2011 Conference Review
Nearly 300 accountants packed into the Great Hall at the ICAEW for the 2011 UK Tax Investigations Conference which was organised by leading Fee Protection provider PFP; www.pfponline.com.
The Perspective from the HMRC
Dave Hartnett put up a staunch defence of HMRC’s approach and record over the last 12 months. Mr Hartnett said that the HMRC had doubled the amount of revenue received by HMRC from tax and penalties over the last 5 years. He also said that HMRC intended to employ an additional 2000 people over the next few years. He said that initiatives such as the “plumbers amnesty” had been highly successful although he was unable to give exact figures as to the amount of additional tax accrued from this approach. He also said that HMRC's recent approach very much proved that they had not gone “soft” on big businesses.
Mr Hartnett received a barrage of questions from the delegates during the question and answer section after his speech. Many delegates commented on what they perceived as the poor level of technical knowledge displayed by some HMRC staff.
The conference also featured many leading Tax Investigation speakers from across the UK these included Kevin Igoe (Claims Director at PFP), John Cassidy (PKF), Helen Mackenzie (Cheine & Tait), Sean Wakeman (Crowe Clark Whitehill) and Gary Brothers (Mazars).
Claims Director, PFP
Latest Approach To Compliance
Kevin Igoe, who was the conference chairman, was delighted with the feedback from delegates about the all day conference. Kevin's keynote address focussed on the latest HMRC compliance initiatives and discussed a number of ways in which HMRC are seeking to increase the yield from tax investigations.
It is on record that HMRC are looking to increase the tax yield by an extra £7 billion per year from tackling non compliance. It is also quite clear from Dave Hartnett's remarks that they see SME’s as being a priority area for their work in this regard. SME's be warned. If the recession doesn't get you HMRC may well do.Kevin Igoe - Claims Director, PFP
PKF (UK) LLP
Visits To Business Premises
During his speech John Cassidy from PKF commented on the fact that HMRC’s new powers are many, but they are not as powerful as some inspectors would have you believe; there are many safeguards built in for a reason. For example he said that there is no power to force the business proprietor to answer questions or to insist on entry into the premises in the first place. He also warned that clients should always be thoroughly briefed before an HMRC visit and the visitors should be properly managed. He said that Advisers need to be fully aware of where the boundaries lie and what their clients rights (and the inspector’s powers) are and able to make quick judgements on whether to volunteer data or not. John felt that advisers should not be afraid to challenge HMRC and they should not undertake work that they are not properly experienced in if the client is to receive the best possible service.
Chiene + Tait
Dealing With VAT Problems
Helen MacKenzie from Cheine & Tait highlighted some of the areas of VAT that frequently cause difficulty with HMRC and suggested appropriate methods of dealing with them. The first part of her speech focussed on difficulties arising with the 'business' test and the consequent determination of income is within or outside the scope of VAT, the attribution of input tax for partial exemption purposes and the complex rules that apply to land and property transactions. The second part focussed on procedures and HMRC clearances, compliance visits and enquiries. The overall message from Helen was that advisors need to be aware of the relevant legislation and regulation so that clients can minimise the net cost of VAT. Helen said that on some occasions HMRC incorrectly interpret the rules and a robust argument and determination is required to get the best result.
Crowe Clark Whitehill
Confessions Of A Tax Investigations Specialist
Sean Wakeman, partner in charge of tax investigations at Crowe Clark Whitehill, spoke about the ‘reach’ of information powers under Schedule 36 FA 2008, and offered extremely helpful hints of how to handle demands by reference to the legislation and HMRC’s own internal manuals. He went on to discuss the pitfalls for non-specialists of handling cases of suspected serious fraud, and how a trained eye can quickly pick up on the ingredients of a tax fraud in contrast to a general practitioner who has to wear so many different hats nowadays. Next he spoke of how he had lost confidence in the complaints system and the work of the Adjudicator’s Office, now favouring a different approach with HMRC policy-makers or Members of Parliament. Finally, Sean talked about the considerable advantages of making voluntary disclosures via the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility particularly where issues extended over many years or involved large sums of money. All of these areas were poignantly and interestingly illustrated by real case studies involving real people with fantastic results.
The Tribunal Process - Let Peace Prevail!
I was delighted to be able to talk about the tactical advantage that the Tribunal system can offer in disputed tax cases across the range of areas discussed. I wholeheartedly believe that practitioners ignore the opportunity at their peril. Whilst costs can be an issue, so candidates need choosing wisely, we are always happy to talk to advisors about supporting them and their clients both through and to the Tribunals process. If a potential Tribunal matter allows a ‘success fee’ approach, we will discuss this with advisors and clients. However the message I wanted to get over was that advisors are weakening their position if they choose to dismiss the Tribunal route as a tactical choice.Gary Brothers, Mazars LLP
If you would like to purchase a copy of the speaker notes please contact The UK Tax Investigations Conference team at firstname.lastname@example.org. The speaker notes cost £99.
Feedback from Delegates
As someone who attends and speaks at many conferences I have to say that, in my view, the inaugural Tax Investigations Conference was one of the best I have been to. Many conferences include detailed technical analysis of the tax legislation, whereas a major attraction of the Tax Investigations Conference was its focus on the practical issues faced by practitioners and clients as a result of that legislation. For example, my own session on visits to business premises was not a trawl through the relatively new rules, but advice on what practitioners could and should be doing and saying to their clients and HMRC in order manage the whole process properly. All the speakers were very experienced in their areas and were able to draw on numerous real life experiences in order to illustrate their points. All too often at conferences the audience is slightly reluctant to get involved but attendees engaged throughout the day and raised a significant amount of issues concerning situations they are facing - they were clearly listening!John Cassidy, Keynote Speaker
The content of what was said by the speakers was diverse and useful. It was also very beneficial to have a Q&A as the day went on as opposed to having to wait to the end. The way the questions were handled for the delegates with a microphone set up worked really well. By having Dave Hartnett there, I think the conference became an event, not just a conference as he is a major attraction and one of the main reasons two of us from Ormerod Rutter attended.Anthony Middleton, Ormerod Rutter
Speakers and content were good… I can only say, well done!Chris Harman, Lambert Chapman