Thursday, October 27, 2011

Did Vince refuse to engage in tax 'avoidance'?

Leaving aside Vince's well publicised Tax Mistake on which I commented in my last blog post, there is another angle to the story.  Did Vince refuse to engage in what he perceived to be 'tax avoidance' even though the facility in question is set out very clearly in the rules?

I was wondering why Vince's accountant (Myrus Smith) hadn't encouraged him to register for VAT long before the problem became apparent.

They seem to be a reputable firm and I suspect they did give him the advice any decent accountant would have done. But clearly Vince did not register early.  He also seems to have ignored the standard advice that he would need to monitor his income as the year progressed, and then register for VAT once his earnings were likely to exceed the registration threshold.  This is of course harder to do in practice than in theory - despite the rules.

I suspect that his accountants gave him good advice. I suspect that they explained to Vince that he could register for VAT even when his earnings were below the VAT registration threshold. And that if he did so it would reduce his taxes.

There are two angles here. The first is that once registered Vince would simply be charging his clients VAT and then paying over this VAT to HMRC. But it would also mean that he could claim a reduction for the VAT he paid on all business related expenses. This would have saved him money.

The second angle is that he could have registered to use HMRC's official VAT flat rate scheme. This is particularly beneficial for smaller businesses with very low outgoings. I suspect Vince was in this position and could have saved hundreds of pounds a year had he registered.

But to Saint Vince, both of the above tax savings might have sounded like 'tax avoidance'. As such he probably chose not to register for VAT before it was necessary and then lost out by leaving it too late.

If I'm right this is as good an example as any that the term 'tax avoidance' is being used too widely.

What do you think?

Vince wins Tax mistake of the week - tho there's more to this than meets the eye

I couldn't resist bringing this blog out of hibernation to comment on the story about Vince Cable and the £500 fine he paid for failing to register for VAT. (And who can blame the Sun for reporting this under the headline 'Vince Avoids Tax').

Of course he wins my Tax Mistake of the Week award.

But I have some questions that the mainstream media seem to have missed. And in so doing they have misreported the story.

1 - Did Vince or any of his staff issue invoices for the fees and royalties that he earned during the year in question? If not how will he satisfy HMRC re the adequacy of his books and records? (I mean his accounting books and records, not the book he wrote or his Dancing records!) Let's assume the answer to this questions is 'yes'.

2 - Was VAT added to the fees he charged? If so, the invoices will have falsely suggested to his clients and publisher that he was registered for VAT and they will have accounted for VAT in error. So this probably didn't happen.

3 - But, if VAT wasn't added then his taxable income will have been overstated. Has he claimed his tax refund? For example on just one invoice he would have paid income tax on £8,000 but HMRC have now deemed this to include VAT such that his taxable income should be reduced to £6,667.

4 - How much has this error really cost Vince?
If his taxable income is now lower than he thought he will also have gifted more to charity than he intended to do so. In the above example, Vince is said to have gifted the KPMG fee of £8,000 to charity (under Gift Aid presumably).  He has sufficient other income to cover this but his 'embarrassing' error has cost him more than the fine. He's out of pocket by the excess donations to charity. And if he hasn't claimed back the additional income tax then that's a further cost too.

There is also the question of whether Vince would have been treated as generously by HMRC under the new new penalty regime. And whether he received any special treatment.
I doubt we will ever know.

Let me be clear. I sympathise with Vince's embarrassment and agree that he did absolutely the right thing in sorting things out, unprompted, as soon as the oversight was brought to his attention.  He neither sought to nor did he avoid any tax. Indeed he may well have refused to engage in what was to him tax avoidance by registering early for VAT. (See next blog post).

The above points are relevant to each invoice Vince issued for his speeches and for his book royalties. For example it has been reported that Vince charged £8,000 for a speech to KPMG. Did he invoice £8,000 or £9,600 (being £8,000 plus VAT)? If he only charged £8,000 then HMRC are deeming this to be VAT inclusive. The VAT included in such a fee would be £1,333 leaving net earnings of £6,667.