Friday, 12 June 2009

Credit where credit’s due - HMRC v Annabel's

HM Revenue & Customs has claimed that it has struck a blow for lower-paid workers in the form of restaurant and nightclub staff. As many of you will know, there is a common system in restaurants where tips are collected whether through cash or as additions to credit card billing and allocated to a member of staff, the troncmaster, who is responsible for delivering shares of these gratuities to his or her colleagues. Normally the person who has the distribution responsibility deducts PAYE as appropriate which is dealt with separately from the normal wages. Yes, some cash tips go straight into pockets, but that’s another story.

Probably in common with many establishments, it turned out that Annabel’s, the well-known London nightclub, was paying its workers less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW) on the grounds that when seen in conjunction with the tips paid by the troncmaster the total earnings exceeded the NMW.

HMRC took a dim view of this and issued enforcement notices against which the employers appealed, claiming that the monies received in total by the employees satisfied the minimum amount specified under the NMW regulations. The Employment Tribunal and subsequently the Court of Appeal agreed with HMRC that the minimum wage had not been paid by the employers and they were in breach of the rules, and thus restaurant and nightclub workers must be paid the NMW before taking into account tips.

This is indeed a landmark decision which will benefit many thousands of workers who will now get at least the National Minimum Wage plus tips, even if it means that restaurant bills will be going up to cover the shortfall in monies taken. HMRC deserves credit for clamping down.

Should we feel sorry for the Annabel’s employees who have been so exploited in the past? Probably not, because at such a high class establishment the punters tip very generously and word is most Annabel’s staff are higher rate taxpayers already.

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Tuesday, 9 June 2009

New tax amnesty and old habits

We are starting to hear a little more about the new tax amnesty in the UK, called by HM Revenue & Customs the “New Disclosure Opportunity (NDO),” which follows on from the 2007 amnesty. Now we know that since the original amnesty, which followed on from HMRC’s victory in the Courts over the UK banks defending unsuccessfully their Channel Island branch customers, HMRC has come by a lot more information. Indeed I can infer from what I have heard on the grapevine that the acquisition of information concerning the Lichtenstein accounts has borne fruit, and will continue to do so. Therefore I think that the NDO is aimed at this particular tranche of (non) taxpayers and may be the reason for the bullish £2Bn tax take punted in the Daily Telegraph report.

I guess my advice to the miscreants would be to grab the 10% fixed penalty (plus interest on late-paid tax) while they can; of course my advice is always to come clean because at least in theory, the more tax the fraudulent evaders have to pay, the less the tax burden for the rest of us (I wish). To my mind, failure to pay thousands or millions in tax which is properly due to the Exchequer is little different from robbing a bank or stealing millions in gold bullion.

There are those who have been caught already between amnesties, which is bad luck or just desserts for not having come forward the first time. There really will be no excuse for lying low in the next amnesty, and to be honest (me, not them) they would be well advised to talk to their tax advisers, accountants or lawyers now in readiness to make complete disclosures. If they do not, or if the disclosures are incomplete then it may well mean jail time (being British and pedantic I would like to say “gaol time”). Still, it might be hard to persuade die-hard evaders to put their hands up.

I am not taking the Revenue’s side so much as the side of truth and honesty. That said, if anyone wants to speak to me with a view to their coming clean on their undeclared income and gains, I will be pleased to represent them in dealing with HMRC as long as I am satisfied they wish to make a full disclosure. Naturally I offer a very discreet and totally confidential service.