Policy watch: Debating the UK Finance Bill

Simon HodgesSTEP members may be interested in a reasoned debate that took place last Wednesday, 6 September in the UK House of Commons, which gave some insight into the view of both the opposition and the government as to how offshore trusts are perceived.

Parliament came back from its summer holidays last week, albeit not for long (it goes back into recess on Thursday when MPs go off for conference season), but already lively discussions have been had over tax issues as part of a debate on the elements of the Finance Bill that were held up before the summer due to the general election.

Overall, 48 Finance Bill resolutions were left outstanding from the previous session. With the Brexit bill seemingly taking up most of the short amount of parliamentary time available this month, this bit of legislative housekeeping didn’t attract the biggest crowd but raised some interesting points none the less.

The 48 resolutions were debated together, though some areas were clearly more interesting to MPs than others, not least the issue of non-domiciled tax status. Speaking on the subject, Mel Stride, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said that the measures in the Finance Bill would help to make the tax system fairer while also forecast to raise GBP1.6 billion over the next five years. He added that: ‘Most importantly, permanent non-dom status for people resident in the UK will be ended, so that they pay tax in the same way as everybody else.’

Peter Dowd, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, naturally disagreed, calling the measures on domicile ‘sieve-like’ and arguing that the rules on business investment relief ‘will allow non-doms to remit funds into the UK without paying usual taxes’. Wes Streeting, a Labour MP sitting on the Treasury Committee, said that ‘the Government are saying clearly “if you have a trust overseas before the rules kick in, don’t worry; we’re not going to touch that money”.’ He went on to say that he recognised that many are family trusts – and, later still, that he understands the ‘parental instinct’ to want to pass on assets – but argued that there was an unfairness in not applying retrospective changes to non-doms in the same way as different measures affect many others.

Concluding the debate for the government, Stride addressed what he saw as Labour criticisms of offshore trusts, stating: ‘Let me be clear again: if funds are taken out of trusts, they will be taxed in the normal way. In recent years, we have reached important international agreements on the automatic exchange of information to ensure that we can effectively monitor those movements.’ Addressing Streeting’s points, Stride reiterated that funds remitted out of non-dom trusts will be taxable. But addressing the idea of greater parliamentary scrutiny of HMRC – Streeting has suggested the Treasury Committee could look at its work more closely – Stride argued that ‘the idea of politicians getting directly involved in the tax affairs of individuals…would be a dangerous road to go down. I do not want politicians interfering in people’s tax affairs; I want to protect tax confidentiality’.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour will likely return to some of these issues again, possibly at its party conference later this month. For the Conservative government, for now they will move on and publish the draft clauses for the Finance Bill to follow the Autumn Budget this Wednesday, 13 September 2017. The consultation on these draft clauses will be open until Wednesday 25 October 2017.

 

Simon Hodges is Director of Policy at STEP

STEP Caribbean Conference, Cayman

George HodgsonI have just enjoyed a highly informative STEP Caribbean Conference in Cayman from May 1-3, which attracted well over 300 delegates from across the STEP world.

Presentations ranged from the emerging theme of cryptocurrencies, which I suspect is a wholly new topic to many in the audience, to the use of firewall provisions in fending off matrimonial claims.

What really stood out, however, is the changing mood across much of the Caribbean regarding transparency and the rising regulatory burden. Yes, these developments are providing major challenges, particularly in driving costs up sharply across the board.

This was a theme very clearly evidenced in STEP’s Offshore Perceptions research report last autumn. But the message from a string of eminent speakers is that the time is gone to complain about this; it’s time instead to ‘get on with it’ and ensure that businesses adapt to the new environment they are now working in.

This obviously echoes the mood in the UK regarding Brexit, where whatever the views of STEP members on the issue, I sense most agree that we need to now accept it is going to happen and plan on that basis. Indeed Brexit and its potential implications for the offshore world was another key issue which attracted a full house.

The Caribbean Conference, which is now in its 19th year, remains one of the flagship STEP events in the calendar and I look forward to next year’s meeting in Barbados.

 

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP

STEP England & Wales Biannual Statement – December 2016

Alex ElphinstonSix months ago we were all stunned at Brexit. Now we are also wondering how a Trump presidency will unfold and what further shocks national electorates may give across Europe, given the various elections ahead.

STEP is monitoring the situation closely and is in discussions with other relevant professional bodies as well as maintaining lines of communication with civil servants and the like to do all we can to ensure our and our clients’ interests are taken into account. We have certainly begun to see decisions being made by the EU Commission where the UK is no longer being consulted as previously – such as negotiations around the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

As a professional body, STEP seeks to remain at the forefront and be the gold standard for practitioners dealing in trusts and estates and related private client work. As such we have an enviable reputation for the high-level discussions with government and other departments with which we are involved about a variety of matters, and proposed or actual changes, that may affect our work. This will be all the more important for us as practitioners as the new domicile rules and consequent changes to the tax regime come into play. The UK Practice and Technical Committees will be keeping a close eye on these issues.

A number of members have expressed concern over the delays and poor service being given by HMRC, and the Probate Registry in particular. These continue to be matters the committees and STEP team seek to address. Clearly there is only so much they can do, but please let us know of any improvements or deterioration. Actual case studies can be more powerful than general observations.

Sometimes it may seem as if STEP sends out far more surveys than other organisations. However we work in a world where ways of communicating, delivering training and news are constantly changing. We want to remain as a trusted organisation whose members are equally trusted for their integrity and advice. It is vital that we remain relevant for members in a crowded market. We also want to remain nimble and not create yet more layers of regulation for members. However we can only do that when members engage and flag up matters.

In November, STEP held a worldwide Symposium which looked at a number of issues including views on perceptions about offshore work and centres: a number of England and Wales members participated in a survey which forms the basis of the Offshore Perceptions research report. While this may not directly affect many members in this region, it does impact on STEP as an organisation and so on our region indirectly. We also looked at staffing across the regions and resourcing. We remain lean in terms of staffing, not least as a result of their commitment and dedication for which we are grateful.

One of the main points of discussion was presenting STEP and TEPs to the public. This has been a theme for some time, and a number of plans were unveiled on how STEP will address the issues and raise public awareness. You will be hearing more on this, as plans develop.

The importance of the branch network was recognised, alongside the need to avoid volunteer fatigue by assisting local committees and encouraging new members. If you are not involved in your local branch do consider this: it is a great way to make new friends, develop new business opportunities and build your profile within the industry.

In January, Rita Bhargava TEP takes over as regional chair. I have very much enjoyed my time in the role and wish Rita all the best. I would also like to take one final opportunity to thank the STEP staff for their fantastic support and assistance – not just the committee and myself, but all of us as members.

Finally may I wish you all a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

How will Brexit affect the third sector?

Brexit Puzzle Pieces STEP’s Charities UK and Philanthropy Advisors Special Interest Groups hosted a seminar on Charities and Brexit on 6 September presented by STEP members Ed Powles TEP and Tom Dumont TEP and chaired by Suzanne Reisman TEP, writes Emily Deane.

According to those in the charity sector there was an immediate drop in charitable donations after Brexit, but this proved only temporary before it stabilised. However politicians and economists are struggling to gauge what will be different following Brexit. Ed Powles pointed out: ‘If we invoke Article 50 it will be biggest de-merger in history.’

So what are the main points of concern for those who work in the third sector?

Tax reliefs – UK law is vulnerable to significant legislative change following Brexit. EU law currently makes it possible for British citizens to donate to EU charities and claim tax relief. Likewise EU members can donate to the UK and obtain tax relief. European charities can also use UK tax relief in the form of Gift Aid. It seems very unlikely that this regime will continue and that the EU will extend charitable exemptions to the UK after we leave.

EU funding – UK charities receive up to GBP300 million in donations directly from the EU every year, representing a significant contribution towards vulnerable beneficiaries and vital research. It seems highly unlikely that this will continue. There will inevitably be a decrease in grants available through the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Economic instability – the uncertainty that people are facing in their jobs and personal investments means that they are far less likely to make donations from their disposable income. In addition, charities that depend upon profit from their investments may have major concerns about how the economy will affect them. Having said that, we have survived recessions before and charities have managed to endure.

Legislative change – it is unclear how Brexit will affect charity law. The UK may be compelled to repeal laws that we were obliged to adopt from the EU. Will we modify the European Union Act, and if so, what will we keep and what will we discard? There could be a serious impact on the UK if we re-visit employment, regulatory and data protection laws. Will there be further, onerous due diligence and money laundering requirements imposed upon charities? It seems almost inevitable.

In these pre-Brexit days it is proving very difficult for tax practitioners to advise their clients regarding charitable gifts, cross border gifts and property across Europe. The future seems precarious for the third sector at this stage and the impact over the next few years is relatively uncertain.

John Low CEO of Charities Aid Foundation comments on the future of charities following Brexit, ‘Britain’s culture of charitable giving and the important work of our international charities are hugely significant to how we are viewed by other nations. As Britain starts a new chapter in our approach to international relations, charities must be given the chance to play a leading role.’

STEP is hosting two relevant Special Interest Group events in the next few weeks, with discounted rates of attendance for SIG Members at both:

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Brexit: Focus must be on cross-border families

passport control

The UK’s historic vote on 23 June to leave the European Union has caused huge uncertainty, particularly for the three million EU citizens currently living in the UK, and the two million or so British people who live in other EU countries.

Brexit has huge implications for cross-border families, both in the UK and in Europe, but the practical consequences are not yet clear. Many families are worried about their futures: will they be able to stay? Will they need a visa to visit their families? Will they need work permits? What about reciprocal public healthcare arrangements? Will there be restrictions on studying and doing business? Will they face higher taxes on foreign property ownership, and cash transfers between member states? How will foreign pensions be treated?

It is essential that these families’ interests are central to the negotiations that will take place over the coming months and years. Their position will need very careful consideration and STEP will take an active role in highlighting their concerns to help provide certainty and enable these families to plan for their futures.

 

George Hodgson is Interim Chief Executive of STEP