Clause 332 - Right to repayment of income tax to be inalienable

Finance No. 2 Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 18th May 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 333 to 337 stand part.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I hope that clause 332 will be of real interest to hon. Members and their constituents. In recent years, there has been a growth in what are commonly called repayment agents. Hon. Members may have received a great deal of correspondence from their constituents about such agents. They are paid tax agents who specialise solely in making claims for income tax relief on behalf of their clients.

Repayment agents can provide a useful service to taxpayers by helping them to claim reliefs or allowances to which they are entitled from HMRC, but last year HMRC received around 2,800 complaints about repayment agents from taxpayers who were unclear about the terms or conditions to which they had signed up. Those taxpayers were unaware that they were claiming through a third party and that they would be charged a fee of up to 50% of the repayment, and they were unaware of the use of assignments. Clause 332 prohibits the assignment of income tax repayments and, where such rights have been assigned, renders the assignment void. It is a consumer protection measure that is aimed at ensuring that taxpayers have better control over their income tax repayments, and I hope that hon. Members will advertise the measure to their constituents.

I turn to clauses 333 to 335. New late payment penalty and interest legislation was approved by Parliament in 2021. The new system is built on fairness and proportionality. In implementing penalty reform and interest harmonisation for VAT, we have identified some minor defects in the legislation that the clauses seek to correct. Clause 333 ensures that, for customers who use the VAT annual accounting scheme, late payment interest will not be charged on interim instalments of VAT that are paid late. Clause 334 ensures that late payment penalties do not apply to instalments payable under the VAT annual accounting scheme, and clause 335 makes a minor technical change to repayment interest on VAT to ensure that the rules operate as intended.

Clause 336 gives HMRC a power to move insurance premium tax administration forms out of secondary legislation and into a public notice. Currently, whenever administration forms need to be updated, a statutory instrument needs to be passed. Moving administration forms out of that regime will enable them to be updated without the need to pass legislation each time an update is required. That will simplify the administration of tax and support HMRC in keeping pace with developments in tax policy and insurance industry practices.

Finally, clause 337 relates to the plastic packaging tax. Currently, late payments in respect of plastic packaging tax by liable businesses and businesses that are held secondarily liable or joint and severally liable incur the same penalties. In contrast, late payments of assessments made by HMRC where a business has failed to submit a return incur different penalties. Clause 337 addresses that anomaly and amends schedule 56 to the Finance Act 2009, so that all late payments of plastic packaging tax incur the same penalties.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

As we heard, clause 332 introduces a new provision that renders void assignments of income tax repayments. We understand that the clause removes the ability of a taxpayer to legally transfer their entitlement to an income tax repayment to a third party such as an agent. It enables HMRC to disregard assignments when issuing income tax repayments, although we understand that it does not remove a taxpayer’s ability to use a non-legally binding nomination where they wish their repayment to be made to a third party. The decision to prohibit assignments seems to have been driven largely by the practices of Tax Credits Ltd, which ultimately led to HMRC having to issue tax refunds directly to 60,000 affected taxpayers.

The changes in the clause have been broadly welcomed by groups including the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, which pointed out that they mean that taxpayers will no longer be able to assign their rights to an income tax repayment to a third party repayment agent, and that includes taxpayers who have been tricked or misled into doing so by an unscrupulous agent. However, LITRG highlights that issues remain around the nomination process—the alternative way that I mentioned of enabling an agent to receive a payment. It is concerned that the provisions in the clause will not stop taxpayers being tricked or misled into nominating an unscrupulous agent to receive an income tax repayment. LITRG also raised its concern that responsible repayment agents, who were not misusing assignments, may exit the market, given the risk of non-payment for their work. LITRG therefore suggests that HMRC carefully monitors the impact of the provision on taxpayers and their ability to obtain refunds.

I am sure that the Minister will try to assure us that HMRC carefully monitors all its operations, but I would press her to give a more specific commitment in response to LITRG’s concerns. In particular, will she commit to publishing certain metrics proposed by LITRG, such as the total number of refund claims made and the total number made by third party companies?

Clauses 333 to 335 amend legislation governing a new penalty regime and rules on interest for VAT, which the Government announced at spring Budget 2021. As we heard, clause 333 makes two technical changes to the late payment interest rules. The first change ensures that late payment interest does not apply to instalments payable under the VAT annual accounting scheme. The second change means that when HMRC is recovering a VAT payment, the late payment interest start date is the date from which HMRC paid that amount. Clause 334 amends the Finance Act 2021 to ensure that late payment penalties do not apply to instalments payable under the VAT annual accounting scheme. Clause 335 amends the Finance Act 2009 to remove a restriction on the accrual of repayment interest on VAT paid by HMRC to the taxpayer. We will not oppose these clauses.

We understand that clause 336 will broaden existing powers, thereby enabling HMRC to move insurance premium tax forms from secondary legislation and into a public notice by way of a statutory instrument. As the Minister outlined, these technical changes are intended to reduce the administrative burden and make it easier to make administrative updates to the forms without the need for legislation. We also understand that this provides a necessary step for future legislation allowing HMRC to further digitise the insurance premium tax forms. We will not oppose the measure.

Finally, clause 337 amends schedule 56 to the Finance Act 2009, to align inconsistent late payment penalty provisions and ensure that all businesses liable for a late payment penalty in respect of the plastic packaging tax are charged the same penalty, however that liability arises. As we discussed earlier, the plastic packaging tax was introduced from 1 April last year to provide an economic incentive for businesses to use recycled plastic in the manufacture of plastic packaging, which was intended in turn to create greater demand for that material. The clause introduces a technical, administrative change and we will not oppose it.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We are pleased that LITRG is one of the many groups that we work closely with. We listen to them very carefully. Indeed, I met the head of the group only last week, I think, to listen to their concerns or thoughts about the tax system.

Just to reassure hon. Members, some people want to nominate tax agents to reclaim their taxes, and we do not want to shut down that route if people want to use it and do so in a fully informed and consenting manner. That is why we are moving from the assignment process through to nominations, and taxpayers will be able to withdraw easily from nominations. The point is that nominations are not permanent; they can be changed if taxpayers should wish to do so.

That is a really critical consumer protection. It is why we have put it in the Bill. It took immediate effect, because we wanted to apply it as soon as possible to prevent taxpayers from being tied into agreements that they could not rescind. Repayment agents were made aware of the Government’s intentions to legislate in January and we would say that they will have had time to adjust to the new forms, if you like, by the time that this Bill receives Royal Assent.

In relation to the other matters, I understand that the Opposition are not challenging them, so I will stop there.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 332 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 333 to 337 ordered to stand part of the Bill.