MTD: Get Ready to Reveal All

Hillier Hopkins LLP is holding a series of seminars on Making Tax Digital. Our own Ruth Corkin and HMRC’s Heather Elliot will present short explanations and provide technical background, followed by questions and refreshments.  Demand has been high and although most places are now taken, if you would like to attend, please do put your name down on our waiting list.

Making Tax Digital (“MTD”) is the latest euphemism adopted by government for shifting the burden of tax collection onto the taxpayer. We have seen the terms “Customers” replace “Taxpayers”, “Officers” and “Case Workers” replace “Inspectors”, and of course “Self-Assessment” replacing “Assessment“. We have seen friendly “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing” adverts, and “Advice” emails adding to the spin. However, make no mistake, whatever your political allegiances, MTD is among the most intrusive government projects yet devised in modern Britain.

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Post-Budget 2017: A Few Comments

The highlights of today’s budget were neither high nor light, but the budget did effectively do what, politically, it should have done: as little as possible. It was merely sensible. The objectives: attract the youth, make a noise about housing, give money to the NHS. For an embattled government, Mr Hammond’s speech will be generally welcomed.

The Big Issue was in relation to housing and his amendments to Stamp Duty Land Tax (first-time buyer exemption for properties below £300,000 and the first £300,000 on properties priced up to £500,000) will attract younger voters, as will the extension of railcards up to the age of 30. Of course the fiscal impact is to focus ever more burden on those in their mid-years (31 to 65) who are expected to carry the entire weight of the economy on their shoulders. But this mid-range is not what the Chancellor sees as his target for favours.

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Quarterly tax returns – HMRC’s thirst for knowledge

… about us.

HMRC published its consultation papers on 15th August called “Making Tax Digital” along with a series of other matters. Originally it was called “Making Tax Easier”. I assume they omitted the words, “to Collect” in error.  The Telegraph focused on the draconian penalty regime proposed (The Telegraph, 16 August 2016).  The Times was most interested in the new proposed powers of HMRC to penalise advisers involved in tax avoidance.

These proposals go to the heart of the relationship between government and the people. HMRC seeks powers to require unpaid work from citizens and will find itself destroying the understanding that used to exist. The relationship appears to be broken, and it seems like time to rethink it.

For centuries, tax was understood as government taking a share and using it as it saw fit. Excess taxation toppled Kings. Now, the people, and sometimes the media, are complicit in creating the illusion that tax equates to charity.  Tax is necessary for society to work, but it is not inherently a benign thing.

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Nothing to Hide, Anything to Fear?

Alcatraz.jpg

We often hear, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”?  Were it true, we would not object to the idea that some gentleman from the secret service might listen as we whisper sweet nothings, joke with close friends in a politically incorrect manner, or discuss a private business deal?

Privacy and secrecy are very much a part of business. Confidentiality is fundamental in professional life. Businesses work hard to create contact lists, customer lists, know-how and techniques, and guards them jealously.  Sometimes a non-disclosure agreement is needed to enter into any discussions with companies.  So let us not pretend that transparency in business is widely accepted as beneficial.  It has long been established that there is a need for a balance between the right to privacy, and the public’s right to protection.

But on which side of this balance do the new People of Significant Control Regulations sit?

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Government and Doctors; Just another brick in the wall

There is something inevitable in the march of government to control every element of our lives.  Those who know me, know I am hardly an anarchist.  Yet I feel great distress when I see Parliament, the beating heart of our liberal democracy, “cracking down” as I see it written in the papers, on freedom.  Today it was reported in The Times that doctors, those evil ne’er do wells who scrounge on society to gain knowledge and experience so that, despicably, they might cure the sick and save lives, and thereby, cynically destroy the pensions of those who would have survived anyway, will be forced to enter into contractual obligations to work in the NHS for some time after qualifying.  This used to be called servitude, I fear.

Let us completely forget that these same people, whose typical earnings working for the NHS might double those of a London tube driver as they reach the top of their profession, are the highest performing academics in the land, who must give up at least seven years of their lives to impoverished study to reach their heady status.  Let us also forget that these folk may indeed have just a little more value to society than, well most politicians, lawyers and accountants.  Let us cast from our minds that doctors use their knowledge to heal us and our children. Oh… And let us also ignore the fact that the NHS is a monopoly employer, the only choice in the UK for a Junior Doctor to work, even now.  In doing this, we wage a righteous war on those who have the effrontery to consider that hard work, intelligence and achievement, along with helping society and humanity should ever be rewarded.  But what has this got to do with business?
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Legislation, legislation, legislation

In case you have ever worried that Parliament does not do very much, take a look at the volume of legislation that afflicts us these days.  If you wonder why your best friend requires a copy of your passport before he will sit and drink a glass of wine with you, or why your partner will not let you eat your dinner until you have identified yourself with your postcode, the first line of your address and your date of birth, look to legislation.  Legislation was once the reluctant last choice for dealing with any issue, now the phrase “there ought to be a law against…” has been taken to heart by our leaders.

I remember reading that someone had worked out that in the ten years from 1997 to 2007, there were more new laws introduced by Parliament than had been introduced in the entire century from 1897 to 1997.  Perhaps that does depend on what you mean by a “new law”, but the point is quite clear.  In 1997, my books of tax legislation took up less than half the shelf space than they do today.

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