Another week in “tax land”

Firstly to Belarus and Tax Information Exchange Agreements.  It was reported in this month’s STEP Journal that Belarusian human rights campaigner Ales Belyatsky has been arrested.  He was arrested soon after the Polish authorities gave the Belarusian authorities information relating to his bank accounts.   The Belarusian authorities had described him as a suspect in a tax investigation.  The Poles treated this as a routine request and handed over full details of his bank accounts.  He has been charged with tax evasion via a foreign bank account.  Belyatsky says the foreign bank account is used only to collect foreign contributions to his political movement.  The Polish Government has admitted it should not have disclosed Belyatsky’s bank details and has sacked the director and deputy head of its international cooperation department.

HMRC announced this week that approximately six million people are set to receive tax rebates averaging £400.  Another million people will learn they have underpaid their tax by about £600.  It is the second year that tax and National Insurance discrepancies have been identified by a new computer system.  HMRC said that the number of cases would reduce “as the new system beds in”.  Those who will be told they have not paid enough tax are expected to owe between £500 and £600 on average.  In a similar exercise last year, HMRC were criticised for being insensitive over their treatment of underpayers.  Another example of the complexity surrounding the UK tax system.

The Scottish Government announced a consultation on giving local authorities new powers to tax empty homes. The proposals would give local authorities the power to impose an extra levy of up to 100% of the standard charge. It is hoped that this could help raise millions of pounds to build new affordable houses.  The announcement stated that 25,000 properties have been empty for more than six months and are liable to pay council tax.  In Glasgow there are over 1,800 empty homes.  It is also claimed that if every local authority decide to use these powers they could raise up to £30 million per year.  I wrote about the connected issue of how local authorities are using funds gained from reducing the council tax discount in an earlier tax blog.  This blog can be found here.

This is something I have not come across before.  The Intergenerational Foundation called for tax breaks to encourage downsizing and help free up some of the estimated 25 million unused bedrooms in England.  The charity says that older people should be encouraged to move into smaller homes to help tackle England’s housing crisis.  The UK Government did not respond positively to this proposal.

Both sides in the battle over what independent schools have to do to justify their charitable status claimed victory last week.  The Independent Schools Council and the England and Wales Charity Commission are each claiming that the decision of the Upper Tax Tribunal vindicates their position. A similar debate is taking place in Scotland.  The tax issue here is the fact charities have a number of tax advantages including rates relief.

Now to the fiscal powers debate. Interesting to see Malcolm Chisholm MSP openly reject the Calman proposals. His comments mirror views recently expressed by former First Minister Henry McLeish.  Malcolm Chisholm is the first serving Labour MSP to openly reject the Calman proposals. The Scottish Government has renewed its call for control over Air Passenger Duty after the UK Government cut air passenger duty for Northern Ireland.  I also suspect that the Scotland Bill may be mentioned once or twice at the SNP conference which began yesterday.  The announcement that North Sea oil production will continue to at least 2050 ensures that oil and gas tax revenue is back at the top of the political agenda.

I have been asked to speak at Holyrood Magazine’s Scotland Bill conference on 8 November.  More information can be found here.  I can already hear myself saying: “does Scotland need a separate Registers of Scotland, Stamp Office, Companies House and Inheritance Tax office? Then again I have been making that point for 5 years now and no-one seems to be listening.

Have a good weekend.

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