Corporation tax relief for carried-forward losses

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 29th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 9 be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.

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

Clause 26 makes technical amendments to the corporate loss relief rules introduced in 2017: they ensure that the rules function as originally intended and protect revenue by preventing companies from claiming excessive relief. When a company makes a loss, it can carry forward that loss and use it to offset its taxable profits in future years. The Finance (No. 2) Act 2017 reformed the UK’s loss relief regime. The main effects of that reform were as follows. First, the amount of profit that can be relieved by carried-forward losses is restricted to 50%, subject to a £5 million allowance. Secondly, losses arising after 1 April 2017 can be carried forward and set against different types of income and against profit of other members of the same group. The loss restriction ensures that companies cannot use carried-forward losses to reduce their tax bill to nothing in an accounting period in which they make substantial profits. Legislation for the new loss relief rules needed to be sufficiently detailed to ensure that they were robust for the complex arrangements of large companies operating across a diverse set of activities. The Government have since identified limited circumstances in which the rules are not functioning as intended.

The clause amends the way that companies calculate their relevant profits for the purposes of loss relief restriction. Specifically, the clause changes the way basic life assurance and general annuity businesses, or BLAGAB, calculate relevant profits. That will ensure that BLAGAB insurers use profits that are chargeable to corporation tax for calculating the amount of loss relief they can claim.

The clause also makes several minor technical amendments to the loss reform rules in respect of the deductions allowance, terminal loss relief, transfer of a claim without change of ownership, oil and gas losses, group relief and the transfer of deductions. Due to the £5 million allowance, 99% of companies are not financially affected by the carried-forward loss restriction, and that will not be changed by these amendments. Some companies will also benefit from the simpler rules for calculating their loss relief restriction.

The amendments to group relief for carried-forward losses are effective from 1 April 2017, the amendments to the calculation of relevant profits and BLAGAB profits are effective from 6 July 2018, and the other amendments are effective from 1 April 2019. This clause introduces technical amendments to ensure that the corporation loss relief rules work as intended, and to protect revenue by preventing companies from claiming excessive relief. I therefore commend the clause and schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 3:00 pm, 29th November 2018

I shall speak briefly on this clause. As the Minister said, the clause seeks to restrict relief for certain carried-forward losses and allow them to be used more flexibly. It then drills down into particular details for specific business segments: for instance, insurers require special consideration due to the shock losses they are uniquely exposed to.

Given the rather generous package of corporate support that the Government espouse and the ineffective corporation tax cuts, which we have already had an opportunity to discuss at length, the Opposition clearly have no issue with restricting excessive relief. However, this change appears to be a tidy-up measure on legislation that was only introduced in 2017, suggesting that the Treasury does not quite have a grip on this properly. Clearly, we would all like to see any mistakes on the statute book or in the tax code corrected, but could the Minister explain why this legislation needs correcting such a short time after its implementation? Should we perhaps anticipate further changes to the original legislation? What consultation took place with stakeholders at the time?

It seems that we have always known there were issues with this relief ever since it was first introduced, after consultation in summer 2016, in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2017—perhaps the first Finance Bill for the shadow Chief Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, if he can segment them in his own mind—

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Yes, a classic. At the time, the Chartered Institute of Taxation warned that the legislation had not been given proper due consideration. As it said in its briefing:

“From the time the proposals were announced at Budget 2016 it was clear that the legislation would be voluminous and highly complex. As we highlighted in our response to the consultation (in August 2016) the timetable proposed was not sufficient to properly consider all of the issues and to produce clear and workable legislation.

The unsatisfactory draft legislation published as part of Finance (No. 2) Bill 2017 was then removed from the pre-election Finance Bill, which caused more uncertainty for taxpayers. Although the delay in enacting the legislation has allowed a period of further informal consultation, which has improved the legislation, it inevitably led to a degree of uncertainty among those affected and has also resulted in taxpayers having to consider draft legislation which is not yet in force,” but which will be retrospective once enacted.

“With regard to the short timetable, it is also worth noting that these provisions are not anti-avoidance provisions”,

which is when we tend to use a shorter timeframe for introduction.

“Rather, the changes were proposed as part of a package intended to ‘simplify and modernise the tax regime’, although in our view there are aspects of the changes which are very complicated and, in many cases, will involve a large number of detailed calculations, meaning that simplification will not be achieved.”

That is probably true of much of what the Treasury does, to be honest. The briefing also said:

“Legislation for these new rules has, in our view, been ‘rushed’…and, in this case, the Government has not balanced its desires to raise some modest revenue with its duty to produce legislation that can be followed with predictability and certainty.”

Unfortunately, the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s assessment that the timeframe was too short turned out to be exactly correct, and that is why we are obliged to revisit this legislation today. Continuous tweaks to matters such as these do not help to instil confidence among businesses that rely on this framework. They need certainty in their long-term operation, and endless rounds of changes are not helpful, especially in an environment where Brexit is clearly causing significant wider uncertainty.

I should also be grateful to learn from the Minister what preventive measures have been put in place to ensure that we will not go through the same legislative process in another year’s time, with further nips, tucks and fixes to defects. Finally, I would just like to know whether an estimate is available of the cost up to now of businesses having claimed this relief, which the Minister himself has said may have been excessive, and which we are today removing.

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

It is a perfectly fair question for the hon. Gentleman to ask why we are now having to revisit this, having consulted on it. He himself raised the issue of the large volume and the highly complex nature of the original legislation. I think therein probably lies the answer. While we did consult extensively, this was a large volume and a highly complex area, and we have subsequently discovered a deficiency with it, which we are now putting right, in a responsible way.

It is important to briefly enlighten the Committee as to the extent of the consultation that did occur, lest it be imagined that we rushed this or did not properly look into matters. The Government’s consultation ran for 12 weeks, from 26 May to 18 August 2016. The Government received 79 responses from stakeholders, and from a broad range of professions and industries. There was also a technical consultation on the draft legislation itself. It is obviously right that we put these deficiencies right at the earliest opportunity. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about how much revenue may already have been impacted by the original issue, I do not have a precise answer. I am happy to look into it. I know that the Treasury sees this clause as something that is there to protect revenues in the future, rather than one that is about rectifying problems that may have arisen in the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clause 27