Review of effects on public finances

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 29th November 2018.

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17A The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected revenue effects of the changes made to capital gains tax returns and payments on account in this in this Schedule, along with an estimate of the difference between the amount of tax required to be paid to the Commissioners under those provisions and the amount paid, and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.’

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the effect on public finances, and on reducing the tax gap, of the changes made to capital gains tax in Schedule 2.

That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I wonder whether it should be the Opposition speaking to their amendments, as opposed to me proceeding, though I am happy to do so.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

The lead question is clause stand part. I assumed that the Minister would want to speak. If he prefers to wait, that is fine; the debate is open to those who want to speak to amendments.

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

I am happy to proceed as you suggest, Mr Howarth, and to respond briefly to the Opposition speeches later.

The clause and schedule 2 introduce a requirement on UK residents to pay capital gains tax through payments on account when disposing of residential property. They also amend a similar requirement for non-residents. Parts 1 and 2 of the schedule bring all the main rules together in one place.

For income tax, employees are taxed throughout the tax year as part of the pay-as-you-earn system. Self-employed people pay their income tax liabilities in instalments known as payments on account throughout the tax year, making a balancing payment following the end of the tax year through the self-assessment system.

In contrast, capital gains tax, which also forms part of the self-assessment system, has traditionally been available only after the tax year has ended. That means that the taxpayer may pay their capital gains tax liability up to 22 months after making the gain. As gains on residential property can be significant, we think it right that any capital gains tax due is paid soon after the property is disposed of, to ensure that any liability is paid when the taxpayer is most likely to have the funds to do so.

The changes made under schedule 2 introduce new requirements on UK residents when they dispose of UK residential property on which capital gains tax is due, such as a second home or a buy-to-let property. The first requirement is that they must make a payment on account of their capital gains tax liabilities. In most cases, that will be payable within 30 days of the contract for the sale or disposal being completed.

The second requirement ensures that the payment is properly accounted for by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Taxpayers must submit a simple tax return within the same 30-day window advising HMRC of the disposal and how much they are paying on account. How much tax is paid will be calculated according to the gain made and any unused losses and allowances that the taxpayer may offset at that time. It will work in much the same way as completing a self-assessment return. If at the end of the tax year a person has no further income tax or capital gains tax liabilities due, they will not then need to complete a full self-assessment return.

We have listened to representations made during consultation and therefore made changes to the legislation. Reasonable estimates of valuations and apportionments will be permitted without penalty when the correct amounts are unavailable in time. The changes will come into effect for disposals from 6 April 2020.

The schedule also makes two changes to an existing reporting and payment-on-account scheme that applies to non-UK residents disposing of UK property. First, it amends the scope of the scheme from 6 April 2019 to include the new interests chargeable to tax that we debated under clause 13.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

I declare an interest: I have paid capital gains tax—a horrible tax—in the past. At the moment, there is an allowance for capital gains tax, so when the form goes in, the allowance is taken off. Will the full allowance be taken off the first-stage payment, or will the allowance taken off the payment be split? Let us say that I have a £30,000 capital gain; I might well take up all my allowance in the first-stage payment and pay a slightly larger second payment, or I could simply split the whole amount. There is also a cash-flow issue.

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

My understanding is that the capital allowance will be applicable when the first payment is made in full, subject to the capital gain being equal to or exceeding the allowance. If there is any adjustment on a subsequent return, I imagine—I look to my colleagues—that if the gain has been less than the capital allowance initially, or in other words there is some excess available, that might be available to any balancing payment made subsequently. The officials seem to confirm that to be the case.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

The capital gain might be split between two people. This is a slightly separate, tangential question, but let us say a husband and wife sell something and the capital gain is split between them. I presume that will be two allowances and two split payments. Is there a minimum amount for someone to have to fill in a form to put in? For a small capital gain—a few hundred pounds—is there a de minimis amount or will more bureaucracy be created for rather minor payments?

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

I wonder when my hon. Friend is about to sell a house and is simply after some discounted tax advice. He is right that there will be an allowance for each taxpayer under those circumstances. The sale of the property—let us say it is a property—will occur and, to the extent that there are capital gains at or below the allowance for each of the two parties, that may be offset at that particular point.

The context of the clause is not so much the way the relief of the capital allowance works—it remains as before—but the timing of the payment of the capital gains tax should there be any. It moves from what might be a 22-month delay, given the capital gain might have been assumed at the beginning of a particular tax year but payment will not be required until completion of the self-assessment in the January following, so this is about timing rather than the mechanics of how the capital gains allowance works.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

I understand that, but quite often when people sell a property, they have an amount of money they have to pay, and they put it in a bank account and sit on the money for a few months in order to sort out their tax return. Currently, they do not get much interest on the money anyway, but I wonder whether, rather than have a split payment, someone will be given a small discount for paying the whole sum in the year rather than splitting it until they do their tax return. It seems to me that people will be happy to pay, but that if there is a little incentive they might pay the whole amount.

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

The provisions of the clause change the regime such that they will be required to account for the capital gains within 30 days. In a sense, this has been done by changing the rules rather than providing an incentive, I am afraid. I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting interventions.

Amendment 31 proposes that the changes come into effect only once we can guarantee awareness of them. HMRC has engaged with stakeholders on the details of the change and the draft legislation. The Members who tabled the amendment will be pleased to know that the Government published a summary of responses to their consultation on 6 July.

Amendments 32 and 33 request a review of the revenue impact of the changes, including the impact on the tax gap. The latest estimates for the revenue impact of the measure, both with the original 2019 start date and the delay to April 2020, were published at the Budget 2018.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

The transition from diesel and petrol to electric cars is vital for us to meet our carbon budgets. Has the Treasury assessed the impact of the measure on the electric vehicle market, as well as the wider automotive sector?

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

I assure the hon. Gentleman that in these tax matters—as with all tax matters—given our firm commitment to honour our climate change commitments, we are in regular contact with car manufacturers and those producing electric vehicles, through my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary.

As with all policy changes, the fiscal impact of the measure will be monitored by HMRC, and the Office for Budget Responsibility may request for it to be reviewed as the new out-turned data becomes available. The fiscal impact on taxpayer compliance has been considered and is included in the overall costing of the measure. HMRC publishes annual updates to its tax gap analysis, which will reflect the effect of capital gains tax policy changes. I therefore urge the Committee to resist the amendments and I commend the clause and schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve on this Committee with you in the Chair, Mr Howarth. I am grateful to the Minister for his introductory comments and for his comments on our amendments.

As the Minister explained, the clause and schedule extend, from 6 April next year, the existing capital gains tax requirements in relation to reporting and payment for non-UK residents who are disposing of UK property, in order to include new interest that will henceforth be taxed. They also introduce, on the same date the following year, reporting and payment-on-account obligations for residential property gains for UK residents and UK branches and agencies of non-UK resident people.

The measure has been quite a long time coming. Back in 2015, the Government signalled their intention to introduce from April 2019 the requirement that capital gains tax on gains from selling or disposing of residential property be paid within 30 days of the disposal being completed. As the Minister intimated, that will be a payment on account towards the person’s tax liability for the tax year in which the disposal is made. However, the measure was deferred until 2020, and the consultation on it undertaken earlier this year, as the Minister mentioned. As I understand it, there is already a payment-on-account scheme for non-UK residents, so these measures will just extend that approach to UK residents, as well as expanding the range of taxable interest for non-UK residents.

We have tabled two amendments. Amendment 31 would delay commencement of the provisions in paragraph 3 of schedule 2 until the Government have released further details of HMRC’s consultation with representative bodies concerning awareness of those provisions among those who may be covered by them. The rationale for the amendment is that the proposed measures, as we have just discussed, introduce a new payment-on-account scheme for capital gains tax on residential property that requires filing of a return far earlier than is currently required, and far earlier than the potential 22 months to which the Minister referred, right down to 30 days after the disposal of that property.

During the consultation on the proposals, some respondents expressed their concern that taxpayers, not expecting that they needed to make such a return until the end of the tax year, might fail to inform their accountant and thus miss the deadline. Of course, in doing so they would incur interest on non-payment. Our amendments would enable details of HMRC’s discussions with representative bodies to be asked for in order to ensure that potentially affected taxpayers were forewarned of the new measures and therefore did not fall foul of them and incur that interest on non-payment.

I understand why respondents to the consultation might have been concerned by that. Their responses were summarised in the consultation response document as concerning the fact that

“taxpayers may not be aware of the new rules until after the end of the tax year when they tell their accountants about their disposals, resulting in late filing penalties.”

Some of those making that argument pointed out that HMRC charges interest for those filing late, set at 3%. That, of course, contrasts with the repayment interest of 0.5%. I completely understand why there is a difference in rates, but that difference surely adds some grist to the mill of needing to ensure that all potential taxpayers are definitely made aware of the change. After all, 30 days is not that long a period within which to act.

The Government’s response to the consultation maintains that where information needed to be obtained from third parties for the purposes of calculating the capital gains tax that should be accommodated within the periods required for marketing and conveying any such property, and that estimated declarations could be corrected later, as the Minister mentioned. I am a little concerned by some of the ambiguity in the language used in the consultation response about what will happen if a taxpayer cannot make the payment on time. This is a question not of the amount of tax owed, but of the calibration of when it will be paid.

The document states:

“Any taxpayer who is concerned about their ability to pay should contact HMRC who will explore whether an alternative payment arrangement is appropriate.”

It would be helpful if we heard more about the legal basis and the practical arrangements for that discretion. I am sure that the Minister and his colleagues are aware of my concerns, which we have already discussed in this Committee, about HMRC’s capacity as things stand, let alone in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I am concerned that HMRC would not benefit from being overburdened with such requests for alternative payment arrangements. Nor would it be fair, surely, to give taxpayers false hope of being provided with them when they might not be available.

Concerns have also been expressed about HMRC’s operation of other deferred payment approaches. The Minister will remember my written question asking him

“what criteria are used by HMRC when deciding whether to agree Time to Pay arrangements”— arrangements that enable firms under temporary financial stress to defer the payment of tax. It would be interesting to find out whether HMRC will take a similar approach to requests for late payment of capital gains tax under the new arrangements, because its criteria for applying time-to-pay arrangements are actually quite sensible:

TTP arrangements are entered into on a case-by-case basis.

TTP is only agreed where HMRC is satisfied that the customer cannot pay their liability on the actual due date(s).

The customer offers the best payment proposals that they can realistically afford. If their ability to pay improves during the TTP period then they must contact HMRC and increase their payments/clear the debt.

TTP is only agreed where HMRC believes that the customer will have the means to pay the taxes included in the TTP arrangement and any other taxes outside the arrangement which become due during the TTP period.

The TTP period is as short as possible.”

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 11:45 am, 29th November 2018

Another slight problem is that when someone is selling a property, it is not unusual for them to renovate it or do some work on it. When they report their CGT liability, they offset their legal fees, builders’ fees and other fees. The 30-day reporting window is quite tight. With my solicitor, I tend to get a bill long after I have forgotten that I owe it.

I am sure the Minister will pick up on this question when he sums up, but is the 30-day period just for reporting the possibility of CGT, or is it for reporting the actual figures? It is quite a tight period to collect all the bills, work out the profit or offset the allowance and pay the right amount, given how people do business in this country.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful for that intervention, which underlines the fact that in practice some of the calculations may be relatively complex. The response to the consultation sets out the Government’s view that in practical terms it should normally be possible for those involved to come up with the appropriate figure, but if not, an estimate would be acceptable.

While the hon. Gentleman was making his very relevant point, I was wondering whether there might be room for people to proffer a low estimate, which would obviously have a financial benefit, and then correct it later on. Will HMRC genuinely have the capacity to understand whether such an estimate was bona fide—as he says, evidence such as relevant bills may not have been fully available at the time—or whether it was intended to reduce liability? I agree that a specific reply from the Minister to that pertinent point would be helpful.

Clearly, in this case the length of time for any deferral of capital gains tax beyond the 30-day period, up to 22 months, would presumably need to be quite a bit shorter than the length of time we are talking about in relation to time-to-pay agreements. It would be helpful if the Minister confirmed that and whether his Department will be setting out criteria similar to those I have just mentioned for time-to-pay agreements to guide HMRC on this matter. Were these matters covered in the existing consultation that occurred with interested parties and just not reported in the Government’s response?

Amendment 32 would require a review of the effects on public finances if the provisions in this schedule were introduced from 6 April 2019. It would require the Secretary of State to

“lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act”.

We believe that the amendment is necessary—first, because from what I can see there are two effective start dates in the schedule and it is quite unclear why; and secondly, because we need to understand the anticipated impact of the measures to a greater degree than is surely possible with the information supplied to us.

We have already had a little discussion about the payment on account system. Arguably, it enables the smoothing of outgoings for individuals and individual businesses, and of revenue for HMRC, so to that extent it can help with financial planning. However, we are surely talking about quite a different process when it comes to the payment of capital gains tax. We are not talking about someone who is self-employed, who is very unlikely to have payment just in one big lump sum; it is likely to be in a number of different sums or continuous payments.

One could argue there is more of a rationale for payment on account in those regards than potentially here, aside from the fact that these measures will ensure more security of revenue for HMRC. Surely they could potentially have a revenue impact because, as the hon. Member for Poole mentioned before, without this 30-day limit individuals could be keeping that sum, effectively earning interest on it and paying it later.

I appreciate what was said about the interest rate being low now, but that will not always necessarily be the case. Surely it would be useful for us to have a review on the effects on public finances of these provisions, as requested in amendment 32. Amendment 33 from the Scottish National party pushes in the same direction, so we also support that.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Youth affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Children and Families), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Equalities), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Disabilities)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Oxford East; we are also happy to support the Labour party’s very sensible amendments.

Our amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the effect on public finances and on reducing the tax gap of the changes made to capital gains tax in schedule 2. In 2016-17 the income tax, national insurance contributions and capital gains tax gap was 4.2%, or £13.5 billion—quite a significant amount of money for a Government to be short-changed on. It seems only sensible, then, that the Chancellor informs us of how he expects these changes to impact that tax gap. That would enable us to have a record of what the intentions are and what he expects to be the conclusion.

Only then can we coherently and clearly assess whether the measure is working or not. Especially given how unpredictable the current future is with Brexit and things, it surely only makes sense to put this stuff down in writing—“Here’s what we think is going to happen”—so that we can then assess it. Ultimately, it cannot hurt to be more transparent, so I urge the Government to accept the amendment.

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

I thank the hon. Members for Oxford East and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South for their contributions; I will just pick up on the points that have been raised.

On the question of timing, both in terms of bringing the measure before the Committee and the fact that it is coming in in 2020, I should say that we clearly consulted very carefully. The hon. Member for Oxford East mentioned consultation: we had an eight-week technical consultation, held between 11 April and 6 June 2018, and there were a number of responses to that.

On the issue of the date when the change will come in, it is important to mention that this is a significant change to the way the timing arrangements of this tax operate. The hon. Member for Oxford East drew on my observation that it is possible under the existing regime to have a 22-month delay between the sale of the asset concerned and payment of the tax. Of course, that is the maximum delay, which would occur in the event that the asset was disposed of at the very beginning of a tax year. In reality, the delay is likely to be shorter than that—as much as 12 months shorter if the asset is sold at the end of the tax year in question.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I want to raise an issue about capital gains tax that was brought up by one of my constituents, who has taken the opportunity in retirement to travel overseas for a few years. They let their property using letting relief. I understand a consultation has been started to review letting relief. They are concerned that the loss of letting relief may make them liable for capital gains tax, which may mean they have to sell their family home despite the fact that they want to return to the UK. I will write to the Minister about that case, and I wonder whether he will look into it and write back to me.

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

If my hon. Friend writes to me about that consultation, I will of course be very happy to respond to her.

The hon. Member for Oxford East also raised the possibility of someone not filing the information as a consequence of the shortening of the time period. Part of the purpose of the change is to concentrate the requirement to file the paperwork at the time the asset is sold, rather than leaving it in the distance. Where that requirement gets pushed into the distance, there is a possibility of people forgetting about it.

One should also bear in mind that, in the case of a property, a number of professional advisers—particularly solicitors—will be involved in the transaction. One would expect them, in the natural course of events, to discuss the tax implications of the transaction with the individual concerned.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

If someone has a number of properties, it is important that HMRC knows which they elect as their main home. If, as in the case my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford mentioned, that has not always been their main home—if it started off as a second home or they rented it out, for example—the normal approach is to apportion certain years in the property for which they are liable for capital gains tax. I am still a little concerned about the 30 days. I have on occasions gone back through all my files to see when I told HMRC or my accountant, and it is possible to get into a long, involved thing about what percentage of a property is liable for capital gains tax.

I am just a bit concerned that the window of opportunity is too small. There are examples of people having multiple capital gains tax liabilities because they bought themselves more than one home in a year. Getting all the information and the bills together sometimes takes a little time—it can be easier to do that during the year-end process. I can understand the Treasury’s wanting to get income in quickly, and many people would welcome that, but 30 days is pretty short if someone has to go through their strong boxes at home or contact their accountant or solicitor, who are often repositories of information. I hope the Minister thinks about this issue a little more.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. I do not want to discourage interventions, because they are a useful way of eliciting information, but some of the interventions we have heard might have been better conducted as proper speeches. People should consider whether they might be better making a fuller case in a speech rather than an intervention. I say that not to discourage interventions but, I hope, to provide a bit of helpful guidance.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General 12:00 pm, 29th November 2018

Thank you, Mr Howarth; I am sure the Committee has taken note of your guidance. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole that there is another aspect to that, and while 30 days is 30 days—not a year or more as has been the case under current arrangements—there are two points that I will make.

One is that, clearly, there is typically a moment of exchange before property transfer completes, which is an additional period of time in which paperwork is brought together. The second point is that, to the extent that it is not possible to immediately complete the information with absolute certainty within the 30 days—perhaps because of third-party valuation issues, for example—it is possible, as I said earlier, to have a balancing arrangement further on down the line in the future. That could work either way: the Revenue might owe the individual money or vice versa. That is facilitated within the arrangements.

I point my hon. Friend to the HMRC website where, should he have any more specific questions about how CGT operates, there is a user-friendly interface. He can put in all the numbers and variables, and the website will provide him with the answers.

The hon. Member for Oxford East raised the time-to-pay arrangements. Clearly, where tax is due, the Revenue takes a measured and responsible approach towards those who find it difficult to pay any tax, perhaps for reasons of personal financial difficulty or otherwise. I know from conversations that those at a senior level at HMRC have always been very keen to ensure that it operates in a sympathetic and responsible manner to negotiate the very difficult line between being sympathetic, responsible and helpful, where appropriate, and equally, making sure that we are all treated the same and that, where tax is due, individuals and companies actually pay it.

Another point that has been raised is HMRC capacity. The premise of those concerns is the assumption that, to a significant degree, the changes might generate lots of additional work for HMRC. I suspect the contrary, for the reasons that I have given. If, when the capital gain is crystallised, there is a shorter period for people to hand in the paperwork as required, it means that they will get on and do it, rather than delaying and discovering that, as a consequence, they have to contact HMRC to get involved in negotiations and discussions.

On the overarching point about HMRC and capacity, as the hon. Lady will know, we have of course invested an additional £2 billion in HMRC since 2010. We have 24,000 individuals or full-time equivalents in HMRC who are focused on tax collection. The total head count of HMRC, which stands at around 70,000, is the highest that it has been for some years. I commend the clause and the schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. We on this side do not oppose the measures and are willing not to press our two amendments to a Division. I will, however, make two points. It would help if the Minister provided some information on the criteria that would be used by HMRC for adopting deferred arrangements with individual taxpayers. Such criteria exist for time-to-pay arrangements, but none has been set out in relation to this clause, so it would be helpful to know what they are. I agree with him that there needs to be a balance between sympathy and responsiveness, to enable people to pay the tax that is due. On the other hand, there is the matter of equal treatment.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I know that my hon. Friend has been doing remarkable work on making connections with the representative bodies, and visiting offices all around the country. My constituency has about 2,700 members of HMRC staff. There seems to be incongruity between what the Minister says about capacity and resource in HMRC and my experience from speaking to my constituents. Does my hon. Friend feel the same in that regard?

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I do agree. Certainly judging by the conversations that I have had in a number of different parts of the country where the consolidation programme for HMRC is occurring, there is enormous concern, particularly about the expertise that is being lost by HMRC in some very important areas.

I would hazard the argument, relating this to the previous point, that when one is talking about, for example, tax officials having appropriate discretion to offer slightly different payment plans and so on to individuals, one needs to have experienced staff who can make those kinds of decisions, but we are seeing many such staff leaving. HMRC currently has the lowest morale, I think, among its staff of any Department. That reflects concern about the regionalisation programme, but also about other matters.

As I mentioned, it would help if we were provided with the set of criteria for deciding to apply a slightly different approach and allow latitude beyond the 30 days. It would also help if we were given, perhaps in written form, more information in order to reassure us that, because the window is still open for a balancing payment to be made later, the issue that we were talking about before does not arise.

Obviously, the vast majority of taxpayers will wish to make a truthful and accurate return, but if that process is manipulated, it could default in effect to what we have already, so it would be useful to hear about some of the anti-avoidance aspects of this measure. However, as I said, we are certainly willing to withdraw the Labour amendments.

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

May I say to the hon. Member for Oxford East that I will, of course, be very happy to write to her on the criteria in relation to time-to-pay arrangements?

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2