A Scottish tax system – some initial issues

I was asked this week to comment on some of the initial tax related issues that the Scottish Parliament might have to consider if Scotland votes ‘YES’.

The first comment I made was that the Scottish Parliament should pretty much enact the UK tax system on independence.  The Scottish Parliament should then take its time in deciding what to keep and what to change.  That said, there are a number of matters it might have to look at early on.

Let’s start with VAT.  Only if Scotland becomes independent will it have control, or at least as much control as is possible, of VAT.  The Scottish Parliament could reduce the VAT rate on home repairs and renovations to 5%.  Something our building industry has long been arguing for.  The Scottish Parliament could also ensure that Police and Fire & Rescue Scotland can recover their VAT costs.  This is something the UK Treasury has so far resisted.

The Scottish Parliament could look again at what constitutes a charity in Scotland and with that which entities should receive the associated tax and other benefits.  “Private” or “independent” schools for example.  This is an issue that should not just be left to OSCR, the body that regulates charities in Scotland.

Then there is the debate surrounding a European Union “financial transaction tax”.  An independent Scotland will have to consider its position on this.  If a number of European countries decide to go ahead with this then the Scottish Parliament will have to decide if it wants to join them.  One option could be to agree to a FTT and at the same time abolish stamp duty on shares.

Now to environmental taxes.  The Scottish Parliament might want to consider introducing a carbon tax.  The debate in Australia shows how difficult this might be.   Independence does though mean tough decisions.

Then there is local taxation.  I am sure “Land Value Tax” supporters will be pressing their case even more strongly if Scotland votes ‘YES’.

Now to administration.  Lots of opportunities here for simplifying things. There is no need for Scotland to have a separate Companies House, Stamp Office and Registers of Scotland.  “One stop shops” for the services provided by these bodies is a minimum of what we could do.  We could even create “tax and benefits” centres throughout the country that are based in our local authority buildings.

Then there is “tax avoidance” and “tax evasion”.  The Scottish Parliament could consider publishing at least a summary of each tax return or legislate for published beneficial ownership registers.

Just a few thoughts.

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A busy month in “tax land”

Let’s start with the independence debate.  Michael Moore has confirmed that the UK Government will not be bringing forward a proposal for further devolution.  I wonder if that will change if the opinion polls change.  This at least gives us a clear choice.  The choice being between “Calman minus” combined with the extremely unlikely scenario of Westminster devolving serious tax and fiscal powers after a ‘NO’ vote, and control over all tax and fiscal powers by 2016.

I think the ‘NO’ campaign has made a mistake here.  How those whose preferred choice is ‘devo plus’ or ‘devo max’ vote holds the key to which side wins in 2014.  Are they more likely to vote ‘NO’ as a result of Michael Moore’s statement?  The ‘NO’ campaign has not had a good start to the year.  The independence will cost £1 gaffe, support for the Scottish Government’s timetable for the transition to independence, the ridiculing of the claim that Scotland would need to ratify 8,500 treaties and then there was the loss of the UKs ‘AAA’ rating.  A serious proposal for further tax and fiscal powers would at least been a positive move by the ‘NO’ campaign and a change from the continuing negativity.

Now to a man who it seems can do anything.  Olympics gold medals, not a problem.  Forcing the HM Treasury into a u-turn, not a problem.  The UK Government has after all decided to grant a tax amnesty to non-resident athletes attending the London Grand Prix event this July. Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt announced that he would not attend unless his global earnings from sponsorship and endorsements were exempted, but until now HM Treasury had resisted the demand.  More on this from the STEP Journal can be found here.

A report by the House of Commons’ influential Public Accounts Committee says that promoters of so-called boutique tax avoidance schemes are “running rings around HMRC in a game of cat and mouse that HMRC is losing”.  It suggests that HMRC should publicly name those who sell ‘abusive’ schemes to as many clients as possible before HMRC shuts the scheme down.  This is estimated to cost the HM Treasury £5bn a year.  The Committee claimed that HMRC only knows about 46% of tax avoidance schemes, and that promoters who run the schemes find it unacceptably easy to put forward a “reasonable excuse” for not disclosing the scheme in order to escape a fine.  More on this from Accountancy Age can be found here and the Guardian here.

The UK government is to disqualify companies and individuals from bidding for public contracts if they have taken part in failed tax avoidance schemes.  This applies from 1 April 2013. Bidders will have to notify procurement departments if any tax return in the past 10 years has been found incorrect as a result of an HMRC challenge, or has contravened the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Scheme rules.  More on this from HM Treasury can be found here.

A mansion tax is back in the news.  Although as it is a local taxation proposal it is not just a matter for the UK Parliament.  Local taxation is controlled by the Scottish Parliament.  A point missed by most reports.  The Liberal Democrats proposal would see either a 1% levy on homes worth over £2m or the introduction of new council tax bands for expensive homes.  More on the Liberal Democrat proposal from the Guardian can be found here.  The Labour Party has also announced plans to introduce a mansion tax on all homes worth more than £2m in order to fund the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate abolished in 2007.  More on the Labour proposal from the BBC News website can be found here.

An ongoing programme of jobs cuts helped play a major part in HMRC exceeding their cost-savings target for 2011/12, according to a report by the National Audit Office.  The report can be found here.  The figures give an indication of the scale of the cuts suffered by HMRC.  Spending slashed by £269m over the 12 months to 31 March 2012.  This was 19% more than the anticipated £249m.  A reduction of £140m was made by axing 2,400 full-time equivalent members of staff. The department plans to have lowered its running costs by £950m between the UK Government’s 2010 sending review and the end of the 2014/15 tax year.  It expects to see the loss of 10,000 full-time equivalent employees and 300,000 square metres of estate.

Press reports indicate that the inheritance tax nil rate band is to be frozen for several more years beyond the already announced date of April 2015, as part of the UK Government’s plans for funding elderly care in England.  More on this from the Herald can be found here and the BBC news website here.  Another example of the problem that can arise under devolution when the tax power remains at Westminster, inheritance tax, and control over an associated area such as social care is devolved.

Now to the least surprising story of the month.  The Confederation of British Industry has warned that the new Financial Transaction Tax announced by the European Commission may have a detrimental effect on UK jobs and growth.  Matthew Fell, the CBI Director for Competitive Markets, said: “it is particularly worrying that the increased scope of the tax will now cover businesses’ risk management activities, as well as hitting financial services in non-participating member states, like the UK, because of extra-territoriality”.  More on this story from the Telegraph can be found here.

Now to Europe and how the EU is demanding action against tax-planning.  The European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs has published a report proposing that member states revoke the banking licences of financial institutions that help their customers evade taxes.  More on this can be found here.

The heavy tax increases imposed by the Greek Government last year have actually caused a sharp fall in tax receipts. January’s tax revenues in Greece fell to €4.05bn, 16% down on the January 2012 figures, due to a collapse in consumption and a corresponding decrease in indirect tax payments.  More on this can be found here.

An interesting opinion piece can be found in the New York Times challenging the ‘Myth of the Rich Who Flee From Taxes’.  It was prompted by US Masters golf champion Phil Mickelson’s recent threat to decamp from California because the state’s top rate of income tax is increasing from 10.3 to 13.3%.  I agree with the conclusion reached.  It really is a myth although it does not stop those arguing against serious tax and fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament from using it. The piece from the New York Times can be found here.

And lastly, well done to the Scottish teams who beat Ireland at the weekend.

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Another few weeks in “tax land”

Where to start.  So much has already happened in 2013.

Let’s start with the independence debate.  I had finally finished my chapter on “the battle for a Scottish tax system” and then another devolution proposal appears and Ruth Davidson almost says something of interest on the tax and fiscal powers debate.

The latest devolution paper is called “devo more” and it is from The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).  I know it is difficult to keep up.  Again it starts from the premise of what is best for the UK not necessarily Scotland.  Personal income tax, partial control of VAT, excise duties on alcohol and tobacco and air passenger duty would be devolved.  Alan Trench, of the University of Edinburgh, who wrote the report, said it was “clear devolution must go further to meet popular demand and his plan minimises the adverse effects on other parts of the United Kingdom.”  The IPPR report can be found here.

It is a pity that there was not more interest shown in putting together a serious proposal for tax and fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament during Calman.  Let’s not forgot that none of the “NO” parties  has come close to arguing for the powers recommended for devolving in “devo plus”, let alone “devo max”, to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.  The Liberal Democrats have even gone backwards form what they proposed under the Steel Commission.  See my earlier blog on this which can be found here.

Then we had Ruth Davidson’s speech which promised a lot and delivered almost nothing.  Davidson promised no new tax or fiscal powers, no timetable for even considering the issue and no confirmation that she has moved on from saying that corporation tax and welfare powers should not be devolved.  What did she say, or rather what did she hint at:  “Sources close to Davidson confirmed that she will consider setting up a new commission to examine the devolution of more powers to the Scottish Parliament.”  For more on Davidson’s speech see Alan Cochrane’s report in the Telegraph which can be found here.

The stance of the “NO” parties is a continuation of what I call the “Calman doctrine”.  Do nothing unless under pressure, then if under pressure make a huge fuss about having someone look at the issue, take your time, offer as little as possible, exaggerate any problems, minimise or ignore any advantages and ensure HMRC and HM Treasury remain in control.

Time, and credibility, is fast running out for the “NO” campaign parties if they are to come up with a serious tax and fiscal proposal.  The most recent “Scottish Social Attitudes Survey” was clear.  Independence had 35% support and “devo max” 32%.  That is a clear majority for almost all powers, including tax and welfare powers, to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Now to the UK tax system.  It seems that no-one is happy.

Two recent stories show why a Scottish tax system is needed.   The first one relates to carbon capture.  The article on this from the Herald can be found here.   The second relates to air passenger duty.  The article on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

Then there is the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee.  It has called for the re-establishment of a single annual UK Budget, saying that the UK’s Autumn Statement has increasingly taken on the character of a second Budget resulting in uncertainty and costs for business and the economy.  A report published by the Committee says:  “The primacy of the Budget as the main focus of fiscal and economic policy making should be re-established”.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

The impressive chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, has claimed that new tax laws are excessively influenced by major corporations and accountancy firms.  Hodge has argued that working groups set up by the UK Government to discuss tax reforms were overly dominated by those with vested interests in reducing their tax contributions.  More on this from the BBC news website can be found here.

Even business leaders are seemingly unhappy.  The UK Government’s plans to reform tax laws forcing large companies to be more transparent regarding their tax affairs have been criticised by business leaders.  The fear is that such laws would stifle the UK’s economic recovery as businesses would be reluctant to locate in the UK.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.

HMRC offers poor value for money, according to a report by the National Audit Office.  The report claims that more than 20 million phone calls went unanswered last year, whilst callers who did get through were made to wait on average 282 seconds, up from 107 seconds last year, costing the public £33 million on call charges.  More on this can be found here.

It has been claimed that the UK Government will have raised taxes 300 times and ordered 120 tax cuts by the end of their proposed term of government.  More on this claim from the Telegraph can be found here.  One of the more controversial UK tax proposals is termed a “bedroom tax”.  More on this can be found here.

David Cameron has told the World Economic Forum conference in Davos that he will use the UK’s G8 presidency to launch a campaign against ‘unethical’ tax avoidance by multinational companies using ‘an army of clever accountants’.  The accountancy profession whilst I am sure not unhappy at being termed clever, took umbrage with what Cameron said.  More on this from the STEP journal can be found here.  Interestingly Cameron again brings ethics into the tax debate.  That said, does he intend to include the Crown Dependencies and the British overseas Territories in this campaign?  If not, this is nothing but a press release.

Members of France’s socialist cabinet have denounced the famous actor Gerard Depardieu, who has shifted his residence just over the Belgian border in order to escape the Hollande government’s tax rises.  Depardieu has retorted with an open letter to the newspapers, accusing the French Government of punishing success and talent, and offering to give up his passport.  More on this can be found here.

Let’s end with some news on a Financial Transaction Tax.  Eleven EU member states are to introduce a tax on financial transactions expected to generate £35bn in annual revenues.   As a tax avoidance measure, the European Commission has amended the relevant directive to catch any transaction where either of the parties is domiciled in the tax area, or is trading on behalf of a client in the tax area.  That will mean that this will also apply to some UK transactions.  The European Commission is now expected to present proposals on the detail of this new taxation scheme which will need to be accepted by unanimous agreement of the participating states.  More on this can be found here.   Whether to introduce a Financial Transaction Tax is just one of the many tax decisions Scotland will be able to decide for itself if it decides to vote “YES” in 2014.

Have a great weekend and in particular to all those representing Scotland this weekend.

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Tax powers so far refused by Westminster

I have updated this blog as we now have updated “GERS” figures and the Scottish Labour party has published its interim “Devolution Commission” report.  Its findings are similar to the Liberal Democrat proposal.

Although the Scottish Conservatives now appear to be moving towards arguing for the devolving of further tax powers there is as as yet no firm proposal from them.

Listed below are the taxes, duties and charges that Westminster has so far refused to pass control to the Scottish Parliament.

In bold are the additional powers the Liberal Democrats are putting forward for devolving.  This information is from its “Home Rule Commission” published in October 2012.

In red are the additional powers the Scottish Labour party might argue for devolving.  I say “might” as its report is an “interim” report only.

The figures are mostly from the “Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland 2011-12” (GERS).  The figures are included to give an idea as to the level of revenue produced by a particular tax and are a number of millions of pounds.

  1. Full control over income tax including the underlying law dealing with reliefs etc (some additional powers but not complete control)  (similar proposal from Labour) 10,790
  2. National insurance contributions  8,393
  3. Corporation tax (assignation of revenue only)  2,976
  4. North Sea revenue  10,573
  5. Fuel duties  2,296
  6. Capital gains tax (partial control only) (similar proposal from Labour) 246
  7. Inheritance tax (to be devolved)  (possibly)  164 
  8. Other stamp duties – stamp duty and SDRT on shares (estimated)  276
  9. Tobacco duties  1,129
  10. Alcohol duties  (includes spirit, wine, beer and cider duties)  981
  11. Betting and gaming duties  115
  12. Air passenger duty (even though included in Calman) (not clear if to be completely devolved)  (similar proposal from Labour)  213
  13. Insurance premium tax  251
  14. Climate change levy  64
  15. Aggregates levy (even though included in Calman) (not clear if to be completely devolved) (similar proposal from Labour)  52
  16. Vehicle excise duty  (possibly)  475 
  17. Bank levy (estimate as no separate Scottish figure)  180
  18. Licence fee receipts  325
  19. Crown Estate revenue  (not clear if to be completely devolved) (if Scottish Parliament accepts UK Government terms)  10
  20. VAT cannot be devolved but VAT revenue could be assigned  9,554


Taxes already devolved to be devolved under Scotland Act 2012

  1. Income tax (still only partial control over tax bands and will cost Scottish Parliament millions of pounds a year to administer even if not used)  (estimated partial control over)  5,395
  2. Council tax  1,987
  3. Business rates  1,933
  4. Stamp duty land tax (Scottish Parliament control by April 2015)  330
  5. Landfill tax (Scottish Parliament control by April 2015)  97


The Scotland Act 2012 also does not resolve the imbalance between the amount the Scottish Parliament is responsible for spending and which it raises.  The Scotland Act 2012 only takes us to about a third. 

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A fascinating time in “tax land”

Where to start?  There is so much happening just now it is difficult to keep up.  It is though a fascinating time to be living in Scotland.

The signing of the Edinburgh Agreement ends the “phoney war”.  So besides this historic agreement what else has been happening?

Let’s start with the publication of the report by the Liberal Democrats Home Rule Commission.   The report can be found here.  There are a number of problems with this report.  The first is the likelihood of the Liberals being part of and having a major influence in a future UK Government.  At best the Liberals will form part of a UK coalition government where they will be a junior partner.  Even if they were to persuade the senior party to implement their plans the Scottish Parliament would not see any new powers until at best 2020.

Then there is the accusation: why should anyone take the Liberal Democrats seriously on tax and fiscal powers?  The Liberal Democrats are in power just now and all we have is “Calman minus”.  They are not even devolving control over the Crown Estate in Scotland and that is party policy.

Then there is the report itself.  The report barely goes beyond Calman.  Inheritance tax is to be devolved and also some parts of capital gains tax.  This report does not even go as far as their last fiscal powers report, the “Steel Commission”.

One last point.  It must be remembered that the Liberals have historically been willing to go further than the other main UK parties on devolving power to Scotland and the Scottish Parliament.  The Steel Commission report provides evidence for this argument.  What their latest report shows is that the Liberals are moving away from devolving serious tax and fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament.  That is disappointing and makes you wonder.  If this is all the Liberal Democrats are offering what will Labour or the Conservatives come up with?

The answer to that question is likely to be not much.  Johann Lamont has finally announced the membership of her “further devolution commission”.  What is the likelihood of this commission coming up with a proposal close to “devo max” or even “devo plus”?  Almost none.  Why?  Remember the struggle to persuade the Labour party to legislate the Calman proposals.  Think of how few powers are contained in the Scotland Act.  Think of the reaction to senior Labour party members to any call for further tax and fiscal powers to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. Think of Alistair Darling’s recent comments and in fact of any Labour MP who talks on this subject.  An article from the BBC news website on the Labour party’s commission can be found here.

Then there is the Conservative party.  It is clear that most Conservatives see the European Union debate as the main debate.  Scotland is but a side show.  The idea of a “Constitutional Convention” is laughable.  It simply means, let’s kick this matter into the longest of long grass for another generation.  Ruth Davidson has already got her retaliation in first and stated that corporation tax or welfare powers should not be devolved.  In any case, this convention won’t even see the light of day in any meaningful way until after the referendum.  Does anyone actually believe that the Conservatives will even consider any further powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scotland votes No?

Staying with the Conservatives, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, seems to be everywhere these days.  That includes arguing for greater powers for the London Assembly.  Johnson has asked George Osborne, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, for London to be allowed to retain any stamp duty raised on property sales.  Johnson argued that London inhabitants face higher tax rates than households elsewhere in the UK, and would use the taxes to fund house building and regeneration schemes.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

The BBC is to offer staff contracts to some of its biggest names in a U-turn after months of accusations that it is enabling tax avoidance.  It is claimed that up to 25,000 people employed at the BBC do not pay tax at source.  More on the U-turn by the BBC can be found here and on the background to this story here.

I was interested to see that the Labour party at its recent conference proposed to reinstate the 50% top rate of income tax and apply a two year suspension of stamp duty on properties worth less than £250,000.  I wonder if they realize that these will be matters for the Scottish Parliament to decide as a result of the Scotland Act by the time the next UK general election takes place.

The UK Government is seemingly intensifying its attack on tax planning by corporations and wealthy individuals.  Extra measures include a 50% expansion of HMRC’s High Net Worth Unit, more resources for the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility and a new policy of refusing to award government contracts to companies that use “aggressive tax avoidance” schemes.  More on this from HM Treasury can be found here.  When thinking about this it is worth also reading about Starbucks.  Two House of Commons committees are due to question tax officials about how Starbucks has been able to avoid paying tax on £1.2bn of sales since 2009.  More on this from the Guardian can be found here.

Plans put forward to add an additional fee to visitors’ hotel bills have been abandoned by the City of Edinburgh Council in response to objections from business leaders.  The Council planned to reduce its spending on festivals, events and promotional initiatives by setting up a “transient visitor levy”, aimed at raising more than £3m a year.  More on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

The McLaren Formula One team have successfully argued that a £32m fine they paid after a 2007 Ferrari spying controversy should be tax deductible.  McLaren had argued the fine was not a statutory penalty but one incurred under Formula One rules, making the fine a business expense.  HMRC disagreed but a tax tribunal has found in favour of McLaren.  More on this from the Telegraph can be found here.

Now to an old favourite, a Financial Transactions Tax.  European Union Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta says he is now sure there are enough Member States to force through an EU wide Financial Transactions Tax. Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, Estonia and Slovakia have committed to this new source of new revenue.  A press release from the European Commission on this can be found here.  The UK Government has also confirmed its opposition to a Financial Transactions Tax.  More on the UK Government’s stance can be found here.  This issue provides further evidence of the growing disengagement with the European Union by the UK Government.

Germany’s Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax.  Can you imagine this happening in Scotland?  An article from the BBC news website on this can be found here.

The French Government is to revise its 2013 Budget proposal to raise the entrepreneurs’ rate of capital gains tax on equities from 19% to 45%.  The retreat follows a campaign against the tax by an organised group of business owners called Les Pigeons (‘The Mugs’ or ‘Suckers’).   An article on this from Reuters can be found here.

Let’s end with a story from America.  It seems that Chinese immigrants are less keen on an American passport.  Citizens of the People’s Republic of China who emigrate to America used to apply for US citizenship as a matter of course, but now America’s  world wide taxation policy is making some of them regret it.  An article on this story from the South China Morning Post can be found here.


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Local government election week in “tax land”

Where to start?  Tax and morality seems as good a place as any.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien has accused David Cameron of acting immorally by favouring the rich ahead of ordinary citizens affected by the recession.  The cardinal also denounced David Cameron’s opposition to a “Robin Hood tax” on financial institutions.  Those arguing for a European financial transaction tax have gone a bit quiet recently.  The cardinal’s interview has though brought this proposal back into the news.  Whether a tax such as this is introduced is though only part of the debate.  As with most taxation debates the secondary debate involves how the revenue should be spent.  The cardinal would like it spent helping the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad.  Others want an emergency fund for the next banking crisis.  An article from the BBC new website on this can be found here.

Now to the London mayoral debate. Included in Boris Johnson’s manifesto for a second term is a proposal to set up a commission that would explore the possibility of a “Barnett” style formula for London.  Johnson wants to keep more of the tax raised in London to be spent in London.  An article on this from the Guardian can be found here.  This is further evidence of how quickly the fiscal powers debate is moving.

The Scotland Bill has received its Royal Assent.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  A missed opportunity?  I think so.  That said, even under the Scotland Act (2012) we are going to have a Scottish tax system.  I am of course looking forward to the Scottish Government’s consultations on the tax powers being devolved but why stop there?  It is surely now obvious that we need to start thinking about the type of tax system we want.  That must include a review of all government tax, law and registration services and the creation of a Scottish Exchequer.

Good to see an article in the Herald on something I have written about recently.  Businesses in new Scottish enterprise zones will be able to claim up to 100% business rates relief as part of new incentives to stimulate investment in the economy.  Other measures announced by the Scottish Government include more efficient planning procedures, improved broadband, targeted capital allowances and international marketing.  The article in the Herald can be found here.

Another article from the Herald, this time on an “unprecedented” number of business rates appeals.  The article reports that court cases have been launched by retailers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Kirkcaldy and elsewhere as firms contest the size of their rate bills.  The article from the Herald can be found here.  The main argument being used is that the current rates were calculated in 2008, before the extent of the downturn became apparent.

For those of you interested in tax statistics, the relevant HMRC page can be found here.  For those of you interested in tax consultations, current HMRC consultations can be found here and current HM Treasury consultations here.  There will be many more consultations added over the next few months as the UK Chancellor in his Budget made reference to approximately 45 consultations.

Approximately 12,000 people who had been told that they no longer needed to fill in self-assessment tax forms have been sent penalty notices in error.  To put this in context, 130,000 people were taken out of the self-assessment process for this tax year.  Some 850,000 people were sent penalty notices for failing to submit their tax returns on time this year.  This is 550,000 fewer than a year ago.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here.  As mentioned in this article it is likely that “HMRC’s resources” played a part in this latest error.

Nearly 60,000 more Scottish pensioners than first thought will be hit by the UK Government’s decision to freeze age related personal allowances according to new figures published by HM Treasury.  The figures show the so called “granny tax” will impact 423,000 pensioners in Scotland by 2015-2016.   The article from the Herald can be found here.

David Cameron has backed proposals for an “airline levy” to ease waiting times at London Heathrow Airport border control.  Airlines using London Heathrow would pay higher landing fees to pay for additional UK Border Force staff to help remedy the long queues currently occurring.  You would be forgiven for thinking there was an election in London this week.  The UK Government is not making many friends in the airline industry just now.  The spat over increases in Air Passenger Duty continues.  More information on this can be found in an article on the BBC news website found here.

Now to Europe and the “debt crisis” debate.  Financial Times journalist, Gideon Rachman continues to argue against European countries trying to spend their way out of their debt crisis.  This is a quote from his article:  “There is, of course, scope for argument about the pace of deficit reduction.  But in a highly-taxed, highly-regulated, highly-indebted continent like Europe, more state-funded public works would simply build another road to nowhere”.  The full article can be found in the Financial Times on 1 May.

I will finish on a matter I have blogged on before.  More than 2,000 public sector workers could be avoiding the full rate of income tax through special contracts, UK Government research has found.  An article on this from the BBC news website can be found here and my earlier blog here. This is an incredible figure as it does not include those in the NHS or local government.  Danny Alexander is seemingly “shocked”.  It seems that “shock” is becoming the default reaction for UK Government Ministers.  You may remember George Osborne’s was also recently “shocked” at the extent of tax avoidance.  Tax and morality it was ever thus.

Have a good weekend.  “Tax land” will be back in three weeks time.

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A four day week in “tax land”

For those of you struggling to sleep at night, may I recommend the latest UK Finance Bill.  According to the accountants Grant Thornton, at 686 pages, it is the longest Finance Bill in UK history.  The Finance Bill can be found here.  I am reluctant to even mention the fact that the UK Government has announced 45 tax consultations in case you stop reading.

I enjoyed Jeremy Peat’s comment piece on the UK Budget.  Jeremy comments on the 50p rate of income tax, the 40% income tax band, the economy and lending.  I particularly liked this comment: “What about incentives? Well, one effect of the Budget is to drag very large numbers of folks into the 40p tax band. Logically, I would have thought the adverse effect on the incentives of this substantially larger group would be expected to be [much] greater than any positive incentive effect from reducing the top rate to 45p for a much smaller group.”  If you are registered with the Herald website you can find all of Jeremy’s article here.

Now to the fiscal powers debate Italian style.  It is claimed that Italy’s prosperous German speaking South Tyrol autonomous province wishes to buy its financial independence.  South Tyrol has a population of around half a million and already has a large amount of autonomy. Up to 90% of tax revenue stays in the region, while the other 10% goes to Rome.  South Tyrol was occupied by Italy at the end of the WWI and annexed in 1919.  After WW2 the Allies decided that the province would remain a part of Italy, but would be granted a large amount of autonomy.  The article that I came across on Twitter can be found here.

“Devo max” for London?  An interesting article from the London Evening Standard can be found here.  I am surprised that Boris Johnson has not made more of an issue of this before now.

Last week I mentioned the report by the David Hume Institute on the debts and liabilities that an independent Scotland may be responsible for.  The report also made reference to the fact that the UK has approximately £821bn of “assets”.  I was glad to see that the “asset” side to the fiscal powers debate continued this week.  An article in the Scotsman on this issue by Jennifer Dempsie can be found here.

It seems that any new charge is automatically labelled a “tax”. My first example is from Dundee and a so called “tax on creativity”.  Members of Dundee’s licensing committee have decided to postpone implementing a controversial act that it is claimed could hinder the city’s arts scene.  The rule would have required exhibitions or public shows put on by the artists, gallery owners, musicians or publishers to be licensed from 1 April, even if they were free.  With the cost of a licence ranging from £124 to £7,500, artists said many free shows and exhibitions would simply not take place. The background to this is the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.  An article from the Courier on this can be found here.

My second example has been termed a “property extension tax” by the Daily Mail.  The Mail reported this week on how planning permission fees for property extensions will increase from £160 to £300 in Scotland.  The Mail compared this with the £150 charge in many English local authorities.

Now to the unsurprising news that charities have banded together to protest at the capping of donor tax relief that was announced by George Osborne in his Budget statement.  Two leading umbrella bodies, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation, have set up a website calling on Osborne to exclude charities from the proposed cap.  More than 200 organisations have already signed up to support the campaign, called “Give It Back George”.  Principals of five Scottish universities are among those signatories to a letter asking the UK Government to abandon this proposal.  The campaign website can be found here.  An article on this from the Scotsman can be found here.

An article in the Herald claims that this week’s 8% rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) will lead to a 46% growth in HM Treasury’s revenue from APD by 2016.  It does seem that APD makes the news every week.  The reason for that is how APD is at the centre of a number of debates.  The airline industry would like to see it abolished or at least reduced.  Then there is the call for it to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.  The UK Government has already signalled its intention to partially devolve APD to Northern Ireland.  Worth also noting that until recently the environment would be mentioned in the context of APD.  That though now rarely happens.  How quickly things change.  An article from the BBC news website can be found here.  If you are registered with the Herald website an article on APD can be found here.

The Guardian reports that the House of Lords Financial and Economic Affairs Committee has warned against the planned European Union financial transaction tax.  That is not a surprise.  What is interesting about this article is that it covers a possible alternative to the proposed financial transaction tax.  The alternative is the introduction of national stamp duties on share transactions, which the UK already has and which France is set to follow in August.  The Guardian article can be found here.

Now to Ireland and news that almost half of Ireland’s 1.6 million households have refused to register to pay the new €100 annual tax on residential property by the 31 March deadline.  The mass non-compliance was organised through an Internet campaign and backed by protest marches.  The levy, which also applies to foreign owners, is expected to rise sharply next year.  A report on this from the Irish Times can be found here.

Swiss authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of three German tax inspectors.  The three are accused of buying a CD containing bank client data stolen from Credit Suisse in Zurich, which led to the investigation of hundreds of German taxpayers with undeclared Swiss accounts.  The Prime Minister of North-Rhine-Westphalia has come to the defence of the tax inspectors and has said that the tax inspectors were only doing their duty.  Given the escalating war of words between these countries in this issue, I suspect that this matter will run for a while yet.  A report from Spiegel online can be found here.

Good luck to Edinburgh Rugby this weekend and also to those competing at the new look Gala RFC sevens.  I wonder if any politicians will be pictured eating hot pasties or sausage rolls at these events.  Have a good Easter weekend.

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Another week in “tax land”

I think I will start with the fiscal powers debate.

There have been two more important contributions during the last week.  Both the Prime Minister and the former UK Chancellor, Alistair Darling, have said that devolving further tax and fiscal powers should be considered if Scotland votes “no” in 2014.  These announcements are only the latest in a series of high profile statements on this issue. In fact the Scottish electorate is in danger of being crushed in the stampede of former opponents of serious fiscal autonomy announcing their very own Damascus type conversion.

What though of the friendless Scotland Bill?  There is an obvious opportunity here for those who are against independence but in favour of greater tax and fiscal powers.  There is time to amend the Scotland Bill and to give a clearer idea of how much power they believe should be devolved.  That would also mean that the PM would have to give us some idea of which additional powers should be devolved rather than simply refusing to answer the question as he did this week.  There could even be a clause in the Bill saying that the provisions do not come into force until after the referendum.

If this is not done, and there is a no vote in the referendum, we will have years of further debate on this issue.

Now to HMRC’s latest targeted tax avoidance campaign.  The contrast to how HMRC and HM Treasury, albeit with Ministerial approval, have helped dozens of high earners employed by the public sector reduce their tax bills, is a stark one.

As a former electrician, long story, I was interested to see that the top dogs in the world of tradesmen are next to be offered a partial tax amnesty by HMRC.  Those who accept will be charged penalties of only 10 to 20% of the tax owed rather than the 100% maximum available penalty.  A similar campaign concerning plumbers has so far led to ten arrests and thousands of investigations.  I have resisted the urge to explain the main difference between an electrician and a joiner.  More on this offer can be found here.  Worth looking at even for an example of HMRC humour which is found in the title.

Let’s stick with HMRC.  HMRC is about to start issuing penalty notices for 850,000 late self assessment income tax returns.  HMRC have also reported that a record 90.4% of taxpayers filed on time this year.  I do though look forward to reading some of the fantastic excuses that people have used to explain why their return was not returned on time.

Now to the UK Budget which is less than a month away.  Lots of rumours regarding tax relief on pensions and what the Liberal Democrats are “demanding”.  I expect to see more “stories”, for stories read “briefing against my fellow Ministers”, on the cost of bringing forward the planned increase to the personal allowance.  I also expect to see more calls for a reduction in business taxes and simpler labour laws from sources in the Conservative party.  For “sources” read “Liam Fox”.

To put the tax cut debate into context the UK has borrowed £93.5bn so far this tax year.  That is down from £109.14bn in 2010/11.  Tax receipts are though likely to be back to pre-crash levels this year.   As is usually the way with statistics both sides can quote these figures to back up their arguments.

Now to a warning by the body who regulates solicitors in England & Wales.  Practitioners who help clients reduce their stamp duty land tax liabilities may be risking disciplinary sanctions. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is especially concerned about residential property schemes.  More on this can be found here.  I will be interested to see if the Law Society of Scotland decides to issue a similar warning.

I liked the following from a story in the Herald: “Gangster tax”.  Strathclyde Chief Constable Stephen House believes that police should be allowed to keep a share of the ever growing haul of underworld assets seized under the Proceeds of Crime legislation.  This legislation allows for the civil recovery and confiscation of money, goods and property earned through illegal means.  The Herald article can be found here although registration is required.

Now to Europe.  Europe’s Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta has given a speech assuring the City of London that it will benefit from a European Union financial transactions tax.  Good to see the Telegraph covering both sides of this debate.  I was particularly interested in one point made by Semeta.  Semeta challenges the claim that ordinary citizens and businesses would bear the brunt of the tax.  Semeta is quoted in the Telegraph article that day-to-day financial activities will not be included and that 85% of the transactions take place purely between financial institutions.  The article from the Telegraph can be found here.

Now to Japan.  A piece on the BBC news website reports that the Japanese cabinet has passed a plan to double sales taxes in an attempt to control the soaring costs of public debts.  The plan, which needs the approval of Japan’s parliament, will see taxes raised from the current 5 to 8% in April 2014 and then up to 10% by October 2015.  The reason for this is that Japan’s social security costs are expected to rise by 1tn yen (£8bn) a year as its population ages.  It estimates 40% of the population will be of retirement age by 2060.  The BBC news website article can be found here.

Lastly I was disappointed to find out that there is no longer a Stamp Office presence at Registers of Scotland.  It we cannot even join up these two bodies then it is clear there is no appetite amongst either the politicians or the civil servants, whether of a Scottish or UK ilk, to review and hopefully consolidate the numerous tax, law and registration services that currently exist in Scotland.  Given the relatively small size of our country and the likelihood of greater tax and fiscal powers being devolved then this is clearly a case of sticking one’s head in the sand.

Have a good weekend.

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An eclectic week in “tax land”

Let’s start with the Scottish Budget.

The Scottish Government’s Budget was passed by the Scottish Parliament yesterday with the support of the Liberal Democrats.  The Budget outlines the Scottish Government’s £30 billion spending plan for the next financial year.

The amendment that stood out concerned the public health levy also known as the  “Tesco tax”.  The change will mean that instead of collecting £30m, £40m and £40m over the next three years it will bring in £5m less in each of these three years.  The Scottish Government claims that only 240 retail premises, around 0.1% of all business premises in Scotland, would pay more.  It will be interesting to see the reaction to this amendment.

Now to the news that over one million taxpayers face a penalty of £100 for failing to submit their self-assessment tax returns on time.  The figure of 1.1 million is the lowest since online filing first started and compares with 1.4 million last year and 1.6 million the year before.  These taxpayers will have to pay the £100 fine unless they have a reasonable excuse.  Valid reasons include serious illness, a bereavement, or a loss of documents because of theft, fire or flood.  After three months, additional fines of £10 a day start to accrue and could eventually amount to a maximum of £1,600.  More on this can be found in an article from the BBC news website which can be found here.

Two non football tax avoidance stories this week.  HMRC announced that its next planned crackdown will target construction workers.  Traders who carry out roofing, joinery bricklaying, window fitting and carpentry will be targeted.  The clampdown  follows other campaigns with doctors, dentists and tutors in the spotlight.  Interested but not surprised to see HMRC making it clear that they will use web searches to target those dodging tax.

The second story was extremely embarrassing for the UK Government and in particular Danny Alexander the Chief Secretary to HM Treasury.  This story concerned an arrangement reported to have allowed the Student Loans Company’s chief executive, Ed Lister, to avoid thousands of pounds in income tax and national insurance.  HMRC had authorised the SLC to make gross payments to Lester’s personal services company.

How could anyone at HMRC or HM Treasury think this was a good idea or could be justified? Am I surprised? No.  It seems that there is a section in these any other government organisations who just don’t get it.  The UK Government’s handling of the Network Rail bonuses is just another example of this attitude and I suspect, sadly, won’t be the last.  Thanks due to the BBC’s Newsnight programme for bringing the SLC issue to a wider audience.

BBC Newsnight journalist Richard Watson summed this issue up very well:  “In the current climate of national austerity and financial hardship, it’s hard to imagine a more politically charged story.  One of the most senior public servants in the land, paid by the taxpayer, granted special concessions to be paid gross through his private service company based at his home address.”

Now to an example of the carrot and stick approach to taxation and behavioural change.  I blogged about this issue last week.   The Scotsman reported this week that Scots who do not insulate their homes should be forced to pay higher council tax or face increased stamp duty land tax on their property.  Not sure about the stamp duty land tax point as it is the purchaser who pays that tax.  Nonetheless Alex McLeod, chairman of the Association for the Conservation of Energy told the Scotsman:  “… sticks as well as carrots are needed to encourage people to conserve energy in their homes.”

Interestingly the idea was attacked by a diverse range of bodies.  The TaxPayers Alliance branded the idea as “outrageous” and Friends of the Earth Scotland said that the Scottish Government should pay for everyone to have free insulation.  The article from the Scotsman can be found here.

Now to Westminster.  The jostling for position prior to the UK Budget in March continues.  This week it was Nick Clegg saying that Conservative plans to give married couples a tax break must take second place behind a proposed tax cut for low earners.  The UK Deputy Prime Minister, it has also been reported, wants his party’s plans to increase the threshold for income tax to £10,000 to take precedence over any move to recognise marriage in the tax system.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has criticised HM  Treasury for the way it monitors government spending.  It seems that almost £11bn in unpaid tax has been written off without HM Treasury knowledge.   A report on the first set of “Whole of Government Accounts” by the Committee said that HM Treasury’s ability to identify financial risks needed to improve.  An article from the BBC News website on this can be found here.

Now to a worrying trend.  An increasing number of businesses are struggling to pay their tax bills after new figures show a growing number are using credit cards to make their payments.  During 2005/06 businesses made just over 6,000 credit card payments to HMRC for PAYE, corporation and personal tax bills.  This had increased to 365,000 for 2009/10.  The credit card payments in 2005/06 totalled more than £2m.  In 2009/10 it had increased to just under £486m.  Thanks to the Ashworth Law firm which conducted a Freedom of Information request to collate the data.

Now to Englandshire and a matter I have covered before.  Eighteen local authorities in England have rejected an offer of UK Government money that would allow them to freeze council tax.  You may remember Eric Pickles,  the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, recent comment that councils in England had a “moral duty” to freeze the council tax.  Clearly some councils in England beg to differ on this point.  I was going to say “let battle commence” but battle clearly has commenced.

So to Europe and an old favourite.  The Ernst & Young Item Club has calculated that the UK would be liable to pay 75 per cent of the revenues from the European Commission’s Financial Transactions Tax because of the size and scale of Britain’s financial services sector relative to the rest of Europe.  Even if the UK opts out it seems that the UK’s financial sector would still have to contribute about 60 per cent of total revenues if a “reverse charge mechanism” was applied.  Something for our politicians to think about.  They might also want to consider abolishing charging stamp duty and SDRT on shares transactions if a deal was done on FTT.  I suspect there is plenty of mileage left in this particular debate.

An interesting week for football north and south of the border.  The more interesting sport stories of the week also seemed to involve tax.  This should not come as a surprise given the amount of money that exists at the top end of this particular sport.  In simple terms it was ever thus.

Have a good weekend.

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