UK government drops probate fee increase

Daniel NesbittSTEP is delighted and relieved by the news that the proposed increase in probate fees in England and Wales has been dropped.

News reports emerged early on Saturday morning (12 October 2019), to the relief of practitioners and others in the industry.

‘STEP welcomes the news that the government has decided to scrap the proposed increase in probate fees,’ STEP Technical Counsel Emily Deane TEP said. ‘This follows many months of work by STEP and many others to highlight the unfairness of the proposed increase, which amounted to a stealth tax on the bereaved. This at last brings an end to the uncertainty and worry that these proposals have caused to grieving families.’

The controversial proposals to charge higher fees emerged in November 2018. An estate of GBP300,001 – 500,000 would have had to pay GBP750, a 249 per cent increase from the current GBP215 flat fee, while the largest estates of GBP2 million and over, would have been charged as much as GBP6,000; an extraordinary 2,691 per cent rise.

The government’s reasoning behind the increase was that the probate system should fund improvements to the courts service.

The increase mooted in November 2018 was essentially a re-hash of a proposal first put forward in February 2016, which had suggested even higher fees. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had issued a consultation paper increasing 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 proposed fees on the basis that they would be completely disproportionate to the service provided by the probate court, and would effectively be a new tax on bereaved families (consultation paper pdf).

STEP raised concerns on the grounds of fairness, practicality and legality, in particular that the measures being introduced via the Draft Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017 might be ultra vires, i.e. beyond the power of the order. We obtained a legal opinion from leading expert in public law, Richard Drabble QC, who confirmed that ‘the proposed Order would be outside the powers of the enabling Act’ (read blog).

Many other responses echoed STEP’s views, with over 97 per cent of respondents opposing the proposals.

The House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (SI) also questioned the legality of the proposals, given that the new ‘fees’ looked very like taxes.

Despite the opposition, the Probate Fees Order was pushed forward, and was only dropped when the then Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in April 2017. The proposals then re-emerged in November 2018 and while the headline charges were less extortionate than were previously proposed, the same concerns about process and fairness remained.  It remains to be seen whether these proposals will re-emerge, for a third time, at some future point. If probate fee reform does rear its head again, we hope it will be done in a fairer and more transparent way, with greater consideration for bereaved families.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP

STEP attends Global Tax Advisers Platform conference in Turin

Emily Deane TEPSTEP attended the Global Tax Advisers Platform (GTAP)’s inaugural conference ‘Tax & the Future’ in Turin, Italy last week, alongside many leading European tax advisors. The event was hosted by the foundation of Confédération Fiscale Européenne (CFE) Tax Advisers Europe, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary (press release).

The GTAP was set up by the founding organisations, CFE, Asia Oceania Tax Consultants’ Association (AOTCA) and West African Union of Tax Institutes (WAUTI) in 2014 to facilitate networking links and enhanced dialogue between tax advisors throughout the world. Panel experts, including STEP’s Deputy Chair, David Russell QC TEP discussed a variety of prominent global issues including the future of global tax policy, the longevity of the global tax profession and business models and tax sustainability.

During the conference, the founding bodies of the GTAP signed the Torino-Busan Declaration, a binding document in which they define their main purposes: shaping the contemporaneous developments in the field of global taxation and ensuring the fair and efficient operations of national and international tax systems. GTAP sets out four key short-term priorities in the Declaration which include a focus on tax for growth, sustainable tax policies, tax and digitalisation and taxpayers’ rights and certainty in a fast-paced world.

The objective of the Declaration is to regroup the joint efforts of the GTAP members around these priorities, in order to draw attention on the need for recognition of the rights and interests of taxpayers, and the role of tax professionals.

STEP was a signatory to the Declaration and continues to promote the fair and efficient operation of national and international tax systems. A copy of the Declaration will be available on the CFE website in due course.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

A welcome return to STEP Canada to attend the 21st National Conference

Canada student winnersIt was an absolute pleasure to be back in Toronto, Canada for the 21st National Conference, the STEP Canada Board meeting and AGM. I had visited in February, early in my tenure, given the importance of the region to STEP overall and to learn more about how we operate in different parts of the world.

I was joined on this trip by Simon Morgan TEP, our worldwide Chair and Jim Walkinshaw, COO Finance and HR, from the London office.

We met the Canada Board on the first day, and then attended the AGM and Board meeting. It was great to meet the incoming and outgoing board members and get the opportunity to update the Canada Board on what we are working on in the worldwide office to further the vision and mission of the society.

In the evening we moved on to a reception which included Simon Morgan and STEP Vice Chair Nancy Golding TEP presenting Prof Albert Oosterhoff with Honorary Membership of STEP. Prof Oosterhoff became the second Canadian to receive such an honour and is one of only 11 worldwide.

The next morning saw the conference open and 784 delegates converge on the Metro Toronto Conference Centre. After the formalities, we were into the first session of the day with Richard Hay TEP leading us through a masterclass thought-leader piece on the effects of globalisation on the tax collection of nation states. The question of whether we could be headed toward a central taxing authority that imposes globally-coordinated taxation may not be so far-fetched; how would we have reacted to the current disclosure rules ten or 15 years ago?

Alongside the many important technical sessions the two other stand-out pieces for me (as a non-practitioner) were the lunchtime sessions. On Thursday we listened to S Jay Olshansky from the University of Illinois looking at ageing and longevity; some of the ‘markers’ for that were surprisingly basic, eg the younger you look, the older you tend to live, and what impact that should have on planning for future health and finances. On Friday we had the equally thought-provoking Caron Croland Yanis sharing her experiences on the intersection of family values, sustainable governance and technical compliance in philanthropy.

Before heading off to dinner we were delighted to attend the Student Awards ceremony where the latest winners were recognised (pictured). I always enjoy these type of events and getting to meet the brightest of the new professionals coming through, and I’m confident that we saw some of the future leaders of the profession. Dinner that evening had to be the networking and social highlight of the two days – held at Arcadian Court, an historic and impressive art deco event space.

For me the barometer of a conference’s success is how many people are still actively engaged at the end of the event – and STEP Canada certainly set the bar high by having a varied and well thought-through programme that kept most of the delegates through to the final sessions.

It certainly met our mission statements of promoting high professional standards, educating professionals and connecting advisors. As ever with these events, the eventual success sits deep in the planning, and I saw first-hand during my visit back in February how detailed, focused and accountable that planning was. Based on that, the event was always going to a success!

Altogether it was a very informative and enjoyable few days. I genuinely learned lots, I have seen content and formats that we can use, and/ or adapt for the Global Congress in Dublin next year, and the networking was outstanding.

Huge congratulations go out to the whole STEP Canada conference programme committee led by Corina Weigl TEP (Chair), Brian Cohen TEP and Richard Niedermayer TEP (Co Deputy Chairs) and the fabulous staff team led by Michael Dodick and Janis Armstrong. What a formidable force to have behind the biggest conference event in the STEP calendar.

It’s always interesting to see what other conferences are on in a major venue. As I arrived in Toronto the hotel and centre was full of body builders at the 2019 Toronto Pro Supershow and EXPO, and as we left the cannabis industry had moved in for the 2019 Toronto Cannabis EXPO – it’s a booming market after it was legalised last year…

Mark Walley is CEO of 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 

OTS report supports STEP’s calls for simplification

Simon HodgesThe UK Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) has published its first report of its review into inheritance tax (IHT).  The report, in which STEP is widely quoted, finds that the process for completing IHT forms is too complex and old fashioned, and that too many people are having to fill them in unnecessarily.

The OTS is undertaking this two-part review of IHT in response to the request from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January 2018. Since the review was announced, STEP has been in regular contact with the OTS. STEP’s response to the consultation was one of more than 3,500 to be submitted to the OTS, with the overwhelming majority seemingly negative about the IHT process.

The report concentrates on the concerns and administrative issues facing the public and professional advisors when confronted with the IHT process and related forms. It includes a number of positive recommendations, such as potentially reducing or removing the requirement to submit forms for smaller or simpler estates, especially where there is no tax to pay; having standardised requirements; and automating the system by bringing it online.

STEP has long argued that the IHT system is too complex, and that any moves to simplify the process, particularly through the implementation of a digital system, will be beneficial for bereaved families.

The Chancellor will now review the OTS recommendations before deciding whether to implement or ignore them. The key recommendation from the OTS, that ‘The government should implement a fully integrated digital system for inheritance tax, ideally including the ability to complete and submit a probate application,’ will be the mostly keenly watched, not least by STEP members.

As the report notes, inheritance tax and probate are closely linked, so it is timely that the OTS recommends that HMRC and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) liaise on streamlining the payment and probate process. As has been widely reported, legislation currently before the UK parliament would see a radical change to the probate fee system in England and Wales, and will mean an increase in fees for the vast majority of families. This approach has already been criticised in the House of Lords, and this latest OTS report further highlights the need to simplify the tax system surrounding death, rather than complicate it further.

We will keep members updated.

Simon Hodges is Director of Policy at STEP

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

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

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

HMRC’s timescales for dealing with IHT

Jan WrightAs its June 2015 Newsletter declares, HMRC aims to issue an IHT421 probate summary in ten working days from receipt of an IHT400 Inheritance Tax Account.

However this does depend on the inheritance tax being paid first. If it has not been credited to the HMRC account, your IHT400 goes into a different, and slower-moving, pile of correspondence. This can mean delay, and you may need to chase.

Where you have various financial institutions paying the tax, I’d suggest you get confirmation from all of them that all tax has been paid before submitting the IHT400.

This allows you to keep in control of the process and assists HMRC in keeping to its deadline.

 

Jan Wright TEP is a Director at Harrison Drury, Lancashire, and a member of STEP’s UK Practice Committee