisers act wholly within the spirit of the new Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT) standard for tax planning, the Government would not expect that they would normally be affected by the new penalty. It is nonetheless advisable that tax practitioners familiarize themselves with the scope of the enabling penalty before providing advice to a client on a tax arrangement that is potentially within the General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR), including one designed by others, in order to minimize any risk of exposing themselves to an enabling penalty."

On the second measures – the failure-to-correct penalty – CIOT said it is also a very significant new penalty, reflecting HMRC's tougher approach to offshore non-compliance. It explained that "failure to carry out the necessary corrections, which could go back many years, by September 30, 2018, will render the taxpayer liable to the penalty which starts at 200 percent of the offshore potential lost revenue (PLR), and which may not be reduced below 100 percent of the offshore PLR. Furthermore, the penalty does not take into account the seriousness of the cause of the original error or omission, treating technical errors and cases where reasonable care was taken when a return was submitted in the same way as those where a person deliberately omitted income or gains. In addition, the legislation restricts the availability of a reasonable excuse defense to a taxpayer where 'disqualified advice' has been taken."

Commenting on the failure-to-correct penalty, Davidson said: "The Government are right to continue to clamp down on offshore tax evasion. This measure requires taxpayers to correct their tax affairs without specific prompting from HMRC, so there needs to be effective communication of the proposals to ensure affected taxpayers are aware of them. There are still taxpayers who have not put their offshore affairs in order not necessarily because they are deliberately trying to evade or not comply with their responsibilities, but because, for example, they may not have reviewed their tax affairs recently and do not realize that they are no longer compliant – they simply do not identify themselves as 'tax evaders'. These people need to take advice as soon as possible to ensure they are not exposed to a failure-to-correct penalty."

"The legislation and case law relating to offshore matters such as that relating to domicile, residence and remittances, is extremely complicated and varies frequently. In our view, the 'disqualified advice' restriction risks unfairly penalizing taxpayers who took proper advice in the past from reputable advisers and who consider that they have acted responsibly by taking advice on their tax affairs. These taxpayers need to seek refreshed advice as soon as possible but it is not apparent how they will be expected to identify that advice they have received in the past, or indeed are seeking now, would be classified as 'disqualified advice.'"

"The recent 'Paradise Papers' leak has exposed the world of offshore tax to renewed scrutiny. Offshore financial centers play a legitimate role in international finance. But clearly they can also be abused. As well as domestic UK measures such as this one, international initiatives such as the Common Reporting Standard (an information sharing agreement) should make it easier for tax authorities to identify abusive behavior – both evasion and avoidance, as well as attempts to hide the proceeds of crime – and act against it."

TAGS: individuals | court | compliance | Finance | Offshore | tax | value added tax (VAT) | tax avoidance | law | offshore | legislation | tax planning | penalties | Tax

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