Stamp duty: transfers of unlisted securities and connected persons

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 16th June 2020.

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

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 76 stand part.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

In the spirit of proper scrutiny of legislation, we should chew carefully on clauses 75 and 76. They are quite technical clauses, which address the use of contrived arrangements involving the transfer of unlisted securities to connected companies for an artificially low consideration in order to minimise stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax liability on company reorganisations.

In the Finance Act 2019, the Government introduced a targeted market value rule to prevent the artificial reduction of the stamp tax due when listed shares are transferred to a connected company. That was introduced with immediate effect to prevent forestalling. The Government consulted on extending the rule to unlisted shares, to ensure that we fully understood the potential effect of the change on small businesses. That is why draft legislation is narrowly targeted only at companies that enter into contrived arrangements that are used to minimise stamp tax on reorganisations.

The Finance Bill 2020 therefore extends the market value rule to the transfer of unlisted shares to connected companies. This form of avoidance seeks to exploit the way stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax are currently charged: on the payment given as consideration, rather than on the value of what is received. Some taxpayers have been using contrived arrangements that reduce the value of the consideration paid when they transfer unlisted shares to a company with which they are connected as part of a company reorganisation.

The changes made by clauses 75 and 76 will mean that when unlisted shares are transferred to a company and the person transferring the shares is connected with the company, the tax charge is based on the value of the consideration for the transfer or the market value of the shares transferred, whichever is higher. The new rule will apply only when there is an issue with shares by way of consideration, narrowly targeting the measures to the circumstances where contrived arrangements are used to minimise the share of the tax on the transfer of unlisted shares. The measures will have effect for stamp duty in relation to instruments executed on or after Royal Assent of this Bill, and for stamp duty reserve tax in relation to agreements to transfer made on or after Royal Assent.

Clauses 75 and 76 prevent the artificial reduction of the stamp tax due on share acquisitions when unlisted shares are transferred to connected companies. It is expected to raise £25 million over the scorecard, and I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 9:45 am, 16th June 2020

The Opposition welcome the measures implemented by these clauses to minimise the scope of continuing avoidance of stamp duties by extending the stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax market value rule to the transfer of unlisted securities to connected companies. However, I raise a point regarding the impact of the clauses.

HMRC’s impact assessment of the policy notes that there will be a negligible impact on 250 to 350 businesses in the first year, disproportionately affecting small and microbusinesses. It estimates that the arrangements are most likely to affect private companies with a small number of stakeholders, such as owner-manager businesses, with an average value of £2.5 million. These may include family businesses, many of which we understand to be struggling in the face of the current pandemic. What assessment has the Minister made of this, and who is really the intended target of these clauses?

The Chartered Institute of Taxation expressed concern that unintended consequences could arise from clause 76 due to significant additional costs that are disproportionate to the tax at stake in many cases. It goes on to say that this

“may in some situations prevent commercially advantageous transactions, with no avoidance motive, from going ahead. The…vague description of policy rationale and the contrived arrangements being targeted has prevented stakeholders from assisting in designing a targeted rule so as to reduce the unintended consequences.”

Similarly, legal firm Cleary Gottlieb notes that

“the new rule is not limited to cases of stamp duty or SDRT avoidance, and it should not be assumed that transactions driven entirely by commercial considerations will fall outside its scope.”

I will be grateful if the Minister explains how the Government will seek to minimise unintended consequences of this measure being the targeting of businesses that are not seeking to avoid stamp duties.

Respondents to the consultation suggested that it would be preferable to introduce a targeted anti-avoidance rule into the legislation, or to extend the general anti-abuse rule or the disclosure of tax avoidance scheme provisions. What consideration have the Government given to inserting a targeted anti-avoidance rule into the legislation?

Last, the Chartered Institute of Taxation points out that, in relation to clause 77, there are a number of circumstances in which a shareholding of 25%—required for this exception to section 77A of the Finance Act 1986 to apply—will be an excessive hurdle, reasoning that it is not uncommon for a company to be owned equally by five or six entrepreneurs or a family group. It suggests that a requirement that the relevant shareholding is at least 10% would be more appropriate to cover a wide range of commercial scenarios. I will grateful if the Minister will address those concerns.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for the questions she raises. Let me take them in order.

On whether these measures will affect most small businesses or organisations, as the hon. Lady highlights, a relatively small number of organisations will be affected. The measures were subject to consultation, and interestingly the respondents were satisfied that there would be little impact on commercial activity as the measures were suitably targeted, and expressed some pleasure that the concerns they raised during the policy consultation about the impact of a more wide-ranging measure had been heard. This is, of itself, a tightly focused measure. It falls—where it falls—on a relatively small number of organisations, as I said.

However, it is important to pick out the logic of what I think the hon. Lady is saying. We all recognise the importance of combating the pandemic. She will be aware that the Government have spent many tens of billions of pounds on supporting businesses, families and jobs during this process. This measure is about something else: avoid a form of tax avoidance, or rather heading off a form of tax avoidance; curbing and preventing it. I do not think people’s concerns about the pandemic should be allowed to obtrude on that.

The hon. Lady asked a question about unintended effects. Our analysis is that precisely because of the targeting that was noted during the consultation phase, unexpected effects, while they can never be ruled out, should be limited and minimal. It is also important to say that there will be a modest additional administrative burden that will decline over time as people become accustomed to the new rules.

The hon. Lady asked whether it would be better to address this with a more targeted anti-avoidance rule, but this is quite a targeted anti-avoidance rule. It picks out particular forms and is restricted to company reorganisations of a certain kind, and it builds on the existing approach for listed shares. I therefore think that it addresses her concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 75 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.