Mike Tombs's Blog

This blog provides information about tax, accounting and other issues affecting small owner-managed businesses in the UK. It is intended as a general source of information but you should not assume that everything applies to your specific circumstances. We are always happy to discuss providing tailor-made solutions to suit your individul needs. Visit www.tlaservices.co.uk to sign up for our free monthly Tax Tips and News newsletter.

CGT annual exemption: use it or lose it!

Capital gains tax (CGT) is normally paid when an item is either sold or given away. It is usually paid on profits made by selling various types of assets including properties (but generally not a main residence), stocks and shares, paintings, and other works of art, but it may also be payable in certain circumstances when a gift is made.

The most common method for minimising a liability to capital gains tax is to ensure that the annual exemption is fully utilised wherever possible. Whilst this is relatively straight-forward where only capital gains are in question, the computation can be slightly more complex where capital losses are also involved.

Where a loss arises on the sale of assets it can be offset against any other gains made in the same year or in the future. However, a strict order applies for setting-off losses.

Firstly, losses arising in the tax year are deducted from any other chargeable gains for the same year. All losses for the year must be deducted, even if this results in chargeable gains after losses below the level of the annual exempt amount. If the allowable losses arising in the tax year are greater than the total chargeable gains for the year, the excess losses can be carried forward to be deducted from chargeable gains in future years. In this situation, the annual exemption for the year in question may be lost.

If chargeable gains remain after deducting the allowable losses arising from the same year, unused allowable losses brought forward from an earlier year may then be deducted. It is only necessary to deduct sufficient allowable losses brought forward to reduce the chargeable gains after losses to the level of the annual exempt amount. Any remaining losses brought forward are carried forward again without limit, to be deducted from chargeable gains in future years.

Plan ahead

For 2017/18, most individuals will be entitled to an annual exemption of £11,300, which means that no CGT will be payable on gains up to that amount for that tax year. Since spouses and civil partners are each entitled to the exemption, for jointly held assets, there is scope for exempting £22,600 worth of gains in 2017/18.

The annual exemption is good only for the current tax year – it cannot be carried forward or taken back to an earlier year – so anyone planning to make a series of disposals, may want to consider the timing of sales between two or more tax years to use up as much and as many annual exemptions as possible.

HMRC launch consultation on employee expenses

As confirmed the Spring Budget 2017, HMRC have launched a consultation on the use of the income tax relief for employees’ business expenses, including those that are not reimbursed by their employer. The main objectives of the consultation, which will run until 12 June 2017, are to understand:

  • if the current rules or their administration can be clearer and simpler;
  • whether the tax rules for expenses are fit for purpose in the modern economy; and
  • why the cost to the exchequer of the tax relief for expenses which are not reimbursed has increased.

Expenses form an integral part of the tax system as tax relief can be claimed on eligible expenses. However, the cost of providing this relief is significant – HMRC state that the tax relief on expenses which employers do not reimburse and employees then claim from HMRC costs the Exchequer £800m per year, and there has been a 25% increase in claims between 2009-10 and 2014-15.

The current rules

It is important that employees and employers are both clear on what tax reliefs employees are entitled to claim. Broadly, tax relief is available when expenses are incurred ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of the duties of the employment’. Expenses which put an employee in a position to do their job (such as the cost of ordinary commuting) are not eligible for tax relief. There are also provisions for relief for specific expenses, such as professional fees and subscriptions, and travel and subsistence.

When employers pay for or reimburse expenses that are eligible for tax relief, the payment is not taxed. For example, if an employee pays for a train ticket to travel from their permanent office to another office for a business meeting, and their employer reimburses the cost of the train ticket, the reimbursement is not liable to income tax or National Insurance contributions. However, if an employer pays a round sum cash allowance to cover potential expenses, such payments will be taxable in full.

Simplified expenses

The administration of the tax relief for expenses paid for or reimbursed by the employer was simplified from April 2016 with the introduction of an exemption for paid or reimbursed expenses. Under this exemption, qualifying expenses can be paid by employers free of tax without the need for an employer to apply to HMRC for a dispensation. These expenses do not need to be returned to HMRC at the end of the tax year on form P11D, and employees no longer need to make a claim to HMRC for a corresponding tax relief.

When employers do not reimburse expenses that employees have incurred, the employee can deduct them from his taxable income and subsequently claim tax relief at his marginal tax rate on costs incurred.

For some expenses which are not reimbursed, employees can claim a flat rate expense allowance. HMRC have agreed allowances based on the amount typically spent each year by employees in a wide range of industries and occupations to remove the burden for employers and employees of calculating a large number of small claims and retaining evidence for these. For example, employees who need to pay for the cost of repairing and maintaining tools and specialist clothing for work can apply for tax relief in this way.

The future

Although the consultation document states that the government has no plans to remove the relief on employee expenses, changes to current procedures may be expected in the future.

VAT Flat rate scheme: changes take effect

The VAT flat rate scheme (FRS) is used by many small businesses to help simplify their VAT reporting obligations. Businesses could often gain a cash advantage from using the scheme, but this advantage has been significantly curtailed from 1 April 2017, particularly in relation to service-related businesses. Whilst the FRS continues to operate, many businesses will no longer find it economical to use.

Broadly, the FRS is a simplified VAT accounting scheme for small businesses, which allows users to calculate VAT using a flat rate percentage by reference to their particular trade sector. When using the FRS, the business ignores VAT incurred on purchases when reporting VAT payable, with the exception of capital items which cost £2,000 or more. If the business incurs few expenses, and it operates in a sector with a relatively low FRS percentage, it will pay out less VAT to HMRC under the FRS than it would outside the scheme. Historically, many businesses have registered for VAT voluntarily before their turnover reached the VAT registration threshold, so they could make use of the cash advantage offered under the FRS.

Common percentages used by service-related businesses in recent years include:

  • Accountancy and legal services 14.5%
  • Computer or IT consultancy 14.5%
  • Estate agents and property management 12%
  • Management consultancy 14%
  • Business services not listed elsewhere 12%

However, from 1 April 2017 a new 16.5% FRS rate applies for businesses with limited costs (see below). Since the rate of 16.5% of gross turnover equates to 19.8% of the net, the result is that there will be almost no credit for VAT incurred on purchases. Many businesses, particularly in the trade sectors listed above, are likely to see a significant rise is VAT payments.

A ‘limited cost’ business is defined as one whose VAT inclusive expenditure on goods is either:

  • less than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover in a prescribed accounting period;
  • greater than 2% of their VAT inclusive turnover but less than £1,000 per annum if the prescribed accounting period is one year (if it is not one year, the figure is the relevant proportion of £1,000).

Goods, for the purposes of this measure, must be used exclusively for the purpose of the business but exclude the following items:

  • capital expenditure goods;
  • food or drink for consumption by the flat rate business or its employees;
  • vehicles, vehicle parts and fuel (except where the business is one that carries out transport services – for example a taxi business – and uses its own or a leased vehicle to carry out those services).

(These exclusions are part of the test to prevent traders buying either low value everyday items or one off purchases in order to inflate their costs beyond 2%.)

Practical Tip

Businesses who are trading under the VAT threshold (£85,000 from 1 April 2017) may consider deregistering from VAT. Businesses who are trading over that threshold may wish to withdraw from the FRS.

Tax-free savings update

Although interest rates for savings generally remain low, there are still a few tax-efficient savings opportunities on offer, with increased savings thresholds taking effect from 6 April 2018.

Individual Savings Accounts

Broadly, cash ISAs are available to investors aged 16 and over, who are resident in the UK, and stocks and shares ISAs are available to UK-resident individuals aged 18 and over. The maximum annual investment limit has been raised to £20,000 from April 2017, which means that a couple can now invest up to a sizeable £40,000 for 2017/18. Interest paid on the investment will be tax-free for both income and capital gains tax.

Junior ISAs operate along similar lines to ‘adult’ ISAs. The maximum investment limit for 2017/18 into Junior ISA accounts is £4,128, so there is scope for parents and grandparents to make tax-free savings investments on behalf of their children/grandchildren. Since it is also now possible for children to hold both Junior ISA and Child Trust Fund (CTF) accounts, parents are offered increased flexibility to look for higher-yielding products.

It might be worth noting that the Government has stated its intention to make regulations so that the ISA savings of deceased individuals can continue to benefit from income tax and capital gains tax advantages, where those savings are retained in an ISA. Although the start date for this change has yet to be confirmed, it should be borne in mind when thinking about ISA investments.

Help-to-buy ISAs continue to be available to assist first-time buyers save a deposit to purchase their first home. Broadly, up to £200 a month can be saved in the ISA (along with an initial deposit of £1,000) and, provided certain conditions are met, the government will provide a 25% boost to the savings up to a maximum of £3,000 per person. The maximum that can be saved in the ISA is £12,000. Taking into account the government bonus, a couple buying together could save up to £30,000 tax-free towards the purchase of their first home. It will take around four and a half years to achieve this level of savings under the scheme.

NS&I Premium Bonds

Although National Savings and Investments (NS&I) Premium Bonds cannot really be called an investment, any returns by way of ‘winnings’ will be tax-free. The odds on winning a prize in any one month currently stand at 30,000 to one. The number of monthly £100,000 prizes has been reduced from five to two and, for the £50,000 prizes, from 12 to just five. The prize fund rate was 1.25% until April 2017, but is reduced to 1.15% from May 2017. This rate represents the amount a typical saver will receive with average luck over a year – although many will receive far less than this. However, despite the reduction in prizes and odds, with more than £52 billion currently invested, premium bonds remain one of Britain’s favourite ways to save in a tax-efficient way.

Tax on savings income

The Personal Savings Allowance (PSA), which was introduced from 6 April 2016, remains at £1,000 for basic rate taxpayers and £500 for higher rate taxpayers, for 2017/18. Running alongside the PSA is the starting rate for savings, which, for 2017/18, remains at 0% on a maximum threshold of £5,000. The 0% band is restricted by non- savings taxable income so that none of the band will be available if that income is above the personal allowance (and blind person’s allowance if claimed) plus the £5,000 starting rate. The two allowances work together and are dependent on total taxable income.

In most cases, the annual personal allowance and PSA will cover any tax liability arising on interest earned. Therefore, when choosing a savings plan, the major consideration is likely to be the interest rate on offer and potential return on the investment, rather than the tax-free status of the account.

Increase in the cash basis threshold

As announced at the 2017 Spring Budget, the threshold for traders using the cash basis for accounting purposes is increasing from 6 April 2017. This change forms part of the Government’s initiative for simplifying tax paid by unincorporated businesses and runs alongside the Making Tax Digital project.

Under the cash basis, small businesses are taxed on the basis of the cash that passes through their books, rather than being asked to spend their time doing calculations designed for big businesses. General partnerships may use the cash basis – as long as the partnership meets the receipts and other entry criteria, the partners are all individuals, and either there is no individual treated as controlling the partnership, or any such individual would be eligible to use the cash basis if they were conducting the business as a sole trader.

Amendment to the existing legislation (currently contained in ITTOIA 2005, Part 2, Chapter 3A) takes effect from 6 April 2017 (operative for 2017/18 onwards) and increases the threshold for the cash basis from £83,000 to £150,000. This measure is expected to have a significant impact on businesses. An estimated 135,000 additional small businesses will be eligible to choose the cash basis for their business, with 87,000 estimated to take up that choice.

The exit threshold will continue to be set at double the entry threshold, so it will increase to £300,000 from the same date.

The entry and exit threshold for self-employed Universal Credit claimants will continue to equal the exit threshold of non-Universal Credit claimants and will increase to £300,000.

Registration for tax-free childcare opens

The long-awaited tax-free childcare scheme launches on 28 April 2017 and will be rolled out during the course of the year. In conjunction with this, the government’s new Childcare Choices website is now operative, allowing parents to find out about available support. The website includes a childcare calculator for parents to compare all the government’s childcare offers and check what works best for their families, including the new 30-hour free childcare offer, tax-free childcare or universal credit. Through the website, parents can also pre-register for email alerts that will notify them when they can apply, as well as providing details of existing government childcare offers.

It is currently estimated that some two million working families will be eligible for tax-free childcare. It will be gradually rolled out, with parents of children under two invited to enter the scheme first. By the end of the year, all eligible parents will be able to receive government top-ups of £2 for every £8 that a parent pays into their tax-free childcare account, up to a maximum of £2,000 per child (or £4,000 for disabled children). This will be open to all working parents across the UK with children under 12, or under 17 if disabled.

30 hours free childcare

From September 2017, the new 30 hours free childcare offer for working parents of three and four year olds in England will double the current 15 hours of free childcare currently available, saving eligible working families up to £5,000 a year.

Eligible parents will be able to apply online through the childcare service. They will receive a code – this will allow parents to arrange their childcare place ahead of September 2017. Parents can take their code to their provider or council, along with their National Insurance Number and child’s date of birth. Their provider or council will check the code is authentic and allocate them a free childcare place.

Parents will be able to apply for tax-free childcare and the 30 hours offer in one go through the government’s new digital childcare service. Eligible parents can benefit from both tax-free childcare and 30 hours free childcare at the same time.

Salary v dividend

The questions surrounding the issue of how best to extract profits from a company in a tax-efficient manner remain as popular as ever. Despite the introduction of the dividend allowance, and the personal savings allowance, extraction by remuneration and by way of dividend remain the two most widely used methods. The tax effects of these methods may be broadly contrasted as follows:

  • Provided the amount is justifiable, remuneration is generally allowed as a deduction in arriving at the taxable profits of the company. The recipient is taxed on the remuneration through the PAYE system at the date of payment including a charge to NIC.
  • Dividends are not deducted in arriving at the taxable profits.

The main point to note is that the question of how best to extract profits from a company is rarely straight-forward and will be different in nearly every case. Seeking advance professional advice is always highly recommended.

It must be remembered here that payment of a salary will give rise to a liability to National Insurance Contributions (NICs), whereas payment of a dividend does not.

In considering the options, a number of other factors should also be taken into account:

  • A full NIC contribution record must be maintained to ensure maximum social security benefits. Therefore, a reduction in salary may have the knock-on effect for reducing future entitlement to certain earnings-related social security benefits.
  • The lack of a salary charge in the accounts may increase the value for capital gains tax (CGT) and inheritance tax (IHT) purposes of holdings valued on the basis of earnings. In addition, a higher dividend payment will increase the value of a holding calculated on a dividend yield basis, although it is unlikely to affect the valuation of a major interest.
  • Dividends are payable rateably to shareholders in proportion to their holdings in the company, which may not necessarily correspond to the relative efforts of the directors in earning the profits. Dividend waivers may assist in these circumstances, but care must be taken – always seek advice on such matters.
  • Dividends can only be paid out of distributable profits whereas, in theory, salaries may be paid out without reference to the level of profits.
  • The national minimum wage legislation should be considered, as this applies equally to directors under contracts of employment as it does to employees.

Given that dividends are treated as distributions of profits (after taking into account payments of salaries and wages), payment of a reasonable salary may be considered before thinking about a potential dividend payment. The situation will vary from company to company and there is no set rule. Seeking professional advice is recommended before any action is taken.

In deciding how profits are to be extracted, the following aspects should be considered:

  • The rates applicable to dividend income are currently the 7.5% ordinary rate, which applies up to the basic rate limit, the 32.5% dividend upper rate, and the dividend additional rate of 38.1% on dividends above the higher rate limit.
  • From 6 April 2016, 10% tax credit attaching to dividends was abolished and the new dividend allowance took effect. This means that the first £5,000 of dividends will be tax-free in the hands of the recipient. Whilst these changes mean that most taxpayers will thereby pay less tax, people with a share portfolio valued at £140,000 or more (according to the Treasury) will pay more. This forms part of the government strategy to reduce the incentive to incorporate businesses and take remuneration in the form of dividends.
  • Individual needs of shareholders may differ – some may require income, others may be more interested in capital appreciation. These conflicting interests may be met by the issue of separate classes of shares with differing distribution rights.
  • For the financial year 2017, the main rate of corporation tax is 19%, which means that the rate of tax payable on retained profits is potentially lower than current income tax rates.

For income tax purposes, and within family-owned companies, it is generally desirable to spread income around the family to fully utilise annual personal allowances and to take full advantage of nil and lower rate tax thresholds, wherever possible. The term ‘family’ includes all individuals who depend on a particular individual (e.g. the owner of the family company) for their financial well-being. This may include not only the spouse, civil partner and children but also aged relatives, retired domestic employees, etc. Care must be taken in this area not to fall foul of the ‘settlements’ legislation and other anti-avoidance measures in force at the time. Once again, professional advice is always recommended in advance of making any payments.

Distributions (usually dividends) from jointly owned shares in close companies are not automatically split 50/50 between husband and wife, but are taxed according to the actual proportions of ownership and entitlement to the income.

Possible methods of spreading income around the family include employing a spouse and/or children, waiving salary (to increase profits available as dividends) or dividends (to increase the amounts available to other shareholders), and transferring income-producing assets.

Some distributions of income to family members will not be beneficial for tax purposes. The following points require careful consideration:

  • salaries and wages paid to spouse, civil partner, children or other dependants will be a tax deductible expense of the company only if they can be justified in relation to the duties performed;
  • a salary paid to spouse, civil partner, children or other dependants will attract a liability to NIC if it is above the lower earnings limit; and
  • the investment income of an infant child (i.e. an unmarried child below the age of 18) is taxed on his parents, where it arises from a gift by them.

In the longer term, there is a risk that, at some future date, the relative advantages of each extraction method might be reversed at a time when the flexibility to switch between the two methods is restricted. Currently though, using a mixture of salary, benefits and dividends, which can be varied according to individual circumstances, remains the most sensible option.

Changes to IR35 rules confirmed

HMRC have recently announced changes to the way the intermediaries legislation (known as the ‘IR35 rules’) will be applied to off-payroll working in the public sector. In particular, contractors who provide their services to a public authority through an intermediary will need to be aware for the changes, which take effect from 6 April 2017.

Broadly, from 6 April 2017, responsibility for deciding whether the legislation should be applied will move from the worker’s intermediary to the public authority the worker is supplying their services to.

Where the rules apply, the fee-payer (the public authority, agency, or other third party paying the intermediary) will be responsible for calculating income tax and primary National Insurance contributions (NICs) and pay them to HMRC. These amounts will be deducted from the intermediary’s fee for the work provided. The worker’s intermediary will be able to offset an amount equivalent to the income tax and NICs deducted from payments to it from the fee-payer against its own income tax and NICs liability in the tax year.

The changes will apply to:

  • public authorities who hire off-payroll contractors;
  • public sector tax managers, payroll managers, human resources managers and procurement managers;
  • agencies and third parties who supply contractors to the public sector; and
  • contractors who provide their services to a public authority through an intermediary.

Before the changes take effect, public authorities, agencies and third parties supplying contractors will need to consider existing contracts and make the appropriate preparations. Whilst it is for the public authority to determine whether off-payroll working rules apply when engaging a worker through a personal service company, anyone who believes they may be affected should seek further advice.

Changes to company carry-forward of losses confirmed

Initially announced at the time of the 2016 Budget and following a period of consultation, Finance Bill 2017 contains provisions to reform the tax treatment of certain types of carried-forward loss for corporation tax purposes with effect from 1 April 2017.

Losses arising from 1 April 2017, when carried forward, will have increased flexibility and can be set against the total taxable profits of a company and its group members (referred to as the ‘loss relaxation’).

For all carried-forward losses, whenever they arose, companies will be able only to use the losses against up to 50% of profits (known as the ‘loss restriction’). Each standalone company or group will be entitled to a £5 million annual allowance. Profits within the allowance will not be restricted, ensuring 99% of companies are unaffected by the restriction.

Both the loss restriction and loss relaxation will apply to:

  • trading losses;
  • non-trading deficits on loan relationships;
  • management expenses;
  • UK property losses; and
  • non-trading losses on intangible fixed assets.

Whilst pre-April 2017 trading losses will not be relaxed, companies will have the flexibility to choose whether or not to use pre-April 2017 trading losses before other available losses.

If a company’s trade ceases and the company has unused carried-forward losses of that trade, those losses can be set without restriction against profits arising in the final 36 months of the trade. Post-April 2017 losses will be able to be set against total profits, whilst pre-2017 losses trading losses will only be able to be set against profits of the same trade. The profits on which losses can be carried-back against will be limited to those generated from 1 April 2017.

The legislation contains loss buying rules which will mean that where a company or group of companies is acquired, any post-April 2017 carried-forward losses that arose before the company or group’s acquisition will not be available to the purchaser’s group for five years.

The legislation also contains a targeted anti-avoidance rule which will prevent any arrangements being entered into with a main purpose of obtaining a benefit from the loss reform rules.

March 2017 Q&A

Q. Will I have to pay stamp duty land tax on a property I am about to inherit?

A. Stamp duty land tax (SDLT) is generally payable on land transactions. There is a land transaction when land passes to a beneficiary under a will, or by virtue of the law on intestacy. However, the legislation governing SDLT (Finance Act 2003, Schedule 3, para. 3A) provides that the acquisition of property by a person:

  • in or towards satisfaction of his entitlement under or in relation to the will of a deceased person,
  • on the intestacy of a deceased person

is exempt from SDLT.

You should note though that this exemption does not apply where the beneficiary gives consideration other than the assumption of secured debt or the acceptance of an obligation to pay inheritance tax. Secured debt is debt that, immediately after the death of the deceased person, was secured on the land. The most common example of this is a mortgage to the extent that the mortgage is not paid off on death.

The exemption applies whether the transfer is to a sole beneficiary or to joint beneficiaries.

Q. I run a small business but I am registered for VAT. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the annual accounting scheme?

A. The annual accounting scheme aims to help small businesses by allowing them to submit only one VAT return annually. During the course of the year, fixed sums are paid to HMRC – based on the previous year’s liability – and a balancing payment is made, if necessary, once the annual return has been prepared.

Key points of the scheme are as follows:

  • A business can join the scheme providing its taxable turnover does not exceed £1,350,000 per annum.
  • The business must stop using the scheme if its taxable turnover exceeded £1,600,000 per annum in the previous accounting year of the scheme.
  • The business makes nine monthly payments of 10% of the total paid in the previous year or, if newly registered, the amount it is expecting to pay in the next 12 months. Alternatively, it can choose to pay 25% quarterly.
  • HMRC may agree to alter the level of interim payments if the business trading pattern changes.
  • A business may not obtain approval to use the scheme if it owes a significant debt to HMRC.
  • Payments start on the last working day of the fourth month of the scheme’s accounting year and must be made by standing order, direct debit, or other electronic means.
  • The annual VAT return, together with any balance due to HMRC, is submitted two months from the end of the scheme’s accounting year. This means that a business gets an extra month over the time limit applicable to a normal return.
  • The scheme may assist some businesses with cash flow, particularly where the business is seasonal. For example, if the busiest trading period is in the summer, a scheme year ending, say, 31 January, will spread the payments, thus assisting cash flow. It may also be more convenient to produce both the annual VAT return and the annual accounts at a quieter time of the year.
  • It is generally felt within the accountancy profession that the discipline of preparing a quarterly VAT return helps businesses to keep their records up to date and on top of their financial affairs.

Q. I live in a leasehold flat in a property in which there are six other leasehold flats. The opportunity has arisen for the leaseholders to buy the freehold reversion from the landlord and all of the leaseholders have agreed to contribute equally towards the purchase. Our solicitor has advised a limited company should be set up to buy the freehold. Are there any tax consequences involved here?

A. The Law of Property Act 1925 stipulates that a maximum of four persons can be the legal owners of land and property, which is likely to be the reasoning behind your solicitor suggesting the use of a company. This restriction, however, only applies for legal ownership, which means that named persons could hold the ownership as trustees for other persons too. Tax is usually based on beneficial ownership, not legal ownership and a ‘bare trust’ is often used in cases where one or more persons would hold the freehold reversion as bare trustee for all the leaseholders. For tax purposes, the tenants would be deemed to own their share of the freehold absolutely. A similar arrangement can exist in a company providing the company is a ‘nominee company’ which is the corporate equivalent of a bare trust. This too would have the same consequences as a bare trust.