HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has the authority to investigate the tax affairs of all taxpayers and seems increasingly willing to use this power to raise money for the government.
The latest figures show that the number of enquiries launched by HMRC in the year 2011-12 doubled to 237,215 with the receipts of HMRC’s compliance efforts totalling £16.7 billion.
HMRC’s primary line of enquiry is by way of a compliance check, which despite its name is a formal tax investigation. The opening of the investigation is by way of an Information Notice, which requires the taxpayer to provide answers to the questions raised by HMRC. A compliance check is separate to an enquiry into a tax return submitted by a tax payer.
To start a compliance check HMRC must have reason to suspect that tax has been underpaid. A compliance check cannot be a ‘fishing expedition’.
Why the increase in compliance checks?
Part of the reason for the increase in compliance checks is that HMRC have improved their analysis of the data they receive from third parties – such as banks with details of the accounts held by an individual. HMRC are also now collecting more information on property sales, so more checks following the sale of a property can be expected.
A considerable amount of the information received by HMRC will not have all the necessary details to determine whether tax has been underpaid.
For example a bank account may be in the name of a grandparent but the money is held for the benefit of a grandchild. From the initial information held by HMRC it seems that the grandparent has undeclared income and therefore it would be reasonable to launch a compliance check. The compliance check may then be dealt with quite quickly by responding to HMRC that the interest received on the bank account in fact belongs to the grandchildren and providing evidence to support the answer.
What happens if a compliance check finds that tax has been underpaid?
If a compliance check does result in a finding that tax has been underpaid then HMRC will collect the tax by raising an assessment. In addition to any tax payable the taxpayer may also face penalties for late payment. In addition, HMRC can charge additional penalties for non-disclosure of taxable income or gain. The non-disclosure penalties are reduced for co-operating with HMRC and providing the reason why the income or gain was not originally reported to HMRC.
The late payment and non-disclosure penalties can exceed the actual tax payable.
If tax should have been paid on an income source for the tax year ended 5 April 2014 the time limit for raising an assessment will only expire on 31 January 2015.
The normal time period during which tax may be assessed under a compliance check is 5 years and 10 months after the end of the tax year concerned.
The time limit can be extended up to 20 years in cases where there is negligent or fraudulent conduct by the taxpayer.
What to do if you receive an Information Notice from HMRC:
1. Keep calm
2. Decide whether you need professional assistance before you reply to HMRC.
3. Gather the information needed to provide a full answer to HMRC before replying to them.
4. Only provide HMRC with the information they need to deal with the questions they have raised.
5. If when reviewing your papers you do notice that tax has been underpaid consider whether a payment on account of tax due should immediately be sent to HMRC.
6. If you are not able to meet a deadline set by HMRC for you to provide an answer then contact them in advance and agree with them a revised deadline.
Q. I have recently started a new job and, for the first time in my career, I have been provided with a company car. I have to pay for fuel for private use but my employer says I can claim mileage for business journeys. Will I have to pay tax on fuel payments?
A. In addition to the company car benefit charge, employees have to pay tax on any fuel their employer provides that is used for private mileage. For 2016-17 you would calculate this amount by multiplying the car's CO2 percentage by £22,200. So, if the percentage is 28, the tax charge for petrol is £6,216. For a basic rate taxpayer, the after-tax cash equivalent is £1,243 and for a higher rate taxpayer £2,486. The charge is the same regardless of whether you use 2 litres or 2,000 litres of fuel.
However, this tax charge can be avoided if you pay all the private fuel costs back to your employer. You need to keep accurate records (mileage logs and fuel receipts) to support such a claim to HMRC.
Your employer can give you a tax-free fuel allowance if you pay for fuel used for business travel in your company car. HMRC publish new advisory fuel rates four times a year. The most recent rates, apply from 1 September 2016.
Rates currently range from 11p per mile for smaller petrol cars (under 1400cc); 13p for those with engines between 1401cc and 2000cc; and 20p per mile for larger petrol cars (over 2000cc). Lower rates apply for cars using cheaper liquid petroleum gas (LPG), ranging from 7p (1400cc or less); 9p (1401cc to 2000cc); and 13p (over 2000cc). Rates for cars with diesel engines currently range from 9p per mile for cars with engines of 1600cc or less; 11p per mile for those with engines of 1601cc to 2000cc; and 13p per mile for those with engines larger than 2000cc. Petrol hybrid cars are treated as petrol cars for this purpose.
HMRC accept that, where an employer reimburses an employee for the cost of fuel for business mileage in a company car at the above rates, no taxable benefit arises.
A full list of past and current mileage rates can be found on the HMRC website https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advisory-fuel-rates.
Q. I am a director of a limited company, which is registered for VAT. I have recently formed a limited partnership, with my limited company being the only general partner and another business being a limited partner. HMRC have written to me advising that I am unable to register the limited partnership for VAT as my limited company is already VAT-registered. Is this correct?
A. Yes. In a limited partnership there must always be at least one general partner with unlimited liability. A limited partnership, composed of individual limited partners, and a corporate general partner, offers a combination of total limited liability and the advantages of the partnership structure.
If a limited partnership is registered with the Registrar of Companies, then HMRC will only allow the registration in respect of the general partners, not any of the limited ones. This is because a limited partner cannot be held liable for any debts or obligations of the limited partnership. If the limited partnership goes into debt, the limited partner is liable to lose only the contribution he made to the partnership, the remaining debt will fall to the general partners.
In your case, because the limited company is already VAT-registered and is the only general partner of the limited partnership, you would be treated as the same legal entity for VAT registration purposes and would not be able to obtain separate VAT registrations.
Q. Having been an employee of a company for many years, I was appointed to the board of directors from 1 March 2016. I understand that Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (NICs) are calculated differently for directors. Can you please explain how it works and let me know what will happen for the rest of the current tax year?
A. NICs for directors are calculated by reference to an annual, rather than weekly or monthly earnings period. You became a director in week 44 of the 2015/16 tax year, which means that the primary threshold and upper earnings limit are calculated for the rest of the tax year by multiplying the weekly values by 9 (the earnings period starts with the week of appointment). So, from your date of appointment in 2015/16 to the end of the 2015-16 tax year, you will pay Class 1 NICs at the main rate of 12% on your director's earnings between £1,008 (9 x £112) and £7,353 (9 x £817) and at the additional 2% rate on all earnings above £7,596 paid up to 5 April.
For 2016/17 you will pay Class 1 contributions evenly throughout the year. If, for example, your monthly salary is £9,000, you will pay Class 1 contributions as follows:
April (month 1) - salary £9,000 - NICs payable £112.80 (£9,000 - £8,060 (being the primary threshold) x 12%)
May (month 2) - salary £9,000 - NICs payable £1,080.00 (£9,000 x 12%)
June (month 3) - salary £9,000 - NICs payable £1,080
July (month 4) - salary £9,000 - NICs payable £1,080
August (month 5) - salary £9,000 - NICs payable £840.00 (£7,000 x 12% plus £2,000 x 2%: upper earnings limit of £43,000 reached)
September (month 6) to March (month 12) - NICs payable each month: £9,000 x 2% = £180.00
Total NICs due for tax year: £5,452.80
Q. I am a VAT-registered sole trader, owning a cycle shop in my local town. I am thinking of opening a second shop in another town and am wondering how I will deal with this for self-assessment and VAT. Will I need to register the new shop for VAT separately and complete two VAT returns - one for each business?
A. I presume you are going to be selling similar goods and providing similar services in the new shop. If that is the case, you will be able to do one self-assessment for the two businesses by amalgamating the figures for both shops. For VAT purposes, the HMRC state that it is the 'person', not the business, who is registered for VAT. A person can be either an individual or a legal person or entity and each VAT registration covers all the business activities of the registered person. This means that even if your new business has a different name, you will only need one VAT registration number.
Q. I own a rental property and let it out on a fully-furnished basis. Can I claim a tax deduction for the cost of replacing items as and when needed?
A. The government withdrew the 'renewals basis' capital allowance for furnishings in rental properties from April 2013, which means that currently only the 10% wear and tear allowance for a fully furnished rental property is available to you. Note that the wear and tear allowance is not available to those property businesses that rent part-furnished or unfurnished property.
The good news, however, is that in the Summer 2015 Budget the government announced that, as from April 2016, the 10% wear and tear allowance will cease and will be replaced with a new 'replacement allowance'. Broadly, the new relief will enable all landlords of residential dwelling houses to deduct the costs they actually incur on replacing furnishings in the property. The relief will apply to landlords of unfurnished, part-furnished and furnished properties (but not to 'furnished holiday lettings' (FHLs) or commercial properties).
Under the new replacement furniture relief, landlords of all non-FHL residential dwelling houses will be able to claim a deduction for the capital cost of replacing furniture, furnishings, appliances and kitchenware provided for the tenant's use in the dwelling house, such as:
movable furniture or furnishings, such as beds or suites,
fridges and freezers,
carpets and floor-coverings,
crockery or cutlery.
The new replacement furniture relief will only apply to the replacement of furnishings. The initial cost of furnishing a property will not be included.
Q. I am a higher-rate taxpayer. My wife currently works part time and pays tax at the basic rate. We have a second property that we rent out but the deeds are held in my sole name. Is it worth putting the property into joint names, or even transferring it to my wife outright, so that we pay tax on the rental income at the basic rate?
A. If you live with a spouse or civil partner and have income from property you jointly own, you will normally be taxed on an even split of the income between you. In your particular circumstances there are two options available:
1. Under what is known as the '50:50 rule', you can simply make your wife a partial owner of the property, which means you will each be taxed on 50% of the rental income. For the purposes of these rules, the actual amount she owns is not relevant - it could be 99%, 50% or even 1%, as long as she is a partial owner.
2. You can make your wife a partial owner of the property and notify HMRC of the proportion she holds accordingly. You do this by submitting Form 17 to HMRC to record your actual shares of ownership. You will both then be taxed on the rental income according to the proportion you both actually own in the property (known as the 'actual basis'). You will need to provide HMRC with evidence that your beneficial interests in the property are unequal, for example a declaration or deed. You can complete Form 17 online here. https://public-online.hmrc.gov.uk/lc/content/xfaforms/profiles/forms.html?contentRoot=repository:///Applications/SpecPersTax_iForms/1.0/17&template=17.xdp
Q. I have realised that I made a mistake on my most recent VAT return. What should I do?
A. You can adjust your current VAT account to correct errors on past returns if the error:
was below the reporting threshold (broadly, less than £10,000, or up to 1% of your box 6 figure (up to a maximum of £50,000);
was not deliberate; and
relates to an accounting period that ended less than 4 years ago.
When you submit your next return, add the net value to box 1 for tax due to HMRC, or to box 4 for tax due to you. Make sure you keep good accurate records relating to the adjustment.
Q. A friend has told me that I may be entitled to a larger state pension if I pay Class 3A national insurance contributions. What are they and how do I know if paying them is worthwhile?
A. Class 3A is a new voluntary type of national insurance contribution (NIC) that is being introduced from 12 October 2015. Broadly, between then and 5 April 2017 certain people will be able to make a contribution to top up their state pension by up to £25 per week. Men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953 will be eligible to make top up payments. The cost of the contribution will depend on how much extra pension the applicant wants to qualify for (between £1 and £25 per week), and how old they are when they make the contribution. A top up calculator is available on the GOV.uk website at www.gov.uk/state-pension-topup/y. The calculator will help you work out whether it is worthwhile you making Class 3A contributions.
Q. I have assets worth around £600,000, including my home. I am single, have never been married and have no children. I intend leaving my estate to my siblings. Will they qualify as 'direct descendants' and, in turn, will I qualify for the extra £175,000 family home inheritance tax allowance that was announced in the Summer Budget?
A. The draft legislation and guidance on this issue states that the relief will only be available where the family home is passed to children. This includes stepchildren, adopted and foster children, plus grandchildren. Therefore the family home allowance will not be available.
Savings income (which includes all types of interest) paid net is taxed usually at source at 20%. Dividends on UK equities carry a (non repayable) tax credit of 10%. The intention is that only higher rate taxpayers should have to pay any additional tax, although 'starting rate' and non-taxpayers may be entitled to claim a tax refund. The starting rate of 10% applies only to savings income up to £2,880. If non savings income exceeds this, no 10% rate applies.
For higher rate taxpayers, there is the question of how much of their savings income has to bear extra tax. In determining this, the general rule is that savings income is treated as the 'top slice' of income.
This is best illustrated by examples of individuals who have exactly the same savings income in 2014/15, but different other income (for simplicity, treated as being after application of all allowances). The treatment of dividends is more complicated and they are therefore excluded.
Suppose the savings income is received as follows:
Bank interest £1,600 net (£400 tax deducted) £2,000
Building society interest £3,200 net (£800 tax deducted) £4,000
Mr Black Mr Smith Mr Brown Mr Green
Other taxable income £1,000 £10,000 £31,000 £45,000
Savings income £6,000 £6,000 £6,000 £6,000
Total taxable income £7,000 £16,000 £37,000 £51,000
Mr Black's non-savings income of £1,000 utilises part of the savings income starting rate band. The remaining £1,880 is taxed at 10%, so a refund of tax is due.
Mr Smith's total taxable income is below the higher rate threshold of £31,865 and so he has no additional tax to pay. All his savings income will have been taxed at 20% only. The 10% starting rate does not apply as the non savings income exceeds £2,880.
Mr Brown's total taxable income exceeds the higher rate threshold by £5,135, and so he will have additional tax of £1,027 to pay (£5,135 at 20%).
Because Mr Green's other taxable income already exceeds the higher rate threshold, his savings income will trigger additional tax of £1,200 (£6,000 at 20%). Mr Green's savings income will therefore have been taxed at 40%.
Please contact us if you would like further information on this subject.
Q. I run a small shop, which I inherited from my father. The shop has a flat above it which is let out. I've always reported all the income from the shop and flat together as self-employed income on my tax return. Is that correct?
A. No, the income from your shop and the flat should be reported separately on your tax return. The profit or loss from the shop should be reported on the self-employed pages of your return. The net income from the flat should be reported on the UK property income pages on your tax return. Any loss from the shop can't be set off against profits from the letting, or the other way round.
Q. Back in 2010 I borrowed money from my company, and paid the corporation tax charge due. Business has now improved and my company can now pay a dividend to clear the debt I owe to the company. How can I reclaim the corporation tax charged?
A.You need to complete a form L2P to reclaim that tax charge, but that must be done online here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/corporation-tax-reclaim-tax-paid-by-close-companies-on-loans-to-participators-l2p
You need to answer all the questions on the interactive form, then print it off and sign it. The signed form should be sent to:
Corporation Tax Services
PO Box 29997
Glasgow, G70 5AB
GrowthAccelerator been extremely successful, 98% of businesses report that they are on track to achieve their key milestones having gone through the process and 96% would recommend it to others. It is a unique service co-invested by Government with the main goal of helping small and medium sized businesses to grow.
GrowthAccelerator is open to small and medium sized businesses registered in England and not restricted to any geographical area. Through GrowthAccelerator the Government aims to add £2.8 billion value to the economy and create 70,000 jobs by March 2015.
Businesses are able to receive a package of support valued at £3,500 for a net cost of £600 if you have 1-4 employees and for a net cost of £1,500 if you have 5-49 employees. Furthermore, once you have qualified for GrowthAccelerator you can also receive matched funding from the Government of up to £2,000 for owners and senior managers to undertake training in leadership and management skills.
The most popular area of GrowthAccelerator support is their Business Development service which includes creating strategic growth plans, sales and marketing systems etc.
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The overriding criteria for eligibility is that a business should have the ambition, capacity and opportunity to double its turnover, profits or employees in 3 years.
To start the process most businesses contact a registered and approved Growth Coach for GrowthAccelerator who can introduce them to a Growth Manager. This person will advise whether you could be eligible and assist you in drafting your applications. This normally includes coaching with a registered and approved GrowthAccelerator Coach together with access to workshops and master classes for you and your team normally over a three to nine month period.