Meaning of “the responsible member”

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 2:00 pm, 11th June 2020

Clauses 51 to 55 come under the broad heading of a duty to submit returns in relation to the digital services tax. Having established that a group has DST revenues above the thresholds, it is appropriate for a group member, the responsible member, to provide Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with the necessary information to assess the tax. That is a sensible way of requiring groups to administer the tax. They need to submit a return to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs only when there is a potential liability, and they can stop doing so when it is clear that there will not be a future liability.

The group will be required to continue to submit a single return for each accounting period until an officer of HMRC provides a direction for the group to stop. The direction to stop will be given only when it appears that the threshold conditions will not be met. Put simply, the responsible member will be the point of contact between HMRC and the rest of the group. The effect is to make administering the new tax easier for the groups that will be liable for DST and for HMRC. It means that only a single return for HMRC will need to be produced when a group assesses its DST liability.

Clause 51 sets out which members of the group can be the responsible member and what can prevent a company from being a responsible member. Those are sensible precautions to reduce the burden of the tax as much as possible, recognising that it is intended to be a temporary tax. As we have already noted in Committee, groups are dynamic with members joining and leaving all the time. The best choice as the responsible member for a group at one stage may no longer be the best choice later. It is therefore necessary for groups to have the ability to change the responsible member, but where that happens, it is important that nothing is lost by the change of company, which is achieved by clause 52.

Clause 53 sets out the duty for a group to notify HMRC when it has met the DST threshold conditions set out in clause 45. Groups will have 90 days from the end of the accounting period in which they meet the threshold conditions to make the notification. It is important to say that we have listened to businesses in requiring notification after the period to which the notification relates, which gives groups the opportunity to collect the fullest information possible before making contact with HMRC to notify it of any liability.

As I have mentioned, groups are organic and details will change. Clause 54 sets out the duty for a group to notify HMRC when there is a change to the details registered under clause 53. Finally, clause 55 sets out the obligation of the responsible member to submit a return of information to HMRC.

The clause also introduces schedule 7, which provides further details about the obligations of the group and HMRC in relation to the return and ensures by that means that the figures and the return are complete and accurate. As the tax is new, a new set of rules is required to ensure that HMRC has the powers necessary to ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid by those from whom it is due. The new rules borrow and draw from existing concepts that will be familiar to many tax practitioners. The schedule does not grant HMRC any further powers in relation to the tax that do not already apply to other existing taxes. It grants companies the protections from those powers that they would expect from a fair and balanced tax administration. With that in mind, I commend the clauses and the schedule to the Committee.