Monday, 27 February 2012

Bank tax dodges halted by retrospective law

 

A bank in the UK has been forced to pay more than half a billion pounds in tax which it had dodged by using "highly abusive" tax avoidance schemes. One tax dodge involved the bank claiming it should not have to pay corporation tax on profits made when buying back its own IOUs. The government said it would change the law retrospectively and immediately to stop anyone else using the scheme. The identity of the bank has so far not been revealed. Announcing the crackdown, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, said the bank should never have devised the schemes in the first place. "The bank that disclosed these schemes to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has adopted the Banking Code of Practice on Taxation which contains a commitment not to engage in tax avoidance," he said. "The government is clear that these are not transactions that a bank that has adopted the code should be undertaking. "We do not take today's action lightly, but the potential tax loss from this scheme and the history of previous abuse in this area mean that this is a circumstance where the decision to change the law with full retrospective effect is justified," he added. The second tax avoidance scheme, designed by the same bank, involved investment funds claiming that non-taxable income entitled the funds to tax credits that could be reclaimed from HMRC. The Treasury described this as "an attempt to secure 'repayment' from the Exchequer of tax that has not been paid". Compulsory notification A Treasury source suggested that outlawing the tax dodges immediately would save the government a further £2bn in tax that would otherwise have been foregone. The bank in question in fact disclosed the two schemes to the tax authorities under rules which have been in place since 2004. Anyone, such as a bank, accountant, lawyer or tax adviser, who devises a seemingly legal tax avoidance plan, is obliged to tell the tax authorities about it within a few days of using it or marketing it to clients. More than 2,000 schemes have been disclosed in the past eight years. "Quite a few of the disclosures have come from banks in the past," said John Whiting, of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). "They are usually intended to sell to others such as clients." New code The banking code on taxation was first introduced by the Labour government in June 2009. It followed reports that some big banks used large scale tax avoidance schemes involving complex transactions and financial instruments. The code - which was supported by the incoming coalition government the following year - demands that banks which sign ensure that their tax and the tax obligations of their customers are observed. It says they should not go out of their way to avoid tax for themselves or clients. The 15 biggest banks operating in the UK have signed up. 'Treated even-handedly' In a separate development, HMRC said it would appoint a senior official to act as an "assurance commissioner" for any tax deals struck with big companies for more than £100m. The job of the commissioner will be to make sure taxpayers in general do not suffer from any such settlements. The move follows severe criticism last December from MPs on the public accounts committee who denounced HMRC for appearing to cut contentious tax deals with companies such as Vodafone and Goldman Sachs. Lin Homer, the new HMRC chief executive said: "This commissioner will take the role of challenging whether any proposed settlement secured the correct amount of tax efficiently and that taxpayers had been treated even-handedly." "The commissioner will also make sure that the governance procedures have been followed," she added.

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