HMRC investigation? Let us help protect your interests

Tax Investigation Management

Tax investigations by HMRC often come as an unpleasant shock for many and can be very stressful.

From the outset communication from HMRC can be quite intimidating as they tend to take an aggressive position and “throw the book”. The enquiry will often embrace many aspects of the business and will typically take the form of a standard template letter padded out in parts by reference to the particular client.

In other cases HMRC will issue a letter which on the face of it looks benign but has far reaching implications if not handled correctly.

At Shipleys we are non-judgmental, vigorous in defending our clients and aim to resolve the investigation in the most efficient manner possible without compromising the quality of our work.

We have the experience and know-how to handle local district cases to large tax fraud cases both in direct and indirect tax (VAT).

And with Shipleys Tax Fee Protection Partner our clients have peace of mind that in the event of an enquiry all professional fees up to the First Tier Tribunal are covered.

Sections


Areas

Some of the areas in which we regularly assist clients are:

  • Code of Practice 9
  • Code of Practice 8
  • Voluntary Disclosures to HMRC (Onshore)
  • Compliance Checks
  • Negotiated Settlements with HMRC

First steps

  • You need to know what your rights are under enquiry
  • Identify and prioritise of areas of primary concern
  • Assemble and analyse relevant information and evidence in order to quantify the correct tax liability
  • You need advice on what HMRC can ask you to produce – whether you have to provide copies of documents and soft copies of electronic files for example
  • You need an assessment of your accounting systems to know if it is robust enough to withstand scrutiny
  • You want to reduce the risk of an investigation going forward and improve compliance procedures.


How we can help

  • Our team consists of highly experienced ex-HMRC Inspectors
  • We can influence and control the pace of investigation
  • Our specialist knowledge will be utilised to challenge any incorrect assumptions made by HMRC
  • Comprehensive Fee Protection insurance for clients

Remember early intervention by a tax investigation specialist could resolve the dispute relatively quickly; what not do to is to attempt to correspond with the tax man yourself as you could unknowingly put the proverbial “foot in it”.

Are under enquiry? Do you think you are at risk of an investigation? Contact us now for independent advice on your options.


HOW DO HMRC INVESTIGATE A BUSINESS?

Some tax investigations are random but increasingly the majority are as a result of HMRC’s risk analyses/assessments.

This “risk assessment” process typically compares the results of the business to other similar businesses; it statistically analyse areas such as gross profit margin, mark-up rate and comparisons to earlier years. Where a case is “risk assessed” HMRC cannot decline the invitation to investigate.

Even where HMRC know that there was “nothing in it for them”, officers have openly admitted that they have no choice but to open an enquiry because the risk assessment process had identified the case as warranting an enquiry.


What are the trigger points to look out for?

The short answer is patterns and, to a certain extent, timing.

Timing

Most accountants are unaware that whilst HMRC can launch an investigation into a business at any time within the statutory timeframe, enquiry notices are usually timedto be issued at specific times of the year in order to control work flow. Favoured times for issuing enquiry notice are the end of January (accountants busy with heavy workloads) and Fridays (clients receive a shock when opening post on a weekend!).

Nowadays, HMRC typically impose a non-statutory time limit on the taxpayer for producing information requested in the opening letter. Often it will not be possible to provide this within the time frame specified, and it is advisable to make contact very quickly with HMRC if this is the case. This is important in both establishing a relationship with the officer dealing with the enquiry and also gaining maximum penalty mitigation for cooperation in the event there is culpability.

Patterns

HMRC expect to see consistency across a business, both within the business itself and also across similar sectors. It will expect turnover to be fairly level whilst accepting modest fluctuations in either direction. If turnover goes down it will expect expenses to decrease. If profit decreases HMRC will query if proprietors’ drawings/directors remuneration increases. This crude analysis tool is often misleading and belies the actual reasons for fluctuations leading to businesses that have nothing to hide being flagged up for enquiry.

For example, if turnover increases substantially HMRC may conclude that maybe not all of the turnover in the previous year was declared.  Or if it drops significantly then maybe some has been taken by the owner and not declared? The reality maybe that turnover has increased due to having a exceptionally good year and decreased because of a loss of a large customer or order.

Suspicion is also aroused if the claim in respect of administration expenses increases well beyond what would be expected comparing it with the previous year. HMRC will wonder whether hours have increased (hence the increase in admin expenses) and therefore the officer will wonder why turnover has gone down.

Proprietors’ drawings – a substantial increase could mean that drawings may have been understated in the past, leading HMRC to query whether any cash takings have not been declared. Similarly, if the drawings are less than the salary paid to the highest paid employee HMRC will be very uneasy – business owners are expected to be the highest earners in the business even though the reality is most proprietors in business start ups do not take any drawings in the formative years.

Gross profit margins (GPR) – typically the GPR of the business will be examined over a period of up to 6 years to see whether or not it is consistent. It will also be compared to similar businesses and fluctuations of more than a few percent will arouse suspicion. HMRC has access to a vast database of information indicating what the GPR of a particular type of business should be.

Invoices – An officer will scrutinise invoices carefully to check whether part of the invoices are being paid in cash to disguise the true GPR.

Sectors – HMRC will often target a particular sector because it has become aware of consistent malpractice across the sector. For example, Medical practices, dentists and vets are targeted because they engage locums as self- employed workers whereas in reality it is difficult to show that a locum is self- employed in many typical practices.

Professional footballers and their clubs have been under scrutiny for a few years now mainly because in some cases a player will receive a payment for the exploitation of his “image rights” and HMRC does not approve of this because it reduces or in some cases completely avoids liability to UK tax by devising a structure which holds the image rights offshore.

Umbrella companies and IT agencies using “one-man band” IT companies have been under the microscope for a long time (see IR35), mainly because it is considered that many of them are purportedly engaged as self- employed workers but the reality is that they can be deemed to be employees.

Standard of living – does an individual have the means to finance his/her standard of living? Information will be gained in this regard from a variety of sources, giving HMRC details of property owned, cars, boats, bank accounts, horses etc. Although there will often be perfectly reasonable explanations as to how such assets may have been acquired it may not stop HMRC delving further.

People often think they can outwit HMRC and stay one step ahead. However, they should be well aware of that most of the tricks which the unscrupulous businessman may try has been seen and dealt with by HMRC many times over and they underestimate HMRC at their peril.

If you require help with tax or VAT investigations then speak to our experts on 0114 272 4984 or email info@shipleystax.com.

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COVID-19: Company liquidations and the £30k tax free redundancy pay – too good to be true?

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

IN THE CURRENT economic climate, companies are sadly going bust. A frequently asked but often misunderstood so called tax planning idea doing the rounds involves paying £30K “tax-free” whilst the company undergoes voluntary liquidation.

At Shipeys Tax we consider the viability of this in the tax note below. Needless to say, never take tax advice from someone around a dinner table (unless of course he/she is an experienced tax adviser!).

Basics

Due to the unfortunate impact of COVID-19 and lack of demand, a sole director and shareholder of an hitherto successful company personal company has decided to put the company into voluntary liquidation. As part of the process the director decides to pay herself a redundancy or termination payment from the limited company as she has heard that such pay-outs are tax-free.

As part of the process the director decides to pay herself a redundancy or termination payment from the limited company as she has heard that such pay-outs are tax-free…

What is a redundancy/termination payment?

Broadly, this refers any payment to an employee for compensation for loss of employment that is not contractual, non-customary, related earnings or to the notice period. If it qualifies then the payment can potentially benefit from a statutory £30,000 exemption to tax and NIC. Nice.

Can a sole director shareholder receive a tax-free redundancy or termination payment from the company?

Generally speaking, in some circumstances it is possible for a director to receive termination payments that fall within the exemption. However, the old adage that the position should be reviewed on a case by case basis applies. Whilst the tax treatment of qualifying termination payments are quite well established, those involving sole director shareholders are somewhat trickier to navigate.

To employ or not to employ?

Firstly, it is important to identify whether the sole director is employed by the company. To receive a tax-free statutory redundancy payment, a worker must have an employment contract with their employer

Generally speaking, in some circumstances it is possible for a director to receive termination payments that fall within the exemption…

Evidence that could point the employment status includes the existence of an employment contract, payment of salary, duties etc which point towards employment.

The payment conundrum

Assuming the sole director is clearly employed by the company, it is then necessary to determine to what extent the payments relate to the termination of the client’s employment rather than their position as shareholder. Was the payment in actual fact compensation for loss of office or was it an extraction of “profits”, i.e. a dividend distribution? HMRC will obviously argue the latter, especially for one-man band companies where no other employees have been made redundant and paid termination payments. In other cases, payments to those close to retirement can be classed as part of the package an amount that arises from what is known as an employer-financed retirement benefits scheme (EFRB). Essentially, this is an unregistered pension scheme. If there is a payment that HMRC deems to be an EFRB, it will be fully taxable.

Self (de)termination

Secondly, even if a sole director satisfies the first condition and has clear evidence of  employment, there is another issue to consider: as the owner and director of the business making themselves redundant, they are effectively making the decision to cease trading and leave, and so fail the condition that they cannot resign or leave of their own volition.

Was the payment in actual fact compensation or loss of office or was it an extraction of profits, i.e. a dividend distribution? HMRC will most likely argue this route for one-man band companies where no other employees have been made redundant and paid termination payments…

An employee has to be made redundant by their “employer” – they have no choice in whether their role continues to exist.

In the case of a sole director/owner employee who is also a company director controlling the company, choosing to make themselves redundant is the same as choosing to end the employment. This will most likely nullify the redundancy argument. In addition, HMRC would also challenge a sole director company making a corporation tax deduction for their own redundancy in the company accounts, the nature of the payment not being deemed to be for the benefit of the trade.

An employee has to be made redundant by their “employer” – they have no choice in whether their role continues to exist…

Terminus

However, it is possible some termination payments may fall within the £30,000 exemption, provided they are not subject to tax under any other part of the legislation such as earning or benefits. The circumstances in which can occur are very few and far between and you would need specialist tax advice to help you navigate the tax traps. This is a fairly complex area as evidenced above and the facts of any case will need to be reviewed to determine whether any termination payments for the director would fall within the £30,000 exemption, but with the right set of circumstances some relief may be available.

At Shipleys Tax we have a team of experts who can advise on the above and whether a redundancy payment can be tax-free. Contact us on 0114 272 4984 or email info@shipleystax.com.

HMRC penalties – how COVID-19 can be used as a reasonable excuse to remove them

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

IF THERE’S ONE thing the tax man loves more than collecting tax, it’s dishing out penalties. But where you have forgotten to file your tax return or have made a mistake giving rise to a HMRC penalty, and you or a family member were ill with coronavirus, you may have a get out clause via the ‘reasonable excuse’ route.

In today’s note we explain what reasonable excuses are and how coronavirus might fall into this category.

Generally, HMRC may allow an appeal against a penalty if the taxpayer has a ‘reasonable excuse’ for failing to comply with an obligation, i.e. you filed a return late or paid your tax late.

A ‘reasonable excuse’ is something that prevented a taxpayer from meeting a tax obligation despite the fact that they took reasonable care. HMRC usually take a hard line as regards what they constitute as a ‘reasonable excuse’; providing the following examples of ‘acceptable’ reasonable excuses:

  • the taxpayer’s partner or another close relative died shortly before the tax return or payment deadline;
  • an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented the taxpayer from dealing with their tax affairs;
  • a life-threatening illness;
  • the failure of a computer or software just before or while the taxpayer was preparing their tax return;
  • service issues with HMRC;
  • a fire, flood or theft which prevented the completion of a tax return;
  • postal delays which could not have been predicted; or
  • delays relating to a disability.

A ‘reasonable excuse’ is something that prevented a taxpayer from meeting a tax obligation despite the fact that they took reasonable care.

By contrast, HMRC cite the following example of excuses that they will not accept as a valid reason for failing to meet a tax obligation:

  • relying on someone else to send the return and they failed to send it;
  • a cheque or payment bounced due to insufficient funds;
  • the taxpayer found HMRC’s online system too complicated;
  • the taxpayer did not receive a reminder from HMRC; or
  • the taxpayer made a mistake on their return.

Impact of coronavirus

HMRC have confirmed that they will consider coronavirus as a reasonable excuse. Where claiming this, the taxpayer should explain in their appeal how they were affected by coronavirus. As a rule of thumb, HMRC are more likely to accept it as a reasonable excuse where the virus led to one of the circumstances listed above as ‘acceptable reasonable excuses’. Thus, the contention that the taxpayer had a reasonable excuse for failing to meet a tax obligation would be strong if a partner or close relative (such as a parent) died of Coronavirus around the tax deadline, the taxpayer was seriously ill with the virus or was in hospital unexpectedly.

HMRC have confirmed that they will consider coronavirus as a reasonable excuse. Where claiming this, the taxpayer should explain in their appeal how they were affected by coronavirus.

Where the taxpayer appeals on the grounds that they had a reasonable excuse for failing to file a return or pay a tax bill, they should file the return or pay the bill as soon as they are able after the reason for the reasonable excuse has been resolved.

If you have been hit with HMRC penalties or an HMRC enquiry, call our Specialist Tax Investigation Team on 0114 272 4984.

Making Tax Digital to be extended to all companies from April 2022

Tax Investigation Management Shipleys Tax Advisors

MEASURES REQUIRING businesses to submit and record VAT returns via digital means is to be extended to all companies from April 2022, the government announced this week.

The requirement is part of the government’s much vaunted Making Tax Digital (MTD) strategy which aims to see the end of the annual tax return and transform the tax system. The government say these reforms are “intended to make it easier to pay tax due, enhance resilience, effectiveness, and support for taxpayers”. Shipleys Tax Advisers, like most industry tax experts, are somewhat guarded about these aims.

Currently from April 2019, most VAT-registered taxpayers with a turnover above the VAT threshold have needed to operate Making Tax Digital for their VAT returns, keeping their records digitally and updating HMRC through secure software.

What’s changing?

In their announcement, the government set out the road map for the programme.

From April 2022, MTD will first be extended to all VAT registered businesses with turnover below the VAT threshold to “ensure every VAT-registered business takes the step to move to a digital tax service”.

Then from April 2023, it will be extended apply to businesses and landlords who file self-assessment tax returns for business or property income over £10,000 annually.

The government says this timetable will allow businesses, landlords and agents time to plan, while HMRC will expand its pilot service from April 2021 to allow businesses and landlords to test the full end-to-end service before the requirement to join.

What does this mean for you?

At Shipleys Tax Advisers we take most government announcements with a heavy pinch of salt. The current government has an unenviable track record of making far reaching changes with little thought and trying to do too much too quickly, it is usually the taxpayer and/or their agent/accountant who has to deal with the inevitable fall out (e.g. see the debacle around the introduction of RTI for PAYE, and more recently, the much-maligned original MTD roll-out).

So more admin, more red tape and more people being trapped by the overly complicated UK tax system. Is it all bad news then?

Surprisingly, not quite. At Shipleys Tax Advisers we have noted that, if implemented properly, there are valuable advantages to be gained with the right MTD process.

Efficiency – there is growing evidence that using software for VAT and record keeping does free up your time to focus on other aspects of your business.

Flexibility – not all taxpayers will want to be forced online. Those who run very small simple businesses the cost of digitalisation can be off-putting, however the system can be modified to accomodate a non-online solution.

Tax planning opportunities – for the serious business owner, MTD expanding should give agents room for tax planning. At Shipleys Tax Advisers, having an accountant or tax professional review your business performance regularly means avoiding unexpected tax bills and not miss tax planning opportunities.

Going forward

Much like the current pandemic, MTD will not go away anytime soon and as such taxpayers and businesses alike will need to get up to speed quickly.

Those company owners and sole traders currently behind the digital curve will need make plans to implement MTD especially if their bookkeeping is offline as well.

If you need help with MTD implementation or would like to discuss options, please call 0114 272 4984 or email us at info@shipleystax.com.

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