Sunday, 21 July 2013

Tax avoidance versus Tax evasion….

A lot of people confuse tax avoidance and tax evasion. It can be a dangerous mistake to make!

As the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey said once:

“The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall”.

What can’t be stressed enough is that the two terms – and the actions each entails – are definitely not the same thing.

  • Tax avoidance involves using whatever legal means you choose to reduce your current or future tax liabilities.

  • Tax evasion means doing illegal things to avoid paying taxes. It’s the Al Capone path to financial freedom.

I’ve never evaded taxes, I don’t condone it, and I couldn’t tell you how it’s done.

Tax avoidance is another matter.  As the tax  have risen in the Western countries to pay down public debt, it makes sense for business to do what they can to reduce their tax burden without overly compromising other aspects of their lives.

The United Kingdom and jurisdictions following the UK approach (such as New Zealand) have recently adopted the evasion/avoidance terminology as used in the United States: evasion is a criminal attempt to avoid paying tax owed while avoidance is an attempt to use the law to reduce taxes owed

There is, however, a further distinction drawn between tax avoidance and tax mitigation. Tax avoidance is a course of action designed to conflict with or defeat the evident intention of Parliament.

Tax mitigation is conduct which reduces tax liabilities without “tax avoidance” (not contrary to the intention of Parliament), for instance, by gifts to charity or investments in certain assets which qualify for tax relief. This is important for tax provisions which apply in cases of “avoidance”: they are held not to apply in cases of mitigation.

I suspect this is largely a courtroom debate, caused by the Revenue looking to close down schemes of dubious legality created by planners for wealthy individuals.

So if I have to pull back my thoughts on where we started from, in very simple terms, tax avoidance is legal, but tax evasion is illegal and you risk prosecution for breaking the law.     

However, in some sophisticated cases the Taxman has been trying to blur the boundaries and claim some forms of tax avoidance are illegal.

A few examples will show the difference…

• The most common example of Tax Evasion amongst small businesses is making cash sales and not putting this money into your bank account or recording it in your accounting records, so the tax man will never know about it, or so you think!

• A slightly more thought out example, may be making up some forged purchase invoices. You write out the cheques to pay them with the name of the fictitious supplier on the cheque stub but it’s actually made payable to you and goes into a secret offshore account. Again, this is tax evasion and is illegal.

• Choosing to run your business as a Limited Company rather than as a sole trader in order to benefit from lower rates of tax paid by Limited Companies is an example of tax avoidance and is legal.

But it’s not always black and white, there are grey areas…

This may be because the law itself is in question or the facts of your particular case are in question. It often arises that HMRC may interpret something in one way, surprisingly to their advantage, but the accountant and the taxpayer may interpret it differently.

Please remember that HMRC do not make the law of the land and they often can get it wrong. Be prepared to stand up for your rights if necessary and don’t be bullied by them.

You should fight HMRC on technical grounds, but you need to be very sure of your facts and the law. If you can’t come to an agreement with HMRC, the matter normally ends up before the first tier Tax Tribunals who are an informal independent Tax Court to decide the matter. Many accountants don’t like going to the tribunal but they shouldn’t be afraid to go if they have a reasonable argument.

HMRC know it costs you money in accountants’ fees to argue with them and you may back down as the tax saved is not worth it after paying your accountant. In these situations look at getting your accountant to work on a no win, no fee basis for you if you aren’t already covered for Tax investigation issues.

The good news is that this is something we offer as standard within our accounting package which means you never have to worry about HMRC investigations. 

So if you are looking for accountants who aren’t afraid to challenge HMRC and fight your corner when you are right plus offers complete peace of mind for any HMRC investigation then get in touch with us. Please visit or call 020 8931 0165.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Top Tips For Contractors

If you are already contracting or perhaps thinking of contracting then following 10 tax planning tips will help.

1. Go Limited

This may sounds immediately obvious but this is the first step any contractor/freelancer should take if they want to maximize their disposable income as far as legally possible. By setting up a limited company typical contractor/freelancer should be able to save around 20 – 30p in the £ of tax when compared to PAYE, umbrella co or being self employed.

2. Register for Flat Rate scheme of VAT

This is a potential winner for contractors/freelancers and is easier to administer. In some circumstances it can even save you tax! On the flat rate scheme you pay a fixed amount of VAT based on your turnover (including VAT). The fixed rate depends upon your profession/trade and is pre-determined by HMRC. You can only join this scheme if your turnover is expected to be lower than £150,000 per annum. And don’t forget for the first year you also get discount of 1% on normal VAT rate. So for e.g. it will be 13.5% instead of usual 14.5% for IT contractors. Also note that you can claim input VAT( this is vat you pay for purchasing items like computer etc) if it has been incurred prior to registering for flat rate VAT

3. Pay yourself a minimal (director) salary

The whole purpose of setting up limited company is take advantage of tax planning techniques in order to pay minimum tax. As at 2012/13, the amount you can take tax free is £8,105 which equates to £675 per month. This is the level of an individual’s personal allowance for income tax. The NIC free allowance is £7,605 and is payable at 12% for any salary amount between £7,605 and £34,870 and 2% on any amounts thereafter.

4. Claim All Eligible Expenses

There are a suite of expenses contractors/freelancers can claim that they do not realise. Expenses through your Ltd Co. attracts corporation tax relief at 20% (small business rate). However, there are strict rules on expenses and carelessness or ignorance does not bode well with the tax authorities.

5. Time your dividend extractions correctly

Dividends are a key tool for contractors/freelancers wishing to extract money out of their Ltd Co’s as drawings. Timing your dividend extraction can be a useful tactic in saving tax. In 2012/13 a contractor/freelancer has up to £31,500 (net) dividends (per shareholder) they can extract without incurring additional tax. Any amounts above this will incur an additional dividend tax of 32.5% (effective rate is 25% after the notional tax credit of 10%) and 42.5% for any amounts above £150,000.

6. Claim the AIA on capital assets

If you buy a capital asset (items such as laptops, hardware, fixture and furniture for your office), you can claim what is known as a first year capital allowance. The first year capital allowance is like an accelerated depreciation charge that provides tax relief in the year of purchase. In 2012/13, the first year allowance is £25,000 although there are transitional rules in place.

7. Ensure you comply with IR35 rules

IR35 is a piece of tax legislation that assesses contractors/freelancers based on the substance of their working arrangements. Being caught inside of IR35 can defeat the object of running your contractor/freelancer business through a Ltd Co. IR35 is assessed on a contract by contract basis.

8. Making your spouse/civil partner a partner or shareholder in your business to reduce your tax bill

If your spouse/civil partner earns less than the single persons allowance of £9,440 per year and helps out in your business you can pay them a wage to reduce your taxable profits. A wage of between £109 and £148 per week will not create a national insurance charge, but it will help your spouse gain credits toward the state pension and other state benefits.

9. Financial products

• Pension contributions

• Relevant life policy (life assurance)

• Investment products

Why not get your Ltd Co. to pay your pension contributions or life assurance premiums? This attracts corporation tax relief instantly and is a great way get the taxman to make a contribution to both. A director can set up an executive pension scheme and get the company to make (reasonable) contributions to get their life assurance paid through the company by way of a relevant life policy.

10. Entrepreneur’s relief

This is available to contractors/freelancers who are selling/closing down their Ltd Co’s. Once all other tax-efficient means have been utilised (director salary & dividends), entrepreneurs relief can be applied to any remaining funds in the company taxed at only 10%. However, this is subject to a whole host of criteria being satisfied.

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