Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tax trap of the week: Film Schemes - were they missold?

On the one hand tax breaks for the British film industry have just been extended until 2015. There have long been plenty of promoters of film scheme 'investments' that exploit the tax breaks - which have varied over the years. However tax schemes are rarely as simple as they may seem. Just this week I heard of a group of investors who don't understand why they are having to pay tax by reference to film schemes they invested in some years ago.

I suspect some will claim that they were victims of what might be termed 'misselling'. Although equally the investors may not have read the small print. At it's simplest the old film schemes could be described as the equivalent of getting an upfront loan (by way of a tax refund) from HMRC that would, effectively, be repaid over a 15 year period. The law was changed in 2006.

The problem is that, prior to the rule change, many advisers and investors focused only on the upfront tax refund. Investors either did not understand or chose to ignore the longer term cashflows. These were always going to result in tax being paid on profits from the film - and there had to be an expectation of profits or the scheme would not have been commercial. The profits would not be paid out however so the investors have to pay the tax out of their own resources - hence the confusion I noted earlier.

The schemes would still have appeared attractive as long as the investor expected to invest the tax refunds so as to generate a return that should exceed the tax payable over the next 15 years.

Although tax reliefs will continue to be available through to 2015, many past investors are losing faith in their film scheme investments. Some of the more aggressive and/or controversial schemes are being struck down. The courts are deciding that investors were not entitled to tax refunds (under the old rules) after all. The first tier tax tribunal found in favour of HMRC in September as regards two separate film partnerships promoted by Future Films (Samarkand Film Partnership No 3 and Proteus Film Partnership No 1). And 250 investors in another film partnership, that reportedly generated £117 tax benefits, are awaiting the outcome of another tribunal hearing.

The forecast does not look good for the outcome of these appeals or those re other more controversial tax avoidance schemes. As I have long maintained, a favourable Counsel's opinion does not mean you will win if HMRC challenge your tax scheme. It simply means you should be safe from charges of tax evasion if HMRC win. And therefore only liable to pay the tax and interest without any further penalty - if everything was fully disclosed.


  1. I totally agree

    I never understood them

    I have a friend who went into one and had to re-mortgage the house as a guarantee in the scheme got called - cost him £100,000

    Sounds like we should organise a mis-selling claim !

  2. I was "sold" one of these "investments". Although it looked like an investment, (if you invested the initial return), it still worked out much the same as a 15 year loan but with the added worry and complication of tax matters that far exceed our knowledge and pockets. they certainly should not be sold to ordinary people. The added worry, costs and potential investigations at every turn were never mentioned by the salesman. As for the small print, I read it but was assured at the time that this scheme was an investment and risk was mitigated. It's a constant worry, a drain on finance and the point is that the advisers have zero liability and all the profit from both the investor and the actual scheme.