Returns relating to LLP not carrying on business etc with view to profit

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 18th June 2020.

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

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

Again, this is a technical measure. Clause 101 makes changes to put beyond doubt that where an LLP is found not to trade for profit, HMRC can continue to amend LLP members’ tax returns using income tax rules as it has always done, in the same way that it does for general partnerships. It ensures that, as with the previous clause, the intention of Parliament is appropriately reflected in the legislation, and it confirms that the rules work in the way they are widely understood to work, and as they have been applied since they were introduced in 2001. To ensure that this is plainly and unequivocally understood, the measure is introduced with prospective and retrospective effect back to that date—2001—with the result that the changes simply clarify and support the legislation and continue to meet taxpayers’ expectations. Again, they do not result in any new charges or obligations for taxpayers.

By way of context, limited liability partnerships are a legitimate means of structuring business activity. They are used successfully by the vast majority of partnerships: for example, by many large law and accountancy firms that operate for profit. Since the LLP rules were introduced in 2001, HMRC has always treated LLPs and their members’ tax returns under income tax rules on the same basis as any other partnership. That is widely understood and accepted by the vast majority of taxpayers, but it has been challenged in the courts on the basis that where an LLP is found not to trade for profit in line with its partnership tax return, the law does not support its treatment under income tax rules. The upper tax tribunal recently confirmed that HMRC’s long-held tax treatment of LLPs is correct. This decision overturned an earlier decision of the first-tier tribunal that had judged it incorrect. However, as the matter is still in litigation, putting the matter beyond doubt in legislation will provide certainty for LLP taxpayers.

Such legal challenges come from a small minority who are intent on avoiding paying their tax and looking for technical loopholes to do so. They seek to use limited liability partnerships to create losses and to share and then offset them unfairly against their members’ personal income in their own tax returns. That is not fair either to the Exchequer or to the vast majority of honest limited liability partnerships. The Government are legislating to prevent such practice.

The measure introduces three conditions that clarify the position and apply where an LLP delivers a partnership return; where the basis of that return is trading with a view to profit; and where it is found that the LLP was not trading with a view to profit. This clarifies the legal basis relating to LLPs that submit partnership returns where they are subsequently found not to be trading for profit, allowing HMRC to amend LLP members’ tax returns in such circumstances, as it has always done, to remove any unfair tax advantage. The clarification does not introduce any new or additional obligations or liabilities for taxpayers and it prevents loopholes from opening up in tax law that could be exploited in future by those seeking to avoid paying their fair share.

The changes made by the clause clarify the treatment of LLP partnership returns where the LLP is found to be operating without a view to profit. It permits HMRC to amend such returns using income tax rules, as it has always done. The legislation is introduced with retrospective effect, treating it as always having been in force. This is necessary in order to maintain the status quo, provide certainty for taxpayers, and protect about £2 billion of tax revenue that has already been collected. It also ensures that people seeking to avoid tax do not secure unfair and advantageous treatment due to the exploitation of perceived loopholes in legislation.

The policy is not new and nothing will change for taxpayers. No new or additional liabilities will be created and HMRC’s policy and processes will continue to operate in the way that they have for many years. It provides clarity for taxpayers and ensures that there is a fair and level playing field for all. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Limited liability partnerships are a legitimate way of structuring business activity that is used successfully by the vast majority of LLPs that operate for profit. There is no doubt about any of that, but as we heard from the Minister this morning, there have been too many examples of LLPs being used for the purposes of minimising people’s tax liabilities, effectively to avoid tax. Of course, Opposition Members take a very dim view of that.

Clause 101 seems to be a sensible provision, intended to help HMRC to close down tax-avoiding structures that use LLPs to generate and spread losses that the partners use to offset against their other personal income. Let the message go out that people ought to act within not just the letter but the spirit of the law, and if they cannot find in themselves the moral scruples to do that, this House will have no hesitation whatsoever in changing the letter of the law to make sure that people do the right thing and pay their fair share.

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

The hon. Gentleman has made the point extremely well, and with his support I hope the Committee will agree to the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 101 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.