Fixed rate deduction for expenditure on vehicles etc

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16th January 2018.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 14—Fixed rate deduction for expenditure on vehicles: review of change to eligibility—

“(1) Within twelve months after the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effects of the amendments made by section 36 allowing unincorporated property businesses to use flat rates for mileage when calculating allowable deductions for vehicle expenditure for income tax.

(2) The review under this section must consider—

(a) the revenue effects of the change made, and

(b) the effect of the change on rates of car usage in unincorporated property businesses.

(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons the report of the review under this section as soon as practicable after its completion.”

This new clause provides for a review into the effects on revenue and on car use of allowing unincorporated property businesses to use flat rates, commonly referred to as mileage rates, when calculating allowed deductions for income tax.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 36 makes changes to ensure that unincorporated property businesses have the option to use mileage rates to calculate their allowable deductions for motoring expenses. Trading businesses have been able to use mileage rates since 2013. That gives individuals the choice to use fixed rates per business mile to calculate their allowable deductions for motoring expenses, instead of deducting actual running costs and claiming capital allowances. However, that simpler option has not been available to landlords.

The changes made by clause 36 address that, giving more than 2.3 million property businesses the option to use mileage rates to calculate their allowable deductions for motoring expenses, and providing administrative savings to approximately 1.8 million property businesses. Mileage rates are also available to landlords using the cash basis, bringing further simplicity to that group’s tax affairs.

Extending mileage rates to property businesses is one of the most effective steps that we can take to simplify the tax system for landlords, and it is a change that stakeholders asked for during a recent consultation. The clause, legislating for the measure announced in the autumn Budget 2017, applies from April 2017, so landlords can benefit immediately.

The new clause tabled by Opposition Members asks for the Government to review the effects of the change on tax revenue and on rates of car usage by property businesses. I appreciate the Opposition’s desire to test and examine the impacts of policy changes, but in this instance there would be little for a review to study. The policy cost, certified by the Office for Budget Responsibility, is negligible for every year of the forecast. Mileage rates are designed to reflect average costs for those who use a vehicle, so the measure is a tax simplification, not a tax reduction. We would not expect any significant difference in how many property businesses use a car, either.

Landlords will take decisions based on the practicalities of running their business. The tax difference would not be significant enough for us to expect any increase or decrease in the number using a car. As identified in the tax information impact note, because the same flat mileage rate is applied for all cars, that may provide some incentive for businesses to use smaller, more efficient cars with lower operating costs. This measure will simplify the tax system further for many landlords, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Before we proceed, I remind all hon. Members, both new and longer in the tooth, that all new clauses are debated with other items now but voted on at the end of the Bill. We will not miss it, do not worry; we will come to it in due course.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Thank you, Sir Roger, and I will aim to keep my remarks brief. This measure was requested by stakeholders during consultations in autumn 2016, particularly on the use of the cash basis in general. As the Minister said, it appears to offer more consistency for different groups of taxpayers, particularly self-employed traders and employees, and unincorporated property businesses. None the less, Labour Members are requesting a review of the measure because we think it important to have more information about its potential revenue effects. The Minister has said that the change is largely to the basis of calculation, but if we are talking about a shift to mileage rates rather than the value of the business technology used in the first place—the car—that could be significant for the amount of tax levied, and it would be helpful to have more information on that.

We know that public services and revenues are under a huge amount of pressure, but we do not have a clear view of the overall impact of reliefs on Government revenue. That point came up in our discussions last week, and a number of my colleagues rightly intervened on it. It would be helpful to have more information about that, and about whether there could be unintended consequences. Such consequences would affect self-employed traders and employees who use mileage rates—it is not just a matter for landlords who might be covered by the new provisions—and it would be helpful to know whether, for example, there has been any consideration of trying to reduce car use in general. Some of the small one-man, one-woman bands who might be covered by the measure could be landlords of a small number of properties in a small geographical area. The Government should consider how to enable people not to use a car in the first place, and it would be helpful to hear their thinking on that.

I fondly remember how, when I was a student, my landlord used to cycle around with his dog—sadly now deceased—in the basket of his bike, and that was how he got around his properties. [Interruption.] The landlord is still going, as I understand it; only the dog is deceased.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The bike, I think, is still going as well. I still see my previous landlord cycling between his properties, and perhaps we should aim to promote that model, particularly when we are talking about small concerns. I am not belittling the transport requirements of larger landlords or those with properties that are geographically spread out, but it would be helpful to consider such measures. It would also be useful to know whether a thorough analysis has been made of the administrative burdens that the measure might create. The Minister alluded to that, but more information would be helpful.

May we have an indication of the extent to which the Government will try to prevent abuse in this area? I am aware that that already applies to the use of this basis by self-employed traders and employees, but during the Minister’s remarks I was reminded of debates about the business use of private jets, which came up in discussions on the Paradise papers. I have talked to the Isle of Man’s representatives about this. They maintain that activities have generally been above board, and that they are sorting out activities that have not been. We all remember the video of Lewis Hamilton enjoying his new private jet, which, in theory, was just for business use. It appears that appropriate safeguards had not been put in place to make sure that the jet was just for private use.

How are we ensuring that, in these kind of cases and more generally, cars are used overwhelmingly for business use? I believe it is a question of whether they are predominantly for business use. We are talking about small landlords, so it could be quite difficult to make that distinction. It is about how we prevent abuse while protecting the interests of small business.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I thank the hon. Member for Oxford East for her observations, particularly the curious incident of the dead dog and the bike, which I think might end up being one of the most memorable statements in the passage of the Bill.

The hon. Lady eloquently alluded to the impact of such measures on the size or type of vehicles used to carry out the business activities that we are discussing. I point to my earlier remark that, if a fixed rate per mile can be claimed, there is an incentive to use a less expensive means of transport, be it a bicycle or a less polluting vehicle, while claiming the mileage. A useful dynamic, in terms of her interest in this area, is built into the system.

As I have pointed out, the measure is a simplification, not a tax reduction. That is a pertinent point when it comes to a review of behavioural change, because it does not change the overall weight of the tax burden on this group. As I have set out, the Office for Budget Responsibility has stated that the fiscal impact of the measure will be negligible—meaning that the impact will not exceed £5 million in any year—in every year of the scorecard period, albeit that 1.8 million businesses are affected by it.

The hon. Lady asked how we will know if people are abusing the system by claiming mileage allowances for a use other than business use, or for travel that has not occurred. That problem is implicit in any arrangement of this nature, in which expenses are claimed as a tax deduction. HMRC has become more and more sophisticated in how it looks at tax returns—that is clearly how such information would be provided—and it uses technology to look for patterns and abnormalities. It sometimes looks at whole subsets of taxpayers that have a greater propensity to do certain things, and it therefore investigates members of those groups more rigorously. That would be part of the approach.

Overall, I do not think it is necessary to have a review, particularly given the negligible impact of the change. On the grounds of proportionality, I ask the hon. Lady to consider withdrawing the new clause.

The new clause cannot be withdrawn at this stage, because it has not been moved. It will be moved later, as I have indicated.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37