Saturday, 28 June 2008

Tax Returns and Crimewatch

People in my business have been wrestling with a problem outside our control for the last couple of months, and that relates to Tax Returns. For a few years, now, HM Revenue & Customs (as it now is) has been encouraging everyone who files tax returns to “do it on-line”, and especially tax agents such as my firm. This will be the fourth year we have filed clients' tax returns on-line, and by last “tax season” nearly all the problems had been ironed out. Most agents use third party software to file on-line, as the Revenue's own system is very cumbersome and involves everything being entered whilst connected to the internet, and with an irritatingly short time of inactivity before one has to re-log in. Those agents involved in the last mad rush on 31st January 2008 had little difficulty in filing on-line as their data transmissions went through even though the server for the Revenue's own filing software crashed on the vital day. So of course, we agents were reasonably happy, though we could not at that time access details such as what our clients had paid on account.

However, HMRC had commissioned a report from Lord Carter (see here) as to how things should be done in the future. There have been changes because of representations mainly by the professions involved, but as a result of this, paper personal tax returns have to be done by October this year though the last filing day for on line returns is still 31st January next.

One curious recommendation which has stuck is that all facsimile returns have to be in the Revenue's own PDF format so that paper ones can be scanned in using OCR. One can see the point if we are posting paper returns, but actually we are supposed to transmit the details electronically, so the logic defeats me. Anyway, what has happened is that the returns have been completely redesigned to fit the paper PDF format so that the facsimile returns we agents used to send to clients for approval are no longer acceptable to HMRC (even though we used to PDF them anyway). Consequently this has meant a complete rewrite of the software by the third part providers. Well, that's their job of course, but who ends up paying for this?

Anyway, the software people have done pretty well, but guess what? HMRC's software for processing the on-line transmissions has all sorts of problems, tax returns are getting rejected for no sensible reason and time is wasted by agents on the telephone to their software support people who are swamped. One of the most stupid errors is that the tax return says that if sole traders have a turnover of less than £30,000 then they do not have to detail their expenses but just lump them in one box. However, HMRC will reject a return done on-line on this basis even though one is following the instruction to the letter.

It all seems to be change for the sake of change, or a result of that other bugbear of corporate and government-speak “modernisation”.

This bring us to Crimewatch, the June episode of which was shown on BBC1 this week. For years it was presented from a studio by experienced broadcasters and whilst a little formulaic it held interest because of the material but also because of the attention to continuity and minimal distraction. So, some bright spark at the BBC obviously decided to “modernise” it, get rid of Nick Ross probably because he was “old”, and change the compelling and considerable journalist Fiona Bruce for Kirsty Young. Not content with that they have scrapped the studio and present the programme from some sort of warehouse with scaffolding and gantries as furniture, they cut between various non-professional broadcasters who are or were police officers but don't know how to talk to a camera, and keep having different segments by these people in different parts of the warehouse. Poor Kirsty Young, an experienced broadcaster herself stumbles round this dark edifice and at times seems as bemused as many of we viewers at home. The programme could be interesting if the content were well presented, but its earnest production is not entertainment and some of us are going to switch off.

My lesson for the BBC and for HM Revenue & Customs? If it ain't broke..........

Saturday, 14 June 2008


Most people probably have only a vague understanding of the meaning of the word "domicile" and even fewer realise that it is a distinct legal concept, and one which may affect a number of people considerably in determining the amount of tax they pay.

So, what is domicile? Domicile is essentially a legal concept which is also recognised in those countries who have inherited their legal system from Britain, and that includes the USA in this case. It is something everyone has, that one is born with, and is hard to change. Domicile is normally determined at birth, and for UK purposes in most cases it is inherited from one's father. It might not be the country in which one was born, but the country which one's father considered his permanent home. In the case of a person who was illegitimate or whose parent's divorced during his or her minority, there may be different factors to be considered.

Partly for historical reasons and partly to recognise continuing minor variations in the law to be applied, no one is actually domiciled in the United Kingdom; rather a person may be domiciled in England or Scotland, for example. The concept is enshrined in long-standing case law and does not always sit well with the equal opportunities climate.

It is possible to change someone's domicile with a good deal of difficulty if that individual severs all ties with the country of domicile of birth, establishes a home in a new country, perhaps buys a grave plot there and spends many years in the proposed country of domicile of choice. Unfortunately, when people become older and their health deteriorates, they may come back to their domicile of origin (the one they were born with) for treatment and ruin everything. Dedication is needed.

At this point you are thinking, "Could this affect me?" Well, for those who have domiciles abroad but who are resident in the UK, they have hitherto had the opportunity to pay much less tax in the UK than the rest of us, but they may not have realised it. "Unfair!" you may cry, but nevertheless it is true. Anyone in this category should speak to an adviser about back tax years and whether a repayment of tax might be in the offing.

However, the law changed in April 2008 and anyone who thinks he or she might be resident in the United Kingdom but not domiciled in a UK country may well be affected and should seek urgent professional advice because the UK tax regime will become much harsher.

In the simplest terms, prior to April 2008 a UK resident non-domiciled individual was not taxed in the UK on income and gains arising abroad but not remitted to the UK.

Unless such individuals are prepared to declare and be taxed in the UK on their worldwide income the new rules from 6th April 2008 impose an annual charge of £30,000 on non-UK domiciled or not ordinarily resident individuals who claim the remittance basis of taxation, if they have been resident for longer than seven out of the past 10 years (unless their unremitted foreign income and gains for the tax year in question are less than £2,000).They remove income tax personal allowances and the capital gains tax annual exempt amount from those who claim the remittance basis (unless their unremitted foreign income and gains are less than £2,000). As I said, this is a brief summary. There is a lot more to it than that.

There is a need to plan for the future. We all know business owners and others living in the UK whose families originate from the Commonwealth, mainland Europe and North America and perhaps from elsewhere. They may have been born within UK shores, but their fathers may not have been. The law rubs both ways. Given that those of us who are domiciled within the UK might have a hard job convincing the Inland Revenue of our overseas domicile even if we have lived in Marbella for 20 years, so someone whose family is from Hong Kong may still retain domicile there even if that person has been in business in England for many years.

The above is only summary of the current situation, which is actually quite complex, and it is believed to be correct at the time of writing. To reiterate, if you believe this issue affects you or may do in the future then you should seek professional advice.

© Jon Stow 2005, 2007, 2008

Post-holiday blues

I have been a bit quiet of late. You could understand that a number of developments in the UK tax world have pretty much left me speechless. We have had the Budget, largely flagged in advance with the capital gains changes etc. but the income-shifting fiasco has been put on hold. Unfortunately it is not a dead duck and will reappear not much changed, I suspect; a serious canard if ever there were one.

We tax advisers have a job squeezing our holidays in these days but we managed a couple of weeks in May in the steam room that is Florida at this time of year. Whilst I had my back turned, Darling had another Budget to compensate those who lost out from his organ-grinder's announcement of the abolition of the 10% band – well, one of them – in the 2007 Budget. Everyone knew about what had happened last year, except apparently the Government's own MPs. The give-away will apparently cost the Exchequer £2.7 Bn. This will be why the Government probably secretly welcomes the high oil price, at least in the short term, because of all that lovely extra tax it is collecting. After all it cannot really borrow any more, can it? Oh, well, I expect you are right.

Anyway, time is money for businesses, so I am especially upset at the problem we are having preparing and filing Self Assessment Tax Returns on-line for 2007-08. I said at the end of last year that the HMRC on-line system was much improved. So what happens? Wholesale change at the behest of Lord Carter and all the work and progress over the past few years has gone out of the window. I have lost time with the software not working, my supplier is over-stretched and work is not getting out of the door as I would like (any of my clients reading this need not worry; they will still get the same good service but it is just costing me more at the moment). If it ain't broke.....