Probate fees: how we got to where we are

Emily Deane TEPFollowing the news late last week that the UK government is scrapping its plans to hike probate fees, Emily Deane TEP looks back on an eventful 15 months for STEP and practitioners.

February 2016
In February 2016 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) issued a consultation paper on reforms to the fee system for grants of probate. The paper proposed to increase the fees for estates of over GBP50,000, with a banded fee structure depending on the estate value. Larger estates faced a 13,000 per cent rise to GBP20,000.

STEP strongly opposed the new system on the basis that the proposed fee would be completely disproportionate to the service provided by the probate court, and would effectively be a new tax on bereaved families.

We raised concerns on the grounds of fairness, practicality and legality, in particular that the new measures being introduced via the Draft Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017 may be ultra vires, i.e. beyond the power of the order.

The consultation was widely circulated, with over 97% of respondents opposing its proposals. Then the matter went quiet for almost a year.

February 2017
On 24 February 2017, STEP received notice from the MoJ that, subject to parliamentary approval, and despite overwhelming opposition to the proposals, the new fee system would be implemented in May 2017: just weeks away.

Concerned that this would have a huge impact on bereaved families and their legal advisors, we set out to highlight the issue to ministers, the media and the public.

We contacted the MoJ highlighting our concerns and requesting a meeting. We received no reply, with the MoJ remaining extremely quiet on the issue. No clear information was posted highlighting the new fee structure to the public, with a discreet link to the consultation response on the gov.uk website the only notice that these changes were coming.

We therefore sought to raise public awareness of the issue, issuing press releases and explaining our concerns to the media, and developing guidance for members of the public.

Our work paid off, with national media including BBC Moneybox, the Daily Mail  and the Mirror  covering the issue. Our guidance for the public was viewed nearly 2,600 times and our social media channels were buzzing with activity.

April 2017
Then at the beginning of April we heard that the influential House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had questioned the legality of the proposals, given that the new ‘fees’ looked very like taxes. But while hopes were raised, the government continued to push forward with no changes to its plans.

Concerned that the issue would not be given proper scrutiny, STEP obtained a legal opinion from leading expert in public law, Richard Drabble QC, who agreed with the SI Committee’s findings and confirmed that ‘the proposed Order would be outside the powers of the enabling Act’.

Then, on Tuesday 18 April, Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election. The pressure was suddenly on to get all orders through before parliament was dissolved.

On Wednesday 19 April the House of Commons Second Delegated Legislation Committee rushed though the Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017 meeting at 8.55am, with no advance warning that it would be tabled that day. It was approved 10 to 2.

On Thursday 20 April we finally received a response from the MoJ to our earlier letter, dismissing our concerns and advising that the fee changes would be going ahead.

We understood that the Lords were due to discuss the matter on Monday 24 April, so we immediately sent the legal opinion to senior politicians in the House of Lords to inform the debate.

Later that evening press reports suddenly emerged that the proposals were to be dropped, and the next day we received a bulletin from the MoJ stating: ‘There is not enough time for the Statutory Instrument which would introduce the new fee structure to complete its passage through parliament before it is dissolved ahead of the general election. This is now a matter for the next government.’

Success…for now…

Our effort, and those of practitioners across the country, to highlight the issue had paid off. The legal uncertainty highlighted by Richard Drabble QC, combined with the media attention, meant that it could not be pushed through the Lords in time.

We have since heard from senior sources in the Lords that the subject may re-surface as primary legislation post-election, in which case it would need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. We presume it would be re-introduced as a new tax, rather than an increased fee. If so, the funds will go to the Treasury, not the MoJ.

STEP will continue to work closely with our members and the media to increase awareness of the matter, although we sincerely hope it will not re-emerge in a different guise.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

HMRC consultation on 4AML implementation

Emily Deane TEPHMRC invited STEP to attend a consultation on 30 March regarding the UK’s implementation of the EU Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AML), in particular in relation to the requirement to implement a central register of trusts.

The consultation was hosted by HMRC’s Policy Specialist, Tony Zagara, and focused on Article 31 – trust beneficial ownership. The UK trust register will be implemented on 26 June 2017 and will register trusts anywhere in the world with UK assets that generate tax consequences.

Information about the settlors, beneficiaries and trustees will be required to be reported in an annual submission and the information could be exchanged with law enforcement and competent authorities, but not the public. The focus group discussed the following key issues:

New registration system

The old paper registration system will be replaced with an online service for registration, which will be introduced in two tranches in June and September. The June online service will replace Form 41G for registering new trusts. Form 41G will be removed from HMRC’s website later this month.

The second online service will be introduced in September, which will allow users to make amendments to existing trusts online, further replacing the paper system.

Annual reporting

The trustees will need to report on the trust on an annual basis, but only if it generates tax in that tax year. HMRC was unable to clarify whether, once a trust has been registered with a tax consequence, it is still necessary to submit annual updates in the following years if it has been dormant and has not generated any further tax consequences.

The panel agreed that annual reporting would probably not be necessary if there have been no changes since the first registration, however they agreed to check and revert back on this point.

Bare trusts will be excluded from reporting and new guidance will be produced on HMRC’s landing page in due course.

Letters of wishes

HMRC said trustees should report the identities of beneficiaries who are named in letters of wishes. Every person named in a letter of wishes would need to be identified, regardless of whether they have received a payment, unless they are included as a ‘class’ of beneficiary.

Practitioners were quick to point out that this could be an impossible task for trustees.

They explained to the HMRC panel that if beneficiaries have not received payments they cannot be associated with money laundering, and if they do receive a payment they will be reported anyway under the regulations. Letters of wishes can also be changed frequently and, more often than not, without the advisor’s knowledge.

HMRC defended the reporting obligation by suggesting that letters of wishes could be used as a loophole for criminals if they were excluded from the regulations.

The general consensus of the attendees was that the word ‘vested’ should be incorporated into the definition so that default beneficiaries in letter of wishes are excluded from being reported on unless they receive a payment.

HMRC will be feeding back the discussions from the consultation to its legal team to redraft the regulations.

Consultation deadline

HMRC’s consultation paper was published on its website (see below) and the consultation closes on 12 April. HMRC is requesting responses as soon as possible since there is a short time frame following the closing date. If you have any drafting points to be incorporated in STEP’s consultation response, please email Emily.Deane@step.org by 10 April.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

Have you registered your LEIs?

Emily Deane TEPEvery legal entity will need to get a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) by 3 January 2018. Emily Deane TEP explains what LEIs are, and how to get one.

What is an LEI?

The Global Legal Entity Identification Foundation (GLEIF) has designed a system where every ‘legal entity’ will need to register and obtain a unique identification number – a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) before it can trade on financial markets in the UK after 3 January 2018.

The London Stock Exchange (LSE) requires investors who are deemed to be legal entities to obtain an LEI, which is a 20-character alphanumeric reference code that is unique to the legal entity. Legal entities include Trusts (but not Bare Trusts), Companies (Public and Private), Pension Funds (but not Self-invested Personal Pensions), Charities and Unincorporated Bodies that are parties to financial transactions.

Do trusts need one?

Bare trusts have been excluded from the requirement to obtain an LEI, but all other trusts will be obliged to obtain one if they are parties to financial transactions. In the case of discretionary trusts which have legal restrictions and cannot disclose trust details, the LSE will accept a validation from the trust itself and will not require sight of the trust deed. However, in all other cases the LSE will generally accept a scanned copy of the first couple of pages of the trust deed in the same way that many banks do for AML compliance.

Entities other than trusts are obliged to provide information such as their official registry details and business address. All LEI data will be consolidated in one database in an effort to improve global entity identification and standardisation.

What if I don’t apply?

If the LEI has not been obtained by 3 January 2018 then investment firms will not be able to provide the legal entity with investment services. The legal entity itself is ultimately responsible for obtaining the LEI, but some investment firms may agree to apply for the LEI on behalf of their legal entity clients. The LSE has produced a draft format (pdf) which will be acceptable in order to transfer the application authority from the entity to a third party such as a management company.

The LSE will charge an initial allocation cost of GBP115 + VAT and annual maintenance cost of GBP70 + VAT per LEI.

How do I register?

Registration for individual LEI allocation requests started on 5 August 2013. You can request your LEI via the link below, and there are two user guides to help you:

More information can be found on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website:


Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

 

HMRC: no more safe havens

Treasure chestThis week STEP hosted a seminar to update members on HMRC’s latest moves to tackle tax evasion and avoidance.

Entitled, ‘An essential update on HMRC’s activity to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, including information exchange, new powers and its impact on professional advisors,’ the seminar took place at BDO LLP’s office in London. Speakers included John Shuker from the HMRC International & Offshore Evasion Team, and Dawn Register TEP of BDO LLP.

The introduction of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) this year follows a raft of governmental efforts including the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the EU Directive 2003/48/EC (the EU Savings Directive) to improve cross-border tax compliance. The Offshore Evasion Team has focused on clamping down on UK tax evaders, in particular:

• Moving UK gains, income or assets offshore to conceal them from HMRC
• Not declaring taxable income from overseas, or taxable assets kept overseas
• Using complex offshore structures to hide beneficial ownership of assets.

The tax gap for 2014-2015 is estimated to be GBP36 billion, with GBP 5.2 billion attributed to tax evasion.

HMRC launched the campaign ‘No Safe Havens’ in 2013 with the objective of ensuring that there are no jurisdictions where UK taxpayers can hide their income and assets. It also implemented a number of disclosure facilities to give people the incentive to come forward and pay tax voluntarily, before they are detected and sanctioned.

In the last two years, HMRC has vigorously escalated its tax evasion strategy. The Worldwide Disclosure Facility opened last September, in addition to a new requirement for all financial institutions and tax advisers to notify their customers about new automatic exchange of information agreements.

The following further measures are due to be implemented in 2017:

Corporate Criminal Offences of Failure to Prevent Facilitation of Evasion
This will apply to corporations who fail to prevent their agents from criminally facilitating tax evasion (facilitating evasion is already considered a criminal offence). The offences will apply to domestic or overseas corporations whose agents facilitate the evasion of UK taxes, or a domestic corporation which facilitates the evasion of tax overseas.

Tackling Offshore Tax Evasion: A Requirement to Correct
Taxpayers will be obliged to disclose any outstanding UK tax related to offshore investments or assets, or face ‘failure to correct’ penalties. These penalties will be significantly higher than for those who voluntarily put their affairs in order, and will be a minimum of 100%.

STEP’s Technical Committee has submitted responses to a variety of HMRC’s consultation papers relating to tax evasion below:

 

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

CRS and Charities: January 2017 update

Donations boxHMRC hosted another Charities CRS working group on 16 January. The following issues were on the agenda for discussion:

Anti-Avoidance Rules

HMRC would like to refine its currently broad regulation regarding anti-avoidance. It is scheduled to discuss it with the compliance team shortly. It will also be reviewing the anti-avoidance issues surrounding donations channelled through other charites and some more detailed guidance is expected to be issued shortly thereafter.

Trust Guidance

HMRC is in the process of preparing some guidance with the OECD focusing on some of the grey areas surrounding trusts. STEP has produced a memorandum on the issues of concern on how the CRS is intended to apply to trusts, persons connected with trusts and trust assets. The memorandum sets out our understanding of the application of the CRS in certain circumstances and highlights points of uncertainty in the reporting framework. We have submitted the paper to HMRC and the OECD and hope that it will form part of the additional new OECD guidance.

Human Rights

HMRC has issued new guidance, Charities: Protection on Human Rights Grounds, which will assist charities concerned about the human rights implications associated with information they are required to report under the automatic exchange of information (AEOI) agreements. HMRC recognises that there may be cases where the threat to an individual’s human rights as a result of his or her information being exchanged may justify information being redacted from that transmitted. The guidance covers the redaction of information on human rights grounds; threats to human rights, and safeguards already in place; and how to apply for redaction of information, including the HMRC process and the documentation required.

STEP will continue to attend the periodic working group to discuss ongoing technical issues with HMRC.

 

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

STEP puts CRS, transparency and public registers under the SIG spotlight

SIG Spotlight Session Nov 2016STEP hosted its annual Special Interest Group (SIG) Spotlight Sessions on 14 November in London, a day comprising six conference streams. SIGs provide opportunities for members to connect and advance their focused area of practice.

I attended the International Client SIG session, which focused on the needs of practitioners serving international clients with complex planning needs. The presentation was entitled ‘Moving Out, Moving In and Moving On: Key Movements for International Clients’. STEP members John Riches, William Ahern and Dr Angelo Venardos spoke on the topical issues surrounding CRS, transparency and public registers.

The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) continues to cause confusion in some key areas, and STEP is seeking clarification on a number of points surrounding settlors, beneficiaries, protectors, what constitutes a trust, controlling persons that are entities, charitable trusts and private trust companies. William Ahern and Dr Angelo Venardos discussed how CRS is being applied in Hong Kong and Singapore, and they touched upon the inconsistencies in the legislation compared to the UK, for example, anti-avoidance legislation, which is not as comprehensive as the UK’s.

Automatic exchange of tax information on a wide basis will unleash a deluge of confidential and highly sensitive personal financial information for transmission around the world. Differing jurisdictions may have differing issues to consider under these circumstances. Some jurisdictions may also need to consider if their data-protection laws are consistent with the commitments they have made with respect to CRS implementation. Conversely others may have to consider if the confidentiality obligations contained in their trust and banking laws are consistent with their CRS commitments.

The emergence of many corporate and non-corporate trust registers across the globe has caused privacy and compliancy concerns among most practitioners, although the recent non-constitutional ruling of the French trust register may have an influential outcome across Europe in that respect. We continue to wait and assess the new challenges as they arise in this upcoming new era of transparency.

However, the consistent theme across most jurisdictions is the urgent need to consider which jurisdictions are fit and proper to be granted access to an individual’s financial details.

About STEP’s Special Interest Groups

STEP’s SIGs focus on some of the more complex issues families face in planning for their future, including international families, protection of vulnerable people, family businesses and philanthropic giving.

The groups aim to benefit the practitioner, their area of specialisation, the clients they serve, and the industry at large. They are also open to professionals who are not STEP members.

The SIGs are:

• Business Families
• Charities
• Contentious Trust and Estates
• Cross-Border Estates
• International Client
• Mental Capacity
• Philanthropy Advisors

Please see this page for more details: www.step.org/sigs

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

CRS and Charities October update

Emily Deane TEPHMRC hosted another Charities CRS working group on 12 October. The following issues were on the agenda for discussion:

Human Rights Guidance

  • HMRC has been collecting examples from the working group to increase transparency and address concerns where the exchange of information could put individuals at risk. Its new guidance has addressed some of these concerns.
  • It was pointed out that HMRC has highlighted the absolute rights within the Human Rights Act, but it does not refer to the qualified rights of individuals, and these should also be considered.

Discretionary Management

  • Some discretionary management scenarios were discussed by the group and it was suggested that HMRC provide examples of these in its guidance.

    HMRC noted that it was difficult to provide examples to cover every scenario, because the facts of each individual case will determine whether or not it falls within the scope of CRS. However, it agreed to continue to refine its guidance where possible.

  • HMRC confirmed that simply setting parameters for an investment manager (for example that he/she may only invest in ethical investments) does not mean that discretion is retained by charity trustees.

Communications

  • HMRC will be producing a webinar for charities setting out a basic introduction to CRS, which should be available before December.
  • HMRC was asked to produce a proforma for charities to use when completing the self-certification process. It advised that while this was not possible, some examples on the OECD automatic exchange portal might be useful instead.
  • HMRC has been hosting some CRS Charity events in conjunction with STEP. If you would like more information please contact Emily.Deane@step.org

STEP will continue to attend the periodic working group to discuss ongoing technical issues with HMRC. The next meeting is in January.

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

STEP Annual Tax Conference looks at deemed domiciliaries

aeroplane and departure signSTEP hosted the last in this autumn’s series of Annual Tax Conferences on 21 October in London. Some outstanding STEP members spoke on topical matters including John Barnett TEP, Emma Chamberlain TEP, Robert Jamieson TEP, Edward Stone TEP, Paula Tallon and Chris Whitehouse TEP.

Emma Chamberlain provided a much needed update on deemed domiciliaries – the basic rules and transitional provisions. She raised some pertinent points on the rules of deemed UK domicile for long term UK residents, such as:

  • A taxpayer resident in the UK for 15 out of 20 years will be deemed domiciled for all tax purposes. The individual could also become deemed domiciled in a year when not UK resident, for example, if they moved abroad in their 16th year.
  • Split years count as years of UK residence and count even when the person is a minor.
  • If a taxpayer arrived here in 2002/3 or earlier and has been resident ever since, he or she will become deemed domiciled on 6 April 2017.
  • Once deemed domiciled a taxpayer must spend six tax years abroad to lose deemed domiciled status for income tax and capital gains tax purposes.

Emma went on to explain that the deemed domiciled status can be lost if the taxpayer leaves the UK by April 2018 and is non-resident for six consecutive years. The status will fall away at the start of 2024/25.

If that individual returned in May 2024 he or she would not be deemed domiciled again until 2039/40 after another 15 years of residence.

Emma suggested that the individual in question might be able to retain foreign domicile under general law, but nothing is certain at this stage. In any event, it seems very likely that domicile queries would be raised by HMRC and we strongly suggest that clients and advisors keep accurate domicile records.

STEP has recently submitted responses to HMRC’s reforms to the taxation of non-domiciles consultation paper dated 19 August 2016 which can be found on the STEP consultation tracker:

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Making Tax Digital update

UK mapSTEP attended a meeting held by HMRC on 11 October to obtain feedback on its plan to make tax returns reportable on a quarterly basis, and completely digital.

HMRC’s stated objective is to improve the level of service for the public, reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and increase the revenue’s compliance and accuracy.

It says the new system will be the most digitally advanced in the world, and will enable a user to check their PAYE status, their State Pension forecast and any tax credits or allowances.

Apparently there are already close to seven million UK personal users, and HMRC is streaming webinars for basic users, as well as more complex tax users such as unincorporated businesses and landlords.

However, we learned during the meeting that many users with more convoluted businesses and multiple income streams, such as farmers, may find the new system challenging.

Although it seems unimaginable that someone would want to submit their tax return on their smart phone, HMRC points out the software will be mobile friendly, for those who do not have access to a computer or a laptop.

STEP has already flagged that the new system may not be accessible to less capable users, including elderly, or digitally excluded and vulnerable people.

Many may be unable to afford the extra burden of professional advice, a computer, laptop or smart phone, or indeed, the software required to comply.

HMRC recognises that there may be some transitional costs and potential cyber security risks, but believes customers will be pleased with the ‘real time’ system to keep taxes up to date, and notes there will be fewer inaccurate calculations.

HMRC’s webpage hosts a collection of consultation papers for all individual and business customers, agents, software developers, employers and all other organisations that need to provide tax information.

If you would like to provide feedback, please contact me at emily.deane@step.org by 3 November.

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

STEP in Brussels to discuss money laundering and terrorist financing risks

bank notes, laundered

STEP was invited by the European Commission to attend a second private sector consultative meeting on Wednesday 5 October to discuss the supranational risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing risk in the EU.

We represented the trust sector and legal professionals in the first consultative meeting with the Commission in March 2016.

The Commission presented the preliminary results of its risk analysis relating to the threat and vulnerability of certain sectors to money laundering and terrorist financing across Member States.

The initial results found that some sectors, including the real estate sector, legal professionals and trust company and service providers (TCSPs) are at significant risk to infiltration by money launderers and terrorist finance activities.

STEP was keen to provide feedback on the methodology of the assessment, the inconsistency of regulations by service providers across Members States, and the lack of understanding towards trusts in some jurisdictions. We will continue to provide feedback to the Commission until the end of the year, and a follow up meeting will take place in March.

• STEP would like to remind members that HM Treasury’s consultation paper on the Transposition of the Fourth Money Laundering Directive will be closing on 10 November. You may provide feedback directly to the Treasury or via ourselves, via emily.deane@step.org.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel