England & Wales probate fees: an update

flowersThis Blog will be updated with developments on the Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2018 as they occur.

Background and details on the proposals, including the fee structure, can be found here.

9 January 2019:

STEP received a reply to a letter to Lucy Frazer QC MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice and Minister responsible for the Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2018, which set out our concerns with the proposed changes. The reply restated the government’s rationale for introducing the measure and refuted the assertion that it represented a tax rather than a fee covering the cost of a service. You can read the full reply here.

18 December 2018:

The Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2018 was debated in the House of Lords on 18 December 2018. As an affirmative measure it required a majority to pass. The House stopped short of rejecting the Order, but put on record its concerns, with the following Motion to Regret moved by Lord Beecham:

‘This House regrets that the draft Order will introduce a revised non-contentious probate fee structure considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to be “so far above the actual cost of the service [it] arguably amounts to a stealth tax and, therefore, a misuse of the fee-levying power” under section 180 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; and that this Order represents a significant move away from the principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and no more.’

The next stage for the Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2018 is to be scrutinised by a House of Commons Delegated Legislation Committee. No date has been set for this and it will depend on other business in front of MPs. STEP will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates where appropriate.

6 December 2018:

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments scrutinised the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 (see the Fortieth Report of Session 2017–19 (PDF)) and drew it to parliament’s special attention:

The Committee draws the special attention of both Houses to this draft Order on the grounds that, if it is approved and made, there will be a doubt whether it is intra vires, and that it would in any event make an unexpected use of the power conferred by the enabling Act’

The other committee tasked with examining secondary legislation, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in the 6th Report of Session 2017–19 (PDF) also drew parliament’s attention to the measure, calling it a ‘stealth tax’.

More detail on these developments can be found here.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

 

Committee draws probate fees legislation to UK parliament’s special attention

Daniel NesbittUPDATE 07/12/2018

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments’ full report (PDF) has now been published and includes the following conclusion:

The Committee draws the special attention of both Houses to this draft Order on the grounds that, if it is approved and made, there will be a doubt whether it is intra vires, and that it would in any event make an unexpected use of the power conferred by the enabling Act.

The Committee reached the same view regarding the government’s attempt to raise probate fees in 2017. Underlining this position, the report notes that the Ministry of Justice’s arguments did not ‘dispel the Committee’s doubts about vires expressed in its report on the 2017 Order’.

The depiction of the changes as a ‘fee’ was also challenged by the Committee, which felt the new banded system bore the characteristics of a tax. The report noted that the higher payments were disproportionate to the actual cost of the service and that the measure represented what was in effect a type of stamp duty on probate applications.

The views expressed by the Committee match the legal opinion STEP obtained from Richard Drabble QC in response to the 2017 proposals.

ORIGINAL BLOG 6/12/2018

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has scrutinised the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, and drawn it to parliament’s special attention.

The committee is responsible for examining the technical aspects of secondary legislation; ensuring that the drafting is correct, clear and within the powers granted by the act under which they are being made. Although it can highlight measures it believes to be of concern, the Joint Committee cannot block or amend legislation itself.

The other committee tasked with examining secondary legislation, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in the 6th Report of Session 2017–19 (PDF) has also drawn parliament’s attention to the measure, calling it a ‘stealth tax’.

The next stage for the order in the House of Lords is for it to be voted on; and as an affirmative measure it will require a majority to pass. In the House of Commons a delegated legislation committee will be convened to scrutinise the legislation.

The Joint Committee’s full report on the order, setting out its detailed views, is yet to be published but it is expected to be released tomorrow (Fri 7 Dec 2018).

STEP will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates where appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

UK Labour party tables motion against probate fees rise

Houses of Parliament, LondonThe UK government’s plan to increase probate fees has been criticised by the opposition in the House of Lords.

Labour’s Justice Spokesperson, Lord Beecham, has tabled the following motion of regret in relation to The Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018:

‘Lord Beecham to move that this House regrets that the draft Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 will introduce a revised non-contentious probate fee structure considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to be “so far above the actual cost of the service [it] arguably amounts to a stealth tax and, therefore, a misuse of the fee-levying power” under section 180 of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; and that this Order represents a significant move away from the principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and no more.’ 6th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (Sub-Committee A).

As statutory instruments cannot be amended, this type of measure can put parliamentarians’ disapproval on record, if passed. Motions to regret are usually voted on at the same time as the legislation.

The probate fees order is currently awaiting scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. As noted by Lord Beecham’s motion, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has already voiced its concern [PDF] about the proposals.

STEP will continue to monitor the situation and will provide further updates where appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

House of Lords report criticises HMRC’s treatment of taxpayers

HMRCThe House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has found that HMRC is failing to guarantee fairness for taxpayers by failing to differentiate between users of sophisticated tax avoidance schemes and ordinary citizens who break the law through uninformed or naive actions.

In its report, The Powers of HMRC: Treating Taxpayers Fairly (PDF), the committee found that declining resources had left HMRC unable to tackle tax avoidance and evasion whilst ensuring taxpayers are treated fairly. Highlighting a number of areas where the HMRC’s conduct appeared disproportionate, the committee recommended further work take place to ensure there is sufficient oversight of the department.

The report heavily criticised the process HMRC uses to introduce new powers, noting that too often specific solutions were identified by the department before any consultation on the wider objectives. The committee recommended that HMRC listen more carefully to the views of tax and business experts during future consultations, to ensure new legislation is properly targeted.

The committee said new measures on offshore time limits should be withdrawn, pending further discussions between HMRC and tax professionals. The plans would require those with offshore elements to their tax affairs to keep records for up to 12 years to deal with HMRC questions. Any new legislation should be more proportionate and targeted than the current plans allow.

There was heavy criticism for proposed new civil information powers, which would allow HMRC to seek information from third parties without the agreement of the tax tribunal, or the relevant taxpayer. The committee said HMRC had failed to offer a convincing rationale for the change, and recommended it be withdrawn ahead of further consultation.

The committee also noted that the government has a responsibility to give HMRC sufficient funding to be fair to taxpayers. The Treasury is recommended to assess whether the department is adequately resourced as part of the 2019 Spending Review.

The next stage in the process is for the government to respond to the committee’s findings. STEP will monitor the situation and provide updates on any further developments.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

The new gatekeepers of the financial system

Houses of Parliament, London

Update: STEP News 1 Nov: UK revises anti-organised crime strategy to target professional ‘facilitators’

Original blog:

Ben Wallace MP, UK Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, has called for more to be done to make lawyers and accountants who facilitate money laundering recognise their responsibilities.

As part of a House of Commons Treasury Committee evidence session (pdf) on Economic Crime, Simon Clarke MP asked whether lawyers and accountants were failing to appreciate the seriousness of money laundering. He noted that this may be because they haven’t been faced with the same level of fines as the banking sector has been.

In response Wallace said: ‘I absolutely agree with the point that the facilitators have not had the same focus on them as they should have done. They have a responsibility that they need to live up to and I would like to see them being put under more pressure to comply.’

These words mirror recent moves from the international community towards viewing practitioners such as lawyers and accountants as the new gatekeepers of the financial sector and an integral part of combatting money laundering. Publications such as the OECD’s Model Mandatory Disclosure Rules place a responsibility on advisors to report schemes that may have the effect of circumventing the Common Reporting Standard. The EU’s DAC6 (pdf) put similar requirements on intermediaries who design or promote tax-planning schemes.

Underlining the discussion in the same Treasury Committee session, Robert Buckland MP, the Solicitor General, called the creation of a new corporate criminal offence of failing to prevent economic crime a ‘very important priority’ for him.

Perhaps summing up the changing approach towards lawyers and accountants, Wallace said the following after he was asked if there should be more of a focus on the accountancy world when it came to enabling economic crime: ‘In this half of the year, my message to the facilitators is this: we have had a lot of focus on banks; my investigators are going to be focusing on you.’

STEP will continue to monitor relevant developments both in jurisdictions and with international bodies, as well as providing updates where appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

 

UK agrees company public registers for Overseas Territories

Daniel NesbittThe UK government has accepted an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill which requires the Overseas Territories to establish public registers showing the beneficial ownership of companies.

The amendment, introduced by Labour’s Margaret Hodge and backed by MPs from all the major parties, commits the government to assisting the Overseas Territories in setting up registers by 31 December 2020. If registers have not been established by the deadline, the UK will be required to legislate to impose them.

An amendment which would have extended similar provisions to the Crown Dependencies was not backed by the government and was subsequently withdrawn.

The developments come after a government amendment which would have only required public registers if the Financial Action Task Force recommended them, was not selected for debate by the Speaker.

Debates on the Bill are scheduled to finish on 1 May 2018, and following Royal Assent, it will become law.

STEP will continue to monitor the impact this amendment will have, and will provide further updates where necessary.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

EU finance ministers approve changes to blacklist

Daniel NesbittWhen the European Union announced its blacklist of jurisdictions judged not to be cooperative on tax in December 2017 it granted several nations in the Caribbean extra time to change their tax systems to meet EU standards. That revised deadline has now passed and the EU’s finance ministers have approved a number of changes.

The following jurisdictions have been added to the blacklist:

• The Bahamas.
• The US Virgin Islands.
• Saint Kitts and Nevis.

As well as approving the additions ministers have removed Bahrain, the Marshall Islands and Saint Lucia from the list.

American Samoa, Guam, Namibia, Palau, Samoa and Trinidad and Tobago will remain on the blacklist.

A further four Caribbean jurisdictions have been placed on the grey-list of countries that have pledged to alter their practices:

• Anguilla.
• The British Virgin Islands.
• Dominica.
• Antigua and Barbuda.

One further jurisdiction, the Turks and Caicos Islands, has been given until 31 March 2018 to respond to the EU’s concerns.

STEP will continue to monitor the development of both the blacklist and the grey-list and will provide further updates when appropriate.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP 

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