The second instance of holding a ‘tax day’ as a separate event from the Budget, occurred this autumn, so it seems appropriate to consider what this new approach holds in store. CTG’s detailed overview of the key announcements can be read here.
I start with the view that branding is often important in maintaining relevance, and I struggle to see the inclusion of “maintenance” in the name of the day as being a positive factor. I imagine that is because it goes rather wider than mere “administration”, but I think it will prove to be more than mere “maintenance” as well. A snappier title would be “Tax Administration Day” (which can be shortened to “TAD”). But would such a day prove a tad useful, and therefore justify its existence?
In my view, it has the potential to be more than a tad useful. It is a worthwhile development, particularly in that it focusses separately on the needs of advisers, professionals who are responsible for tax compliance in taxpayer organisations, and, not least, representative and lobbying bodies. It separates technical and administrative issues from fiscal changes, so that these have a space to breath, without being smothered by headline changes in tax scope or rates and thresholds.
It is clear that the ‘juicy’ stuff will continue to be part of the Budget, which is as it should be, because the public interest is served by the key items being announced on the same day as the public finance review. But plenty of tax material is best handled on a “need to know” footing, and that is what TAD (if so it be called) will focus upon.
These can be the outcome of consultations, the launching of new consultations, the publishing of draft legislation regarding the more technical areas of the tax, and the signalling of directions of travel. It is intended to allow a sensible debate between the government and taxpayer sides over how to make tax work better and smarter. Not only does a separate event allow these issues more space to breathe, but it takes some of the potential politics out of issues that are not necessarily political, by distinguishing them from the more political subjects.
That’s far from saying that TAD will deal only with non-controversial matters. It is difficult to imagine a more controversial issue than wholesale simplification of the VAT rules for Land & Property, for instance, yet this was a central topic covered on the day. It’s just that these are subjects that many would regard as nerdy and technocratic, however important they genuinely are.
The importance of the consultation on VAT for Land & Property was not missed by CTG, which was one of the many bodies that responded to the consultation. We said that simplification of the rules was not a sufficient aim in itself, if the result was that charities paid more tax by losing reliefs. On the other hand, allowing simplification to preserve or expand reliefs could be justified. We warned against the risk of unintended consequences that seeking simplification can generate. But we also called out needlessly complicated anti-avoidance legislation which should, in our view, be phased out, and pointed out that such rules were not merely difficult, but actually impossible to apply, owing to basic uncertainties which could never be resolved, irrespective of the effort applied. We mentioned several areas where rationalisation of the rules (not mere “improved guidance”) is needed.
The current result is that HMRC acknowledges that its push for radical simplification has not been widely supported, and that tightening or rationalisation of key parts should be attempted, rather than root & branch change. That’s probably where we wanted it to settle, but it is clear that the discussion is far from over, so we will be ready to engage in it, and separately to lobby for better charity outcomes in respect of land and buildings.
So, my view is that a tax day is a good idea, and it would be sensible for this separation to continue into the future. It would be interesting to know whether this view is shared by the advisory and taxpayer community.
Graham Elliott is the Charity Tax Group’s Technical Adviser