Clause 16 - Provision relating to the cash basis

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16 January 2024.

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

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 16 and schedule 10 make changes to improve the experience of many small businesses when completing income tax returns by extending the eligibility for the cash basis, which is a simplified way for 4.2 million smaller, growing traders to calculate their profits and pay their income tax. The Government recognise the usefulness of full accruals accounts for many businesses, but for many smaller businesses the cash basis acts as a valuable simplification. By measuring money received and paid out and removing complex tax and accounting rules, the cash basis makes it much easier for many businesses to understand how their taxable profits have been calculated, reducing error and the likelihood of an unexpected tax bill. It also ensures that a taxpayer is not taxed on money that they have not actually received yet, helping cash flow and supporting businesses to manage their tax payments.

There are currently only 1.2 million users of the cash basis from the 4.4 million self-employed businesses, which is only a 29% take-up. Many more businesses could stand to benefit from the cash basis, but are prevented from doing so because of existing restrictions on who can use the simplified regime.

The changes made by clause 16 and schedule 10 completely remove limits on the size of businesses able to use the basis, interest reductions, deductions and loss relief available under the cash basis and set the simpler regime as the default option for small businesses. This increases the number of businesses that are able to use the cash basis and removes barriers preventing businesses from using the regime, encouraging more businesses to benefit from its simplicity.

New businesses that choose not to use the simpler cash basis in order to be able to claim relief for any losses available under the accruals basis will now be able to claim loss relief through the cash basis too. That particularly benefits new self-employed businesses, especially those set up by someone with an employment or other source of income.

These changes are expected, using a conservative estimate, to save small businesses a total of about £13 million per year in administrative burdens. Alongside these changes, and directly responding to consultation feedback, HMRC will be prioritising a review of its guidance on the cash basis, aiming to improve the understanding and awareness of this simpler regime.

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

As the Minister outlined, clause 16 makes the cash basis the default basis for calculating profits of trade for the tax year 2024-25 and beyond. As members of the Committee will know, the cash basis is a method that businesses can use to calculate trading profits for income tax purposes. As things stand, businesses have to elect to use the cash basis, making it an opt-in regime, and the Government have noted that this measure seeks to make the cash basis the default, while removing the current turnover restriction rules entirely, as well as the interest deduction limit of £500 and the unavailability of some types of loss relief.

The Minister will know that the Opposition is supportive of a simplified tax regime that gives certainty to businesses and taxpayers. However, there are a number of areas of the clause that we would like clarified.

First, with the cash basis being made the default, does the Minister have any concerns about some businesses being unsuited to the new system? The Chartered Institute of Taxation has expressed concerns that conducting accounts on a cash basis fulfils the need to report to HMRC, whereas businesses that report on an accrual basis serve several purposes, including for loans and profitability. Could the Minister explain what assessment he has made of the suitability of the cash basis for the full spectrum of businesses, including small businesses?

Connected to that point, could the Minister explain what consultation he has carried out with businesses and sector groups since the autumn statement about the measure ahead of its implementation in 2024-25?

That brings me on to my next point, on guidance. A major reporting change of this kind will require a thorough information campaign, and appropriate and accessible guidance for businesses. That is particularly important for small businesses. What measures is the Minister taking to make sure that guidance is as simple as possible, is accurate and minimises the risk of inadvertent error?

Finally, and related, is the potential increased scope for fraud. As with new tax changes that relax restrictions on access, a small number of actors could spot an opportunity to reduce their tax liabilities. Could the Minister explain what assessment he has conducted of the possibility of fraud, and what steps he is taking to address that?

I note from the Government’s policy paper that no additional staff have been allocated to support the policy change. In the apparent absence of any additional staffing to support the introduction of this new regime, what plan is in place to ensure there are adequate resources for its implementation?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Member for his comments. We should be very clear that the Government are not forcing businesses to use cash accounts. A business can still choose the method of accounting that best suits its circumstances, but the Government encourage businesses to use the simpler cash basis where appropriate. However, we of course recognise that many businesses will still benefit greatly from the advice and information provided by an accountant drawing up full accruals accounts, so the Government have set the cash basis as the default to make it easier for businesses to use the simpler regime. All a business will have to do to opt out of that is tick a box on their tax return, so it is fairly simple and straightforward in terms of choice.

On guidance, feedback during the consultation suggested improvements to HMRC and guidance that would help many small businesses understand the cash basis. We have listened and will be prioritising a review. We will update the guidance for the cash basis as part of the HMRC small business guidance review, which we announced at spring Budget 2023. That review will be completed by April 2025. The Government recognise the need to update that guidance, particularly for businesses that do not have the support of an accountant or tax advisers, and HMRC is also looking at providing further support through specific communications about the tax bases.

As I said, we understand—and HMRC understands—that many businesses have been using the cash basis anyway, without electing to do so, and these changes will formalise much of that behaviour and make it easier for taxpayers to use the cash basis without the administrative burden of making an election to do so.

Because of that tax simplification, particularly for small businesses, we believe that these measures—clearly simplifying the tax system—will help boost productivity, increase business confidence and reduce the amount of time and money businesses spend on tax administration. The clauses and schedules support our commitment of simplification by making it easier for small businesses to use the cash basis and by expanding the number of businesses that are able to use it. I therefore commend these measures to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10 agreed to.