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.
- First steps
- How we can help
- How do HMRC investigate a business?
- What are the trigger points to look out for?
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
- 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Latest news & blogs…
As lockdown slowly eases across the UK, we look at some of the practical issues faced by individuals already impacted by COVID-19. One issue we are being asked about is the impact of buy-to-let landlords who have decided to take a mortgage payment holiday. We outline the impact of this and how this can affect your tax payment for the year.
In March, the Government announced that homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages due to Coronavirus would be able to take a three-month mortgage payment holiday. They confirmed that this option would also be available to buy-to-let landlords, who may suffer cashflow difficulties if, as a result of the virus, their tenants were unable to meet their rent in full when it is due. In May, the Government announced that those struggling to pay their mortgages because of the impact of Coronavirus would be able to extent their mortgage payment holiday by up to three months.
Where a landlord opts to take a mortgage payment holiday, what impact does this have on tax relief for interest payments and, in turn, their tax payments?
Interest continues to accrue
The first point to note is that interest continues to accrue during the period of the mortgage holiday, although the landlord will not be required to make any payments during this time. This is important and will impact on the timing of the associated interest relief, which will depend on whether accounts are prepared on a cash basis or on the accruals basis.
At the end of the holiday, the missed payments and interest may be recovered by extending the term of the mortgage or by making higher payments once payments restart.
Relief as a basic rate tax reduction
From 2020/21 onwards, tax relief for finance costs (such as mortgage interest) on residential properties is given only as a tax reduction at the basic rate. This means that 20% of the allowable finance costs are deducted from the tax that is due.
Impact of a mortgage holiday – Cash basis
Most landlords whose rental receipts are £150,000 a year or less will prepare the accounts for their property rental business under the cash basis. As expenditure under the cash basis is recognised when paid, if the landlord does not make a payment, there will be no relief for that expense until the payment is made.
Where the landlord takes a mortgage, no interest will be paid during the period of that holiday. As a result, a landlord may pay less in interest in 2020/21 than in 2019/20. The interest rate reduction is calculated by reference to the interest paid in the year.
Ali has a buy-to-let property on which he has buy-to-let mortgage, the interest on is £500 per month. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, his tenant struggles to pay his rent on time. Ali takes a three-month mortgage payment holiday. The mortgage term is effectively extended as a result.
In 2020/21, Ali only makes nine mortgage payments instead of the usual 12, paying interest of £4,500 rather than £6,000. The tax reduction for 2020/21 is £900 (£4,500 @ 20%) rather than £1,200 (£6,000 @ 20%).
Tax reduction – accruals basis
Under the accruals basis relief is given for the period in which the expense arises rather than when payment is made. As interest continues to accrue throughout a mortgage holiday, the landlord will be able to claim the full tax reduction on the interest accruing in the 2020/21 tax year, even if the interest was not paid in full in the year because the landlord took advantage of a mortgage payment holiday.
So if, in the above example, Ali prepared his accounts for 2020/21 on an accruals basis, he would be able to claim a tax reduction of £1,200, whereas under the cash basis his deduction will only £900, the higher deduction will of course reduce any rental profits (or increase a loss) subject to tax and thereby reduce any tax payable in the year.
If you need advice regarding your rental properties please call us on 0114 272 4984 or email email@example.com.
Under the dreadful cloud of COVID-19 some major tax changes are seemingly going under the radar. One such change is lettings relief, a previously valuable tax break available to those selling their home which was rented out at some stage. This tax mitigation opportunity has now been abolished and has been replaced with a much less attractive tax break which severely restricts the circumstances in which relief is available. We explain the changes here.
Lettings relief provided additional relief for tax where a property that has been occupied as a main residence is let out. For disposals prior to 6 April 2020, a substantial tax relief was available where a property was let as long as that property had at some time been the owner’s only or main residence.
However, availability of the relief is now seriously curtailed in relation to disposals on or after 6 April 2020. Under the new rules, lettings relief will only be available where the homeowner and their tenant are in occupation of the property at the same time – shared occupation. So from 6 April 2020, relief is only available where the owner shares the property with the tenant, a move which seriously narrows any claim that could have been made under the previous rules.
The new-style (narrow) relief
For disposals on or after 6 April 2020, the new lettings relief is available where:
- part of the property is the individual’s only or main residence and
- another part of that property is let out by the individual, otherwise than in the course of a trade or a business.
The gain relating to the let part is only chargeable to capital gains tax to the extent that it exceeds the lesser of:
- the amount of private residence relief; and
Spouses and civil partners can take advantage of the no gain/no loss rules to transfer the property or a share in it to each other without a loss of lettings relief. Where lettings relief would be available to a transferring spouse or civil partner for the period prior to the transfer, it remains available to the recipient.
Let’s look at how this works in a real life scenario.
Idris brought a three-bedroom house in 2015. He lived in the property for five years until it was sold in May 2020, realising a gain of £90,000. Throughout the time that he lived in the property, he let out two rooms. The let rooms comprised one-third of the property by floor area.
Two-third of the property was occupied as Henry’s main residence, and thus two-thirds of the gain qualifies for private residence relief. This equates to £60,000 (2/3 x £90,000). The remaining gain of £30,000 is attributable to “letting”.
As Idris occupied the property with the tenants, he can claim lettings relief. Previously, Idris would have been able to claim the relief irrespective of whether he lived with the tenants at the same time.
Thus, in Idris’ example, the gain attributable to the letting is only chargeable to capital gains tax if, and to the extent, that it is greater than the lower of:
- 60,000 (the amount of the private residence relief); and
As the gain attributable to the letting is less than £40,000, lettings relief is available to shelter the full amount of the gain. As such no capital gains tax arises.
Although in this example the entire gain is free from tax, the circumstances in which the relief can be claimed is much narrower than before and will definitely bring more people into the tax net.
In addition, the requirement for shared occupation will apply not only to future lettings but also any let periods before 6 April 2020.
This means that people who have let properties after they moved out will lose the relief that they would have been entitled to for those letting periods. In effect, the change is retroactive and, as such, will have a massive impact on unwary homeowners.
This change to how selling your home is taxed is harsh, both because of the retroactive impact and because of the sudden impact of the change. There are no transitional measures are in place and, considering letting relief has been around for 40 years, this has been criticised by tax advisory sector.
If you need tax advice in selling your home please call us on 0114 272 4984 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most businesses have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but should you take the option to defer your tax payment on account to 31 January 2021? We weigh up the option below.
To help those suffering cashflow difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government have announced that self-assessment taxpayers can delay making their second payment on account for 2019/20. The payment would normally due by 31 July 2020.
Under self-assessment, a taxpayer is required to make payments on account of their tax and Class 4 National Insurance liability where their bill for the previous tax year is £1,000 or more, unless at least 80% of their tax liability for the year is deducted at source, such as under PAYE. Each payment on account is 50% of the previous year’s tax and Class 4 National Insurance liability. The payments are made on 31 January in the tax year and 31 July after the end of the tax year. If any further tax is due, this must be paid by 31 January after the end of the tax year. In the event that the payments on account are more than the final liability for the year, the excess is set against the tax due for the next tax year or refunded.
The normal payment dates for payments on account for the 2019/20 tax year are 31 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, with any balance due by 31 January 2021.
Delay not cancellation
The thing to note is that the option on offer is a deferral option not a cancellation. Where this is taken up, the payment on account must be paid by 31 January 2021. As long as payment is made by this date, no interest or penalties will be charged.
Should I pay if I can?
The deferral option is clearly advantageous to those who have taken a financial hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly those operating in sectors where working is not possible during the lockdown, such as hairdressers and beauticians and those operating in the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors.
For those who have not taken a financial hit or who are otherwise able to pay, from a cashflow perspective it may be attractive to defer the payment. However, this may simply be a case of delaying the pain; not only will the delayed payment on account be due on 31 January 2021 together with any Class 2 National Insurance liability, but also the first payment on account for 2020/21. This may amount to a sizeable bill and as such it may be better to spread the payments rather than be faced a lump sum on 31 January 2021.
The decision as to whether to pay or defer is a personal one; but the option to choose is a welcome one. We recommend you aim to work out your 2019/20 tax liability early and have a discussion with your accountant as to the best course of action. At the same time, looking further forward and doing an estimated calculation of your potential tax liability for 2020/21 (COVID-19 tax year) will help identify any planning opportunities.
If you would like help deciding whether to defer or not please call us on 0114 272 4984 or email at email@example.com.