STEP’s Special Interest Groups under the spotlight

SIG Spotlight Sessions 2017The end of November saw STEP Special Interest Groups’ (SIGs’) annual day of conferences, the ‘Spotlight Sessions’, held at the Montcalm Hotel in London and attracting over 300 international delegates.

The day started early with a breakfast-time Philanthropy Advisors SIG session. Outgoing chair Suzanne Reisman TEP welcomed attendees and contributed to a panel discussion, which also included Keyvan Ghavami of Act On Your Future, Jacqueline Lazare TEP of Royds Withy King and Julie Wynne TEP of Froriep. A lively discussion ensued, the takeaway point being that advisors are missing a business opportunity if they do not at least raise the issue of charitable giving with their clients.

The International Client SIG session began with Joseph Field TEP of Withers Bergman LLP delivering the keynote lecture on the changing landscape for international clients, quipping that events move so fast, that if you miss the news for 15 minutes, you can get completely behind. Tony Pitcher TEP of LGL Trustees Limited moderated a discussion on tax regimes, which included contributions from Luxembourg, Cyprus, the US, the UAE, Italy and Switzerland.

Bill Ahern TEP of Ahern Lawyers, David Russell QC TEP of Outer Temple Chambers and Wendy Martin of EY – Channel Islands discussed ‘attacks on intermediaries’ and practical issues in relation to the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Wendy said that implementing CRS was a massive challenge, and depended hugely on how you interpret the law. She asked what might happen to all the data required, and what could go wrong, before pointing out the gaping contradiction with data protection legislation that mandates privacy. David expressed his concern that regulatory requirements are making it increasingly difficult to open a bank account and many entirely legitimate people are being excluded from the banking system, and Bill noted that in a number of countries there were very good reasons for not wanting the government to know about your financial affairs, not least personal security.

The day marked the official launch event of the newest of STEP’s SIGs, the Digital Assets SIG. Leigh Sagar TEP of New Square Chambers gave an introduction to digital assets and the issues they present for estate planning and administration. Together with the panel, he presented the audience with some quite alarming scenarios which left not a few squirming in their seats. If someone has your computer password, they could empty your bank account. If you let someone else use your Facebook account, you’ve committed an offence. If a family member dies, you may not be able to read their emails, or access their accounts. If your relative left online gambling debts that needed to be paid, but you didn’t have the passwords, you would not be able to settle their estate. The panel discussed a number of ways of ensuring passwords stay secure and yet are accessible to those who need them. One of the simplest ideas was to keep a list in a sealed envelope. The session concluded with discussions on electronic signatures and wills and the important, and growing, subject of cryptocurrencies and their taxation.

This year saw the Mental Capacity SIG and the Cross-Border Estates SIG partner on connecting sessions looking at cross-border capacity. Drawing the largest attendance of all the sessions, the panels comprised speakers from 12 jurisdictions providing a round-up of existing and new laws in each, followed by an active panel discussion.

The Business Families SIG session then explored the unique considerations an advisor must consider in an advisory position to a family business wishing to sell, as opposed to non-family entities. The audience heard first-hand accounts from family business owners Ian McKernan of Molecular Products Group and Alex Scott of Sandaire, alongside experts from the advisor community.

The final session was presented by the Contentious Trusts and Estates SIG and focused on the rules against self-dealing, fair dealing, no conflicts and their exceptions, considering the rules in light of recent decisions. Their session welcomed speaker Vicki Ammundsen TEP, who had come all the way from New Zealand.

Joanna Pegum, STEP PR & Media Executive

EU tax haven blacklist confirmed

Daniel NesbittAfter much debate and scrutiny, an EU blacklist of jurisdictions deemed not to be cooperative on tax matters has been agreed. The announcement came following a meeting of the EU’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council, attended by the finance ministers of each Member State.

The list, officially called the Common EU List of Non-Cooperative Jurisdictions, includes the following 17 territories:

• American Samoa
• Bahrain
• Barbados
• Grenada
• Guam
• Macau
• The Marshall Islands
• Mongolia
• Namibia
• Palau
• Panama
• Samoa
• South Korea
• St. Lucia
• Trinidad and Tobago
• Tunisia
• The United Arab Emirates.

Work on the list began in 2015. Originally 92 countries were screened for compliance with the EU’s transparency criteria, and earlier this year, 53 were warned that unless they changed their tax rules, they risked being included on the blacklist.

The full consequences for jurisdictions on the blacklist will be decided in the coming weeks, although the document outlining the blacklist suggest a number of defensive measures Member States could take against non-cooperative jurisdictions. States such as Luxembourg have been reported to favour not implementing any sanctions whilst others, including France, are thought to be advocating tough measures.

The list will be reviewed annually, with a report on the progress of jurisdictions expected before summer 2018. The EU has also announced that in the future the assessment criteria will be expanded to include the transparency of beneficial ownership information.

In addition to the blacklist, a so-called grey list of a further 47 territories has been drawn up. These jurisdictions have fallen short of the EU’s criteria but have also committed to raising their standards. If they fail to abide by their commitments they will face being placed on the blacklist.

STEP will continue to monitor the situation closely, particular in regards to what happens to those on the grey-list and any further sanctions, and will provide further updates when necessary.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

The UK Budget and donor benefit rules for charities

Emily Deane TEPThree years ago, the UK government’s Autumn Statement 2014 announced a review of the Gift Aid donor benefit rules with the intention of simplifying them. Following a call for evidence, it launched a consultation on 18 February 2016 setting out a range of options.

The responses helped develop specific proposals for reform, which were set out in a second consultation that ended on 3 February 2017. We have been informed that a summary of responses to the second consultation will be published on 1 December 2017.

This week the government announced that it would replace the current three-tier thresholds with two tiers. Under this reform, donors will be no worse off in terms of the value of benefits that charities can offer them, as the new limits will be, for every eligible donation, at least as generous as the current limit.

Current system

The current donor benefit limits (the relevant value test) is a set of monetary thresholds that determines the value of benefits that charities may give to donors as a consequence of a donation and still claim Gift Aid on that donation. These are:

• For donations up to £100, the value of the benefit can equate to a total of 25% of the donation.
• For donations between £100 and £1,000, the value of benefits is capped at £25.
• For donations over £1,000, the value of the benefit can equate to a total of 5% of the donation, up to a maximum annual benefit value of £2,500.

New system to be introduced

Under the new limits, the benefit threshold for the first £100 of the donation will remain at 25% of the amount of the donation. For larger donations, charities can offer an additional benefit to donors, up to 5% of the amount of the donation that exceeds £100. Some examples are provided in the table below. The total value of the benefit that a donor can receive remains at £2,500.

Extra statutory concessions

The government also announced that it will bring into legislation the four extra statutory concessions that currently operate in relation to the donor benefit rules.

Time-frame

Legislation to make all the changes will be introduced in Finance Bill 2018-2019 and will come into effect from 6 April 2019. Draft legislation will be published in 2018.

Examples of how the new benefit thresholds will work:

Size of donation (£) Existing relevant value test  – size of donation
determines level of benefit (£)
Planned relevant value test from April 2019 (£)
70 17.50 17.50
100 25 25
400 25 40 (25% of 100 (25) plus 5% of 400-100(15))
1,000 25 70 (25% of 100 (25) plus 5% of 1,000-100(45))
1,500 75 95 (25% of 100 (25) plus 5% of 1,500-100 (70))

STEP will continue to liaise with HMRC’s Charities Tax Team in this connection.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

STEP joins industry roundtable for Law Commission Q&A on wills

Emily Deane TEPSTEP was pleased to attend the latest Today’s Thought Focus Roundtable, hosted by Today’s Wills & Probate on 15 November 2017.

Prof Nick Hopkins and Spencer Clarke from the England & Wales Law Commission attended, and gave participants the opportunity to discuss its latest wills consultation.

The consultation paper contains 14 chapters and 64 questions, with varying proposals for reform. The most pertinent issues facing STEP members are the review of testamentary capacity, statutory wills, supported will-making, formalities, electronic wills, the protection of vulnerable testators, and interpretation and rectification provisions.

Key reforms that members welcome are:

• Modernisation of the language to make it more accessible to the public.
• An alignment between the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Banks v Goodfellow test.
• Improving the statutory will application process to further protect elderly or frail testators.
• The implementation of supported will-making, provided that accredited individuals are used and the proper safeguards are incorporated.
• Enhanced protection measures for vulnerable testators.

The Commission confirmed that 177 responses have been received in response to the consultation, which concluded on 10 November 2017. More than 30 of these are thought to be from members of the public.

Prof Nick Hopkins commented: ‘This roundtable event, bringing together a diverse group of those involved in the writing of wills, will be very helpful for us in ensuring that our proposals for reform are grounded in the experience of those making a will, and engage with real-life concerns.’

The Law Commission will be analysing the responses in the coming months and will collate them into a report. In the meantime, it anticipates forming small working groups representative of the industry to focus on various areas of the draft legislation. It is hoped that the official report will be released by the end of 2018.

STEP will continue to keep you updated on this area of reform.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Improving HMRC guidance on Gift Aid donor benefits

Emily Deane TEP

STEP has been invited to join an HMRC Working Group which will review the guidance on Gift Aid donor benefits. The Working Group will review the interpretation of the rules that apply to donor benefits within the HMRC guidance covered by Chapters 3.18 to 3.25.

Objectives

Representatives have been selected from the charity sector, HMRC and HMT and the group held its first meeting hosted by HMRC last week. The group has initially identified the need to include the valuation of certain benefits for application of the relevant value test; the meaning of the ‘in consequence’ rule; and the correct application of the split payment rule.

The objective of the working group is not to amend the legislation or policy but simply to clarify and improve the guidance. HMRC has confirmed that proposed changes to the guidance cannot extend, override or supplement any statutory provisions.

HMRC is keen to mitigate the confusion and litigation that can ensue when the guidance is misinterpreted by charities and donors, for example, when gift aid contributions are misunderstood from the donor’s perspective which can lead to HMRC demanding large refunds. The overriding objective of the working group is to enhance the guidance to make it work as efficiently as possible and promote best practice within the sector.

Tell us your views

We would like to invite STEP members to provide examples of how the guidance could be improved in order to clarify interpretation of the existing legislation. You may wish to provide examples of how the guidance can be misinterpreted or, alternatively, mark up the guidance to show suggested changes.

Outcome

Once HMRC has collected the proposed changes from the working group representatives they will refer the guidance to HMRC’s solicitors for review prior to publication. The estimated date for publication is early 2019.

We would very much value your input. Please send your feedback to  policy@step.org by 15 November 2017.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Update: TRS now open to agents

Simon HodgesUpdate: 19 October

HMRC has asked us to disseminate the following:

‘The new TRS is now available for agents to use. As part of this online process, agents will be taken through the steps to create an Agent Services account before they can register on behalf of trustees.

Agents use the link from www.gov.uk/trusts-taxes/trustees-tax-responsibilities to register a trust. As part of that journey, the agent will be asked to create an Agent Services account, and the agents will be directed to request access to the Trust Registration Service by email. The agent will receive a response from HMRC giving them access to Agent Services and some guidance on what to do next. Once they have created an Agent Services account they will be directed to the Trusts Registration iform.

In registering for an Agent Services Account they will have been identified as seeking to access the TRS, and will not be offered the option of linking existing government gateway IDs and client relationships. This is only undertaken by agents participating in the controlled go live of MTDfB.’

We are aware, however, that there are reports that Agent Services – and, therefore, TRS – will not be fully live for agents until the end of October or the beginning of November, though this may be subject to change. We will update members as and when we get more information. In the meantime, we have reported on the TRS issues in today’s Industry News: UK Online Trust Registration Service now available to agents.

Original blog

HMRC has confirmed that, from last night (17 October), the Trust Registration Service (TRS) is now available to agents filing on behalf of trustees. This follows last week’s announcement, that due to technical errors, there were delays in allowing agents access to the system.

HMRC has also confirmed that there will be no penalty imposed where registration is completed after 5 October 2017 but before 5 December 2017. STEP has inquired with HMRC whether there is any potential flexibility in that deadline, and we will update members on the outcome of those discussions. However, at the time of writing, the deadline of 5 December remains.

HMRC’s statement in full:

‘From today, the Trust Registration Service (TRS) is available to agents filing on behalf of trustees. Please see the following link for further details on how to gain access to the TRS: www.gov.uk/trusts-taxes/trustees-tax-responsibilities.

The new TRS allows agents, acting on behalf of trustees, to register trusts and complex estates online and to provide information on the beneficial owners of those trusts or complex estates. The new service, which was launched in July 2017 for lead trustees, replaces the 41G (Trust) paper form, which was withdrawn at the end of April 2017. This is now the only way that trusts and complex estates can obtain their SA Unique Taxpayer Reference. As part of this online process, agents will be taken through the steps to create an Agent Services account before they can register on behalf of trustees.

In this first year of TRS, to allow sufficient time to complete the registration of a trust or complex estate for SA and provide beneficial ownership information, there will be no penalty imposed where registration is completed after 5 October 2017 but before 5 December 2017.

For both UK and non-UK express trusts which are either already registered for SA or do not require SA registration, but incur a liability to relevant UK taxes, the trustees are required to provide beneficial ownership information about the trust, using the TRS, by 31 January following the end of tax year. This means, if the trustees of a UK or non-UK express trust incurred a liability to any of the relevant UK taxes in tax year 2016-17, in relation to trust income or assets, then the trustees or their agent need to register that trust on TRS by no later than 31 January 2018.

The relevant taxes are:
• income tax
• capital gains tax
• inheritance tax
• stamp duty land tax
• stamp duty reserve tax
• land and buildings transaction tax (Scotland).

The new service will provide a single online service for trusts to comply with their registration obligations. This will improve the processes for the administration of trusts and allow HMRC to collect, hold and retrieve information in a central electronic register.

More information is available in HMRC’s September Trusts & Estates Newsletter.

Finally, on Monday 9 October we published our guidance in the form of an FAQ note to help our customers understand the TRS requirements.’

Simon Hodges is Director of Policy at STEP.

Technical hitches remain for access to UK Trust Registration Service

Simon HodgesAgents remain unable to access the Trust Registration Service (TRS) after technical errors were identified in the system, HMRC has confirmed. However, the deadline for completing the register of a trust for self-assessment and providing beneficial ownership information remains 5 December 2017.

This news comes shortly after HMRC published its comprehensive guidance for the new online register of trusts on Monday 9 October, following the launch of the service in July 2017. This was to be the first phase, allowing trustees to access the TRS, and so ensuring that HMRC met with the basic legal requirements of the EU Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

The second phase, allowing agents to access the TRS on behalf of trustees, was to be delivered in October. However HMRC has notified STEP that it has identified technical errors in the course of testing this phase. HMRC reassures us that it is resolving these issues as quickly as possible, so that the system works from the moment it is released.

HMRC has also reiterated the timeline, noting that there will be no penalty imposed where registration is completed after 5 October 2017 but before 5 December 2017.

HMRC has said it will provide STEP with an update next week. We will keep members informed.

Simon Hodges is Director of Policy at STEP

STEP LatAm Conference 2017 in Colombia

CartagenaA sell-out audience of over 370 delegates has been attending the 2017 STEP LatAm Conference in Cartagena, Colombia this week. The fact that they managed to get here in spite of a local transport strike made me feel, as a Brit, rather at home, but it also shows what a strong following the annual STEP Latam Conference now has.

Looking at STEP in the Americas, we now have a network of well over 40 branches with, between them, almost 5,500 members. This makes our major conferences a major meeting place for practitioners across both North and South America.

STEP Colombia is one of our newer STEP branches, but has a group of committed volunteers working hard to establish STEP in the jurisdiction as a way of enhancing professional knowledge and building international links in the fast-developing country. Cartagena was an inspired choice of venue for the event; as a major UN World Heritage site with an immaculately preserved historic centre, it proved highly appealing for delegates from further afield.

The twin issues of the European pressures for public registers of beneficial ownership and the implications of the US’ non-participation in the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) were just two of the key themes explored in the conference, which Patricia Wass TEP, Chair of STEP Worldwide and Luz Alfonso TEP, Conference Chair and one of the founder members of STEP Colombia, jointly opened.

After this year’s enormous success, many are already looking forward to next year’s STEP LatAm Conference in Mexico.

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP

Proposed EU rules for tax planning intermediaries

European flags in BrusselsIn June 2017 the European Commission published draft legislation containing new rules for tax-planning intermediaries who design or promote cross-border tax planning arrangements. The stated objective is to identify and assess schemes that are potentially facilitating tax evasion or avoidance in order to block harmful arrangements in the early stages.

The proposals require intermediaries to report details of any arrangement that features defined ‘hallmarks’ (outlined below) to their own tax authority within five days, beginning on the day after the arrangement was made available to the taxpayer.

The new proposals are an amendment to the Directive for Administration Cooperation (DAC) and will be submitted to the European Parliament for consultation and subsequent adoption. It is anticipated that they will take effect on 1 January 2019.

Intermediaries

‘Intermediaries’ has a wide definition within the proposals and is described as anyone ‘designing, marketing, organizing or managing the implementation of the tax aspects of a reportable cross-border arrangement, or series of such arrangements, in the course of providing services relating to taxation.’

An intermediary could be a company or professional, including lawyers, tax and financial advisors, accountants, banks and consultants. An advisor who deals with any type of direct tax such as income, corporate, capital gains, inheritance tax, etc, will fall into the reporting remit.

Hallmarks

A tax-planning arrangement will be considered reportable if it features a ‘hallmark’ that is defined within the Directive, and the onus will be on the intermediary to report it. These hallmarks are considered to be characteristics within a transaction that may enable the arrangement to be used to avoid or evade paying taxes.

If one of more of the following hallmarks is identified then the arrangement must be reported:

• A cross-border payment to a recipient in a no-tax country.
• Involvement with a jurisdiction with weak or insufficient anti-money laundering legislation.
• An arrangement set up to avoid reporting income in accordance with EU transparency rules.
• An arrangement set up to circumvent EU exchange requirements for tax rulings.
• If it has a direct correlation between the fee charged by the intermediary and the amount that the taxpayer will save in tax avoidance.
• If it does not ensure that the same assets benefit from depreciation rules in more than one country.
• If it does not enable the same income to benefit from tax relief in more than one jurisdiction.
• If it does not respect EU or international transfer pricing guidelines.

Reporting

The Member State in which the arrangement is reported must automatically share the information with all other Member States via a centralised database on a quarterly basis. The information needs to be completed using a standard format, which will require details of the intermediary, the taxpayer and the scheme being recommended. Member States are obliged to implement proper penalties if intermediaries fail to adhere to the reporting requirements, and each Member State has to enforce its own national sanctions.

Objective

Some Member States already have mandatory reporting requirements in place for intermediaries, such as the UK, Ireland and Portugal. The reporting requirements are designed to assist Member States in closing loopholes when it comes to tax abuse as well as deterring the use of aggressive tax planning schemes across the EU.

STEP will continue to monitor developments in relation to these new measures, and will inform members of any new information as soon as it is released.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

STEP members input into reform of the law of wills

doctor with patientEarlier this week STEP held the second of three consultation events on the reform of the law of wills in England and Wales. Law Commission representatives Dr Nick Hopkins and Spencer Clarke invited feedback from STEP members in England and Wales on key areas of the consultation including, capacity, statutory wills, formalities, electronic will-making, protecting vulnerable testators and revocation.

At both events, practitioners raised substantial issues relating to the review of the test for capacity to make a will under Banks v Goodfellow (1870), the review of the formality rules, the introduction of court dispensing powers and further possible protection measures for vulnerable testators.

Some particularly pertinent questions that initiated discussion amongst members at the events were:

• How can the Golden Rule (where the making of a will by an elderly or ill testator is witnessed or approved by a medical practitioner who is satisfied of their capacity) be improved?
• Should the Wills Act adopt the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for decisions regarding testamentary capacity?
• Could other professionals such as psychiatrists assess capacity, not just medical practitioners?
• Should the ‘attestation’ requirement be removed?
• Should a dispensing power be introduced to allow judges to override a will formality that has been overlooked, for example, missing witnesses?
• Should the marriage revocation clause be reconsidered or removed?
• Is there scope for expanding the undue influence doctrine, in order to further protect vulnerable testators?
• Could there be more clarity separating the concepts of undue influence, and knowledge and approval?
• Have nominations been taken into consideration, particularly considering they require far less formalities than wills?
• Do domicile and residence issues need to be considered, including how the new rules would operate within other jurisdictions?

Members note that these roadshow type events are invaluable in the consultation process. The Commission, in turn, has been pleased with the response from members at both events.

Following the consultation deadline on 10 November 2017 there will be an analysis stage, after which a report and impact statement will be published by the Commission and subsequently a draft Bill.

Spaces are still available at the Manchester event on 18 October at Mills & Reeves LLP.

If your firm is unable to attend a consultative event, but would like to submit some feedback on the consultation to be incorporated into STEP’s consultation response, please contact emily.deane@step.org by 30 October.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel