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Loan Charge 2019: Sir Amyas Morse Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:11 pm, 19th March 2020

I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and Ruth Cadbury for securing this debate today, and I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions. It is a measure of the effect they perceive on their constituents that, in these circumstances, they are here in such numbers.

The outbreak of covid-19 has created extraordinary circumstances, and it is important to say up front that the Government are keeping the situation under close review, as elsewhere, and will take a proportionate and reasonable approach to anyone covered by the loan charge who is unable to file their return by 30 September. That date has been moved back to give people enough time to respond to the Morse report and its recommendations, but the Government will insist that HMRC takes a proportionate and reasonable approach to anyone covered by the loan charge who is unable to file their return by 30 September.

Anyone who believes they may be affected by this should please contact HMRC as soon as possible. Equally, we must recognise that HMRC’s workforce may well be affected by the outbreak. Where appropriate, HMRC has made it clear that it will take steps to support anyone who has been disadvantaged by delays at its end as a result of covid-19. As the House will know, HMRC has already established a helpline to support any businesses and individuals affected. Peter Dowd raised that issue, and I can confirm the helpline has now been in place for some time and has an expert and supportive staff behind it.

As this debate has made clear, the loan charge, and with it the wider issue of using disguised remuneration schemes to avoid tax, has been the subject of public concern and considerable controversy. Let us be clear that tax is never popular, and my colleagues and I recognise the strength of feeling and sympathise with those who may be subject to the charge. Today’s motion reflects some of the arguments and concerns expressed by colleagues that the loan charge is retrospective and unjust and that the law was not settled, it is claimed, until 2017. If I may, I will deal with each of those charges in turn.

First, however, we need to be clear what we are talking about. Disguised remuneration is a term of art—it is a fancy term—but the House should be under no illusion as to what it amounts to. Such schemes are a form of contrived tax avoidance in which people are paid in the form of a loan with no interest and no intention or requirement to pay the loan back.