Tax

Tax

Paul McCourt and Fiona Hall consider the possible tax implications of current low asset values and what individuals can do to help protect family finances for the long-term.The COVID-19 outbreak is having a range of effects on families and individuals, with many investors seeing family finances suffer and the value of their assets fall in recent months. An important factor to remember at this point is that when an individual makes a gift, it is the current market value of the asset being gifted that applies for both inheritance tax (IHT) and capital gains tax (CGT) purposes.TrustsThe creation of a trust to hold assets for the benefit of the wider family or dependants has been a long-standing solution for many individuals seeking to pass assets to the next generation. Settling a trust is generally a chargeable IHT event. However, if the settlor’s nil rate band is fully available, individuals can transfer £325,000 of assets into the trust without incurring an IHT liability. This could increase to £650,000 for married couples jointly settling a trust with the availability of two nil rate bands. CGT hold-over relief may also be available so that the gift to trust does not trigger a CGT liability.For those considering using a trust, or who have already established one, now may be the time to gift or sell assets. When assets pass out of the trust to a beneficiary, either by way of an entitlement or an appointment by the trustees, any IHT and CGT liabilities are based on the current market value of the assets passing. Trustees may wish to consider whether the trust continues to meet its objectives and whether it is now appropriate to appoint assets out to trust beneficiaries.Personal giftsGifting an asset to another individual is often a potentially exempt transfer for IHT purposes. As such, if the donor survives for seven years from the date of the gift, it falls out of their IHT estate. However, if the donor does die in this period, the value of the assets gifted at the time the gift was made could become taxable.Where a gift fails the seven-year rule, subject to reliefs and the IHT nil rate band (currently £325,000), IHT could be payable on the gift (by the recipient or the executors) or the value of the estate. Making a gift when asset values are low will mitigate the potential IHT exposure for the individual considering gifting an asset.A gift is treated for CGT as being a disposal of the asset at market value by the donor. This could trigger a capital gain if the value exceeds the allowable cost unless the assets qualify for business assets hold-over relief.When asset values are lower, the likelihood of a gift triggering a gain is reduced, or a gift may give rise to a loss. Care should be taken in generating a loss on gifts, as any losses arising from the disposal of an asset to a connected person can only be set against gains that arise from other disposals to that same person. Capital losses generally carry forward to future years, but not back so timing is vital.Crystallising ‘paper’ lossesIndividuals may consider crystallising a current ‘paper’ or book loss on an investment and repurchasing a similar asset. Any such loss can then be offset against capital gains arising on asset disposals made in the same, or later, tax years. It is important to note, however, that ‘bed and breakfasting’ of shares is often ineffective for tax purposes and particular care is required with transactions conducted personally, via an individual savings account or between spouses.As with any investment decisions, independent investment advice should be sought before proceeding.Exercising share optionsWhere an individual exercises an option to acquire shares in an employer through a non-tax-advantaged share plan, income tax is charged on that exercise on the difference between the market value of the shares at the date of exercise and the amount paid for the shares under the option. If the shares acquired are ‘readily convertible’ (i.e. easy to sell for cash or shares in a subsidiary company) National Insurance contributions will also be due on the exercise of the option.Exercising such options while the value of a company is temporarily reduced could reduce tax liabilities in the longer-term. However, this is clearly a risk-driven investment decision on which independent investment advice should be sought before proceeding. One of the key benefits of holding an option is that it would often be exercised before an exit event (e.g. the sale of the company) so that there is an immediate return of value. In the absence of such an event, the implications of becoming a shareholder in the company, and the risk to the value thereby invested, should be considered carefully.Pensions – lifetime allowanceAn individual whose pension pot was previously above the lifetime allowance of £1,073,100 (and with no protection/enhanced protection) might choose to crystallise pension benefits now while the fund value is reduced to reduce/eliminate the lifetime allowance tax charge.There are many financial, investment and IHT issues to consider carefully before proceeding, but acting now may save tax in the long-term. Action should only be considered as part of overall wealth planning, including advice from an independent financial adviser.Short-term opportunity to achieve long-term goalsThis is a difficult time, but any temporary reduction in asset values may allow clients to pass assets into trust or to the next generation at a lower tax cost than both a year ago and a year from now.Fiona Hall is Principal, Personal Tax, at BDO Northern Ireland.Paul McCourt is Tax Principal at BDO Northern Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020
Tax

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme is ever evolving in the face of uncertainty, writes Maud Clear.The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) was introduced on 26 March 2020. Looking back 20 weeks on, in a world turned upside down by COVID-19, it is fair to say that the Scheme has evolved since its inception. With many businesses facing an uncertain road to recovery, the July Jobs Stimulus package was the next eagerly awaited phase in this evolutionary process.Revenue offered its services to the Department of Finance to pay out the subsidy through real-time reporting tools – an extraordinary move from an institution whose function is to collect tax.While the initial assessment in establishing eligibility was a significant exercise for many employers, Revenue provided consistency and support in their operation of the Scheme.That is until a programme of compliance checks was announced on 23 June for all employers availing of the Scheme. This was an unforeseen turn in the Scheme’s evolution, particularly when Revenue issued guidance on 20 April indicating: “We may in the future, based on risk criteria, review eligibility”.Such a broad stroke approach and the requirement for a response within five days have many employers questioning what is yet to come in the operation of the Scheme.Chartered Accountants Ireland, under the auspices of the CCAB-I, sought an extension to this response time. In response, Revenue may now allow for an extension of the five days where an employer contacts them to explain their difficulty in returning a response within the required timeframe.The announcement of an extension to the TWSS until the end of August came with a warning from the Minister for Finance that “this support cannot last forever”. As the challenges facing employers in re-opening continue to mount, assurance has since been provided by the Minister that the Scheme will not come to “an abrupt end”.  Most employers need the support of the TWSS to get back on their feet. Clarity on how they will get it, and for how long, will be a determining factor in their recovery. It is hoped that the ‘July Jobs’ stimulus package will provide that certainty.Maud Clear is Tax Manager at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020
Tax

The prospect of an EU-wide digital tax raised its head again in June following developments at the OECD. Peter Vale and Kim Doyle consider if we are now closer to implementation of an EU digital tax across all member states, and the impact on Ireland’s offering.The EU agreed last year to park its digital tax proposals to allow global consensus to be reached through the OECD digital tax discussions.Both the EU and OECD proposals aim to allocate a portion of profits based on the location of consumers, reflecting the increasing value that businesses place on consumer data.In June, the US withdrew from the OECD’s digital tax discussions. This has increased the likelihood that the EU will push ahead with its own proposals.In the short-term, the impasse at OECD level is also likely to see other countries push ahead with unilateral digital tax proposals. Indeed, many EU countries have either implemented or proposed their own digital tax proposals.An EU digital taxThe EU’s original digital tax proposals envisaged a simple 3% turnover-based tax as an interim measure, subject to reaching agreement on a means of allocating profits based on digital activity. Given the complexities involved in arriving at such a means, the risk is that any interim ‘quick fix’, such as a flat turnover-based tax, could potentially become permanent.While countries are free to introduce their own digital tax measures, as several have done, implementation of an EU-wide digital tax regime would require unanimity across all EU member states. The need for unanimity could make it challenging to implement as certain countries, including Ireland, are not in favour of the existing EU digital tax proposals.However, the EU is looking to replace unanimity over tax decisions with a form of “qualified majority voting”. While such a change will itself require unanimity, political factors may lead to the removal of the requirement for unanimity in the future. This could potentially pave the way for easier implementation of EU-wide tax changes.Although the removal of the requirement for unanimity on significant EU tax decisions is some years away, countries are often reluctant to use a veto to block EU tax proposals. Hence the real possibility of an EU-wide digital tax in the short- to medium-term.COVID-19 will also drive countries to seek out additional tax revenues to fund spending, with digital tax from large multinationals likely seen as an easy target.What does it mean for Ireland?In recent years, many multinational companies (MNCs) with substantial operations in Ireland have moved their valuable intellectual property (IP) here. Over time, this would be expected to increase corporation tax revenues in Ireland.A simple 3% tax on the ‘digital’ revenues of large MNCs would increase the effective tax rate of these companies and thus dilute the benefit of our 12.5% corporate tax rate. This would impact low-margin businesses most and from a tax perspective, would make it less attractive to operate from Ireland.While the movement of IP to Ireland should see an increase in our corporate tax revenues, an EU-wide digital tax could see a pull the other way; it may cause some groups to reconsider their Irish presence.However, even if our tax regime becomes relatively less attractive, our 12.5% corporate tax rate may still make Ireland the most compelling location in Europe in which to do business and help us retain key employers.Digital tax optionsThe EU acknowledges that a 3% turnover-based tax is a blunt instrument and that more refined taxation of digital activity is the end goal. The OECD considered other options, which would involve looking at the level of activity in the selling country in determining an appropriate allocation between the selling country and the market jurisdiction. However, it is acknowledged that this is a difficult exercise – one that potentially involves a rewriting of transfer pricing principles – hence the EU proposal to start with a straightforward 3% turnover-based tax.Ideally, there would be agreement at EU level on a more sophisticated and accurate means of profit allocation rather than simply jumping into a turnover-based tax regime. While this might take some time to develop, it could be part of negotiations at EU level given that unanimity is required to implement any digital tax proposals (although countries would remain free to continue to develop their own digital tax regimes, which is far from an ideal scenario). A longer-term solution that reflects the value-added activities taking place in the selling jurisdiction, not merely market jurisdiction factors, would be better for Ireland. It would also encourage more knowledge-based businesses to locate here.Wider impactIf the price of any negotiation on digital tax proposals is that unanimity over tax decisions is removed, there is a longer-term vista of other EU proposals being pushed through. This would include the dreaded Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), which would again look to rewrite the rules in terms of the allocation of a group’s profits. Such moves would be bad for a small, open economy such as Ireland with significant profits diverted to larger market jurisdictions diluting the benefit of our 12.5% corporate tax rate.Once again, we are at a critical juncture in terms of global tax rule changes. Developments to date have generally been positive for Ireland. However, it would be dangerous to think that this will continue to be the case. In practice, our options are limited in terms of influencing the direction of changes to the tax landscape. In any future scenario, however, the location of high value-add activities should continue to play a key role in the allocation of a group’s profits. One thing that is not good for Ireland is uncertainty. Groups cannot make robust plans in an uncertain environment. The sooner there is clarity on digital tax changes, the better for Ireland.Ongoing robust corporate tax receipts evidence the generally positive impact that global tax changes have had in Ireland to date, with a movement away from tax havens to jurisdictions with substance. If Ireland can maintain a regime that both encourages and rewards innovation, we will be in the best possible place to emerge relatively unscathed from the latest round of changes.Kim Doyle FCA is Tax Director, Head of Knowledge Centre at Grant Thornton.Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner, Head of International Tax at Grant Thornton.

Jul 30, 2020
News

How can you increase your bottom line during the challenging times we are currently operating in? Ciara McMullin outlines where VAT law can help businesses to gain short-term cash flow improvements. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cash is the lifeblood of business. Given the challenging times we are currently operating in, many companies are looking for innovative ways to increase their bottom line while improving their management of day-to-day operational costs. While maintaining cash flow is always vital to the success of any business, it is even more relevant during periods of unprecedented uncertainty. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Irish Revenue have introduced certain limited VAT measures targeted at small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There are, however, several mechanisms already provided for in VAT law, and generally accepted indirect tax practice, which can be used by any business (once relevant) to gain short-term cash flow improvements. If these simple strategies are appropriately implemented, the impact on cash flow could offer a significant boost to businesses during these times of need. VAT Cost Reduction Input VAT recovery methodology Ultimately, all businesses with restricted input VAT recovery need to ensure that the method in place for recovering VAT on dual-use inputs, being the percentage of VAT deductible on costs used both for VATable and non-deductible activities, correctly reflects the use to which the underlying costs are put. As a result of such a review, additional costs may be identified as being attributable to VATable supplies which, coupled with an overall change in the basis for calculating the input VAT blockage, could lead to significant improvements. Accounts payable review A review of accounts payable to consider if all input VAT incurred has been recovered, where permitted, can prove fruitful. In our experience, many businesses under-recover VAT either on categories of expenses, through mis-postings or failure to identify foreign VAT eligible for recovery. Not only can this lead to future cost reductions, but there may also be the opportunity to submit historic reclaims to tax authorities for any identified under-claimed VAT on such costs. Overseas input tax recovery Foreign VAT often remains unclaimed even though there are now efficient procedures in place to reclaim non-Irish VAT incurred. A refund of foreign VAT incurred by Irish and EU traders can be made through the Electronic VAT Refund (EVR) procedure, by submitting a claim via Revenue Online Services (ROS) (or the businesses relevant Tax Authority portal) within the relevant time limits. A reclaim for input VAT recovery on costs incurred in other EU Member States in 2019 must be submitted by an Irish trader to Revenue via ROS by 30 September 2020. The claim being made is still, however, subject to the VAT deductibility rules in the jurisdiction in which the VAT was incurred.  Bad debt relief (BDR) If a debt has been written off as an irrecoverable debt, the business should be able to obtain relief for all or part of the VAT paid on the original supply to the customer in default. Where large debts are written off, significant savings can be made.  VAT Cashflow Input tax accrual Operating an input tax accrual with a view to recovering VAT on invoices received but unposted to the accounting records in the earliest possible VAT return is another cash flow optimisation strategy worth considering at this time. If implemented correctly, substantial cash flow benefits can arise. VAT grouping Where there are considerable VATable costs between related entities, the cash flow benefits of forming a VAT group are also worth bearing in mind. Once VAT grouped, the VAT group remitter files a single VAT return per period for the entire group and accounts for any VAT due to Revenue. VAT does not need to be charged nor VAT invoices raised on supplies between VAT grouped entities, with the exception of property transactions. Accordingly, a significant positive cash flow impact can be availed of by forming a VAT group. VAT56B authorisation A qualifying business that holds a valid Section 56 authorisation is entitled to receive certain goods and services from Irish suppliers with a zero-rate of VAT applying as well as importing goods free from VAT. Eligibility to participate in this scheme can be a significant cash-flow benefit as it removes the requirement for suppliers to charge VAT on qualifying supplies in the first instance, and eliminates the necessity for a subsequent reclaim of this VAT on the business’s periodic VAT return. A business may avail of this relief if 75% of total annual turnover is derived from supplying goods to other EU countries (intra-community supplies), exporting goods to countries outside the EU or making supplies of certain contract work. Consider tax point of invoices Businesses could also consider the VAT tax points of their supplies and explore the timing of when VAT is due for payment. Consideration should also be given to when reverse charge obligations are triggered from supplies bought in from overseas. Other opportunities worth considering at this time are the offsetting of tax liabilities, e.g. using a VAT repayment to fund Employment Taxes or Corporation Tax or (re)negotiating customer and supplier payment terms (accounts payable seek longer payment terms; accounts receivable seek shorter payment terms). Ciara McMullin is an Indirect Tax Senior Manager with Deloitte.

Jun 05, 2020
Tax

Peter Vale considers the items that could become long-term features of Ireland’s tax regime under the new government. In the April issue of Accountancy Ireland, I wrote about the expected impact of COVID-19 on Exchequer receipts for 2020 and beyond. We have now seen the evidence with both VAT and excise down roughly 50% on similar months last year. While some of the drop in VAT receipts might be down to timing with companies deferring payments, a large chunk is an unquestionably permanent loss in VAT revenue due to lower spending. The income tax figures for May are also expected to show a significant drop, due to vastly lower numbers in employment. The Department’s view is that corporation tax figures will hold up better. I hope this forecast is right, but I fear that the hit to corporate profits will be higher than anticipated, with refunds for prior years and losses carried forward likely to feature. What is next? So, what does this mean for future taxes? Will the relatively healthy state of our public finances entering the crisis make for a less painful exit? The Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe T.D., has stated that he will not raise taxes this year as doing so would stifle the ability of the economy to recover. This makes sense, assuming we can afford to do it. You also cannot simply raise taxes and expect to collect more tax revenue; you reach a tipping point, after which further hikes result in less tax collected. And many of our taxes are already high. Tax reliefs Of course, ruling out impending tax increases does not mean that there will not be a focus on tax reliefs. While many tax reliefs have been abolished over the last decade or so, certain targeted reliefs remain available to taxpayers. It is unlikely that tax reliefs incentivising environmentally friendly behaviour will be targeted. Furthermore, the research and development (R&D) tax credit is also unlikely to be affected as it encourages more sustainable jobs. Reliefs that allow business assets to be passed (typically) to the next generation are more likely to be in scope. Generous reliefs exist for both the disponer and the recipient. These reliefs escaped the guillotine in the past as they continued to make economic sense; a large tax bill was avoided on a potentially illiquid event, allowing the business to be driven forward by the next generation. Capital taxes Capital taxes are likely to be targeted by the Minister, perhaps initially by way of curtailment of reliefs and in the medium-term via an increase in rates. That said, capital tax rates are already high with our 33% rate one of the highest in the EU. In contrast, the UK capital gains tax rate is 20%. We know that when the capital gains tax rate was halved from 40% to 20% some years back, the tax-take doubled. An increase in capital gains tax rates could see the opposite effect, with fewer transactions and potentially more tax planning resulting in a lower tax yield. Broadening the tax base One thing the Minister may look at in the future is broadening the income tax base. It is questionable as to whether this would be regarded as an increase in taxes, but it would generate more tax revenue. Broadening the tax base would mean more people paying tax, albeit many would pay very little. Adjusting the current exemption limits and credits would facilitate this. Broadening the tax base was a recommendation of the Commission of Taxation over a decade ago, but we have not seen it followed by governments since. While the notion of everybody contributing something may resonate more in the current environment, it may still prove politically unpalatable. Property tax In the medium-term, depending on the state of the public finances, other tax-raising measures may be considered. The options aren’t exactly limitless. Our VAT rate is already comparatively high, as are our income taxes. Our corporation tax rate is low but effectively untouchable. One tax rate that is low in a European context is property tax, in particular for residential property. Many economists see property taxes as the least distortive, so an increase in property taxes might be the ‘least bad’ way to raise taxes. Tackling property taxes would be a brave move for a new government, but potentially something that could be done in year one or year two of a new term. Conclusion In summary, tax increases later this year are unlikely – although we may see certain reliefs targetedand the ‘old reliables’ such as cigarettes and alcohol are unlikely to escape. In the medium-term, COVID-19 will mean that tax-raising measures are likely to feature. In my view, a broadening of the tax base and an increase in property taxes are the most likely outcomes. Both of the above could be long-term features of our tax regime, although much will depend on future government priorities.   Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner at Grant Thornton.

Jun 02, 2020
Tax

Geraldine Browne provides food for thought as employers prepare to report end-of-year expenses and benefits. At the time of writing, I am adjusting to working from home and seeking the best working station in the house (I lost). Much of my time is spent assisting clients with queries on the UK Government interventions introduced to help businesses survive in this challenging time. The most common questions relate to furloughed workers as companies struggle to maintain productivity. It is difficult to choose a topic for this article amid the human tragedy unfolding before us on a global scale. As this article will publish in June, employers will be gathering the necessary information to complete Forms P11D and share scheme reporting for the year ended 5 April 2020. For this reason, I will focus on P11D reporting and consider the changes employers face in benefit-in-kind (BIK) reporting in light of the coronavirus emergency. The due date for P11D reporting is 6 July 2020 for BIK provided for the year ended 5 April 2020. While this may have been delayed in line with other announcements from HMRC, the preparation process will nevertheless be the same. What do I need to file? If the employer paid any benefits and/or non-exempt expenses, or if they payrolled any BIKs, a P11D (B) form must be filed. The employer must include the total benefits liable to Class 1A, even if some of the benefits have been taxed through payroll. Employers are also required to give employees a letter informing them of the benefits that were payrolled and the amount of the benefit. What do you need to include on the P11D form? Taxable benefits typically include private medical and dental insurance, company cars, and gym membership, for example. HMRC has published a useful guide for P11D completion, which is a good starting point. Company cars and vans Employers are required to disclose the company car BIK for the full tax year where it is made available for the entire period. The question has been asked as to whether an employer can reduce the BIK value since employees have been asked to remain indoors and business travel in a company car ceased temporarily from March 2020. If an employee is furloughed and the vehicle remains at the employee’s home, the car is seen as being available under the current rules. At the time of writing, HMRC has not yet issued formal guidance on this matter. There have been suggestions that HMRC may accept that company cars will not be deemed available for BIK tax purposes where they are ‘virtually’ handed back by returning keys and fobs. It is worth reminding ourselves of the rules regarding the cessation of the car benefit. The benefit may cease, but remember: The car must be unavailable for at least 30 days to pause or cease a company car benefit; and HMRC will accept that the car is unavailable to the employee if it is broken down and has not been repaired or if the employee does not have the keys. If you have not already considered the company car policy, it is worth seeking advice in this area. Taxable expenses when working from home If employers provide a mobile phone without restriction on private use, limited to one employee, this is non-taxable. If the employee already pays for broadband, no additional expenses can be claimed. If broadband was not previously available in the employee’s home, the broadband fee paid for by the employer may be provided tax-free although in this case, private use must be restricted. Laptops, tablets, computers, and office supplies will not result in a taxable benefit if mainly used for business. If the employee purchases a desk and chair and seeks reimbursement from the employer, this will be viewed as taxable, and you may wish to include this in a Pay-as-you-earn Settlement Agreement (PSA). Some employers may provide employees with an allowance for additional expenses incurred in connection with working from home. This was increased to £6 per week from 6 April 2020 and can either be paid to the employee or reimbursed to them. Businesses and the economy are facing unprecedented financial pressure. It is worth reviewing your current benefits and expenses to identify ways in which you can reduce the cost to your business and reduce the taxable benefit to the employee. With many employees now furloughed and under severe financial pressure, any assistance an employer can provide to increase net pay will be welcome.   Geraldine Browne is Tax Director at BDO Northern Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020