Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Tax bible size" - The increasing volume of tax legislation

I was amused to see a photo in the paper today to accompany a story drawn from Tolley's press release: New tax 'Bible' has four volumes. This being the 'yellow book' of tax legislation that I grew up with before the CCH red and green versions also started to become popular.

The increasing complexity of UK tax rules was highlighted after the latest Tolley's tax bible hit bookshelves at more than double its size 11 years ago.

This year's Tolley's Yellow Tax Handbook runs to 10,134 pages spanning four hefty volumes, up from just under 5,000 pages in 1997.

And Tolley's publisher LexisNexis said the 2008 edition would have been even bigger if it had not increased the number of words on each page.

The photo comprised a pile of ten year's worth of 'yellow' books alongside a member of staff who was only marginally taller than the pile.

I was reminded of the ICAEW Tax Faculty's latest commentary on the same subject. For some years they have been reporting their benchmarking monitor of tax complexity known as Big Ben’s Statutory Tax Burden. It compares the number of pages in each Finance Act and uses this as a simple, but effective, proxy for how complex our tax legislation has become.

This year's Act contains 451 A4 size pages. As this paper size was only adopted relatively recently the Tax Faculty has made the necessary adjustment when identifying comparative figures. In July they reported that the average number of pages in the second half of the noughties (2005 to 2008), is 407 which is 30 per cent more than in the equivalent period beginning ten years’ earlier, 1995 to 1999. It is nearly 3 times greater than in the early 1980s when I qulaified as an accountant and started to specialise in tax work. In those days the average size of a Finance Act was only 153 pages.

This year’s Finance Act also has the dubious honour of containing the greatest number (46) of Schedules of any Finance Act over the past 30 years.

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again. Good luck to those of you who continue to be able to keep track of all relevant tax changes and laws. Regular readers will know that I've given up on that myself - I explained my reasons here. Instead I established the Tax Advice Network that enables you to access specialist tax advisers who still enjoy keeping upto date and providing expert tax support. - And when I see reports like this one I count myself very lucky!

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