Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Budget 2010: Crackdown on tax avoidance schemes

By Ronnie Ludwig
Saffery Champness, accountants

Wembley stadium
Wembley will become a temporary tax haven in 2011

Britain's eagerly awaited Budget 2010 is now public knowledge.

Hidden in the small print there is a potential surprise giveaway, and also chilling news for organised tax avoidance schemes.

In the Notes on Budget Resolutions, there is an interesting point which most people have missed.

It authorises the forthcoming Finance Bill to contain a provision to exempt "certain persons" from income tax in respect of "certain income" arising in connection with the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final.

That means footballers in foreign teams taking part in the final at Wembley.

This may be a move to protect Britain's ability to host the event and one can understand the logic of such considerations.

But it seems extraordinary that a targeted exemption is being granted to footballers for one specific event.

Why not Wimbledon or the British Open golf?

Coming clean

Treasury coffers may not fill with footballers' earnings, but the imperative to bring in tax revenues and fill Britain's public debt black hole remains.

Hard on the heels of the HMRC statement that some offshore tax evaders will face penalties of up to 200% when caught, five new measures were announced in the small print of the Budget that aim to stamp out tax avoidance schemes.

The first is that legislation will be introduced to bring forward the time when disclosure of schemes is to be made to HMRC.

This general requirement to tell the Revenue about tax evasion schemes was first introduced a few years ago and HMRC has been told of hundreds of schemes since then.

The new procedure will result in a considerable shortening of the time it will take the Revenue to counteract schemes and will dramatically shorten their shelf lives.

Penalties for those who fail to comply with the disclosure rules will be increased, so turning a "blind eye" could be a costly business.

'Grassing up'

The government intends to extend the "hallmarks" or definition of a tax avoidance scheme.

This will no doubt result in the promoters being monitored very closely by senior tax inspectors

Specific mention is made of schemes intended to convert income, potentially taxable at rates up to 50%, to capital gains where the tax rate applicable is a maximum of 18%.

But it is the last two new measures that are most controversial and take the requirement to "grass up" contacts and clients to hitherto untold heights.

The first of these is the introduction of a requirement for third party introducers - perhaps an accountancy firm with clients - to identify to HMRC any scheme promoters who contact them.

These promoters, people who tout the clever tax evasion schemes they have devised, might be other accountants, tax advisers law firms, barristers and even QCs.

This will no doubt result in the promoters being monitored very closely by senior tax inspectors.

Closer scrutiny

The final requirement is for these promoters to provide lists to HMRC of the clients to whom they have "provided" schemes.

Ronnie Ludwig
Times are getting tougher for tax evaders, says Ronnie Ludwig

This, at first reading, does not appear to require the client to have actually implemented a scheme - merely to have been sufficiently interested in it to have been provided with one.

What people can expect as a result of this is that the Revenue will pay much more attention to their affairs - much more than they may want.

HMRC will still need to issue further clarification on some key points in order to avoid counter-productive uncertainty for businesses, advisers and sportsmen.

We await more detail on the exemption relating to the UEFA Champions League Final and on what HMRC would classify as a reportable "tax avoidance scheme", as opposed to normal tax planning.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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