Monthly Archives: October 2016

VAT – Cash businesses: Investigations

By   October 25, 2016

restaurant-939435_960_720-2HMRC’s methods of establishing underdeclarations

HMRC have always taken interest in cash businesses as they see them as a revenue risk.  We have heard, anecdotally, that there is an ongoing campaign to target cash businesses which HMRC suspect are under-declaring takings. Such businesses are usually retail and commonly restaurants and take aways (which I shall use as an example in this article).  A retail business is obliged to keep certain records.  For sales, this is a record of daily gross takings (DGT) and this is the area I will focus on as it is where “suppression” of income generally occurs.  In a very crude example, the owner, or a member of staff does not ring up a sale and the payment is pocketed.  There are more sophisticated ways in which suppression occurs, but this is the most common.

Even in this day and age where most payments are made by credit or debit cards, there is still significant scope for declarations to be inaccurate.

The methods

There are a number of ways in which HMRC can determine the accuracy of VAT declarations.  These may be from the usual bank and accounts reconciliations, mark up exercises, to, say, counting take-away containers to build up a picture of the turnover.  The following are also ways in which HMRC test the credibility of declarations:

  • Compliance checks

These usually take place in the evenings when a restaurant is open for business (or soon after it closes). Officers gain entrance, question staff, examine records for that and previous days, and remove certain records. From this information they can build up a picture of trading.  These visits are usually unannounced.

  • Invigilation exercise

HMRC observe how the business operates and check that all sales of food and drinks are rung into the till. This is usually with the agreement of the business.

  • Test meals

HMRC staff will purchase a test meal and at a later time check to see if it has been recorded correctly.  It may be that this method will be repeated at a suspect restaurant by different HMRC staff, perhaps in the same evening.  If any of the sales are not recorded correctly, it may be insufficient in itself to create an assessment, but it will confirm suspicions of suppression and lead to further action.

  • Observation

While posing as customers, HMRC will also count the number of covers, the amount of take aways, the number of staff, how orders are taken and paid for, and how payments are made.

  • Surveillance

Members of HMRC staff park outside a restaurant (usually in an unmarked van) and watch the activities of the restaurant.  They count the number of people dining and the numbers of people exiting with take aways. This observation may also record the number of deliveries and other relevant information that they are able to obtain from what they can see.  This exercise may be carried out over a number of days/nights or even weeks.

  • Purchases

In more complex suppression, the value of purchases may also be suppressed in order to present a more credible picture to an inspector.  This may be more common if the purchases are zero rated food (on which the business would not claim input tax). HMRC may attempt to build up a picture of sales by the volume of actual purchases made.  They often check the restaurant’s suppliers’ records to get a full picture of trade.

Information obtained by one of the above methods may, on its own, be insufficient to raise an assessment, but combined with information obtained in different ways will more often than not result in one (should the exercises demonstrate an under-declaration of course).

Taxpayer’s rights

Attendance

HMRC do not have the right to attend a taxpayer’s premises at any time.  The law says that inspections may be carried out “at any reasonable time”. This means that that if a business owner is busy, or the time is outside normal office hours, or there is not access to all of the relevant information, or the request is unreasonable for any other reason, the business owner (or his adviser) may request that an inspector leaves and makes an appointment at a future reasonable time.  This is sometimes easier to do in theory than in practice, but a taxpayer’s rights are set out in The Finance Act 2009, Schedule 36, part II.

A business has no right to refuse a “regular” inspection but these are arranged for an agreed time in any case.

Records

The VAT Act 1994, Schedule 11 states that the requirement to produce records is limited to being provided at such time as HMRC “may reasonably require”. So, again, if HMRC are making demands that a business feels are unreasonable, it is within its rights to refuse to allow access and to make a mutually agreed and acceptable appointment to allow access to premises and records.  This may lead to a discussion, but HMRC do not have unfettered rights to access premises or records.

Best judgement

Regardless of how HMRC have gathered information, any assessment must be made to the best of their judgement and must be “an honest and genuine attempt to make a reasoned assessment of the VAT payable”.   If the business is able to demonstrate that this was not the case, the assessment must be removed.  Broadly, this will entail demonstrating that things that ought to have been considered were ignored, or that things that have been included should not have been.  Generally, the most common ways to challenge an assessment based on the above exercises are; that the period considered was not representative, or not long enough to be representative, or that the tests carried out were insufficient to demonstrate a consistent pattern of trading. There are usually specific facts in each case that may be used to challenge the validity and quantum of an assessment.

Action

Of course, it is hoped that no business which makes accurate declarations is troubled by such investigations.  However, if a business feels that HMRC is being unreasonable with its demands it should seek professional advice before agreeing to permit HMRC access.

Matters change however, if HMRC have a Search Warrant or a Writ of Assistance in which case HMRC are able to compel a business to allow entry or inspection.

As always, we advise that any assessment is, at the very least, reviewed by a business’ adviser.

 

Latest from the courts: Excise Duty – against which party may an assessment be raised?

By   October 19, 2016

wine-2A little “light” relief from VAT.  Indirect taxes extend to Customs and Excise Duties (as well as IPT and various other “lower profile” taxes) and we are able to assist with all of these.

In an interesting Excise Duty case; B & M Retail Limited (B & M) the Upper Tribunal were asked whether an assessment for Customs Duty due on wine and beer could be issued to an entity “down the chain” to an entity which was holding goods at a given time.

Background

HMRC detained the relevant the goods under The Customs & Excise Management Act 1979 (“CEMA”) Section 139 on the grounds that, in their judgment, on the balance of probabilities, Excise Duty had not been paid on the goods. Under B & M’s terms and conditions of business its suppliers were required to warrant that the sale of alcohol to B & M was on a “Excise Duty paid” basis.

The First Tier Tribunal (FTT) decided that despite an HMRC investigation resulting in the fact that they were not satisfied that duty had been paid on the goods, B & M was not responsible for the duty (and subsequent penalties) as the goods had passed through other various entities before they reached the appellant.  The decision was based on the fact that the duty point must have arisen before the goods reached B & M and consequently, the duty was payable by someone further up the supply chain and not simply by the entity which was holding the Excise Duty goods at the Excise Duty point.

Decision

However, the Upper Tribunal disagreed with the FTT and overturned the verdict.  The Upper Tribunal stated that “… the recognition by HMRC that one or more other Excise Duty points must, in principle, have been triggered before B & M received the relevant goods did not preclude HMRC from assessing B & M for excise duty …”.  The Upper Tribunal did, however, remit the case to the First Tier Tribunal to review the evidence to ensure that the assessment is in time and that, as a matter of fact, the Excise Duty due on the beer and wine remains unpaid.

Conclusion

It would appear that this decision currently gives HMRC the right to raise an assessment for duty and penalties anywhere along the supply chain when an entity is holding the goods, even though a “previous” entity may have been responsible for the payment. This is not * * polite cough * * small beer as the amount in question was £5,875,143 of duty and a penalty of £1,175,028.  This is helpful to HMRC as, in this instant case, it would appear that entities further up the supply chain were either not registered, or became deregistered, making it more difficult for HMRC to recover the Duty due.

It is important for every importer to be clear about the Excise Duty position and to carry out detailed due diligence on the relevant shipment.  It is now not possible to escape an assessment by demonstrating that a third party is responsible for the payment of the duty.

VAT – Latest from the courts: Craft fair pitches standard rated

By   October 17, 2016

2013-12-01 Bury St Eds Xmas Fair0020 (2)The Upper Tribunal (UT) case of Zombory-Moldovan (trading as Craft Carnival)

Background

In the past, the rent of stall at craft fairs have generally been treated as an exempt right over land. In fact, in this instant case, the First Tier Tribunal agreed with the appellant that supplies made to stallholders to sell their goods were the equivalent to a right to occupy land and therefore exempt from VAT.

However, in this decision, the UT overturned this analysis and found that the supply was standard rated.

Decision

The reasons given were that what Craft Carnival supplied went beyond the mere use of a plot of land for a specific period and amounted to the use of a pitch at an event in order to “offer certain goods for sale”.  The test in the previous “Temco” case on this point stated that an exempt supply amounts to a “relatively passive activity linked simply to the passage of time and not generating any significant added value”.  Craft Carnivals had “very real and significant responsibilities beyond the bare provision of an appropriately-sized plot”. This, being a single supply (it was decided) meant that the entire charge was subject to VAT at the standard rate.

The appellant’s website stated that “In addition to the erection of marquees, which are hired for the duration of a fair, Mrs Zombory-Moldovan arranges for the provision 45 of other necessary temporary facilities including portable toilets, electrical generators and security fencing. She also employs between five and seven members of staff to act as ticket sellers and car park 3 marshals. Before the fair takes place Mrs Zombory-Moldovan would have issued a press release and advertised the event in local newspapers and on Craft Carnival’s website and booked a children’s entertainer, such as a magician, to encourage families to attend.”

Impact

Any business or charity which provides similar supplies must review their VAT responsibilities in light of this decision immediately. This case is likely have far-reaching implications for both organisers and those businesses which sell goods in fairs and similar events.  This may encompass; trade fairs, exhibitions and even, possibly, high end car-boot sales type events. We await HMRC’s response to their victory in this case and how wide-ranging they consider the decision to be.

Please contact us if this decision affects your or your client’s businesses.

Latest from the courts: missing goods subject to VAT

By   October 13, 2016

bulgaria-shop-2In the CJEU case of Maya Marinova the issue was whether goods which could not be located in the Bulgarian appellant’s warehouse were subject to VAT on the grounds they had been disposed of.

Background

The appellant purchased certain goods, and subsequently, at an inspection, was unable to either;

  • produce the goods , or;
  • demonstrate how they were disposed of.

The Bulgarian authorities had confirmed that the goods had been purchased from a supplier, but the purchases did not appear in the business’ purchase records. They assessed for VAT on the missing goods assuming that they had been purchased and sold off record and the output tax had not been accounted for. They employed a mark-up exercise based on similar goods sold in the appellant’s shop.

The case proceeded directly to the court without an AG’s opinion.  The matter was; whether the decision to assess offended the principle of fiscal neutrality if it were supported by national legislation (which it was here).  It was decided that in these circumstances, such action was not precluded and the assessment was basically sound.  It was stated that “… tax authorities may presume that the taxable person subsequently sold those goods to third parties and determine the taxable amount of the sale of those goods according to the factual information at hand …”.  As usual, the case was passed back to the referring court to consider whether the Bulgarian domestic legislation goes further than is necessary to ensure the correct collection of tax and to prevent evasion.

Commentary

Although the issues in this case arose from specific facts, this is not an uncommon scenario for a business.  It was hardly a surprising outcome.  In a similar position in the UK, HMRC is also very likely to form the view that if the goods are no longer on hand, then they must have been disposed of, unless evidence to the contrary is provided by a taxpayer.

Of course, there may be a genuine reason why the goods are no longer in stock, but no output tax has been declared on them.  These reasons are considered in guidance published by HMRC here and the rules mainly consider goods which have been lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed.

There are specific ways of dealing with VAT in these situations, and in fact, whether output tax is due at all.  Failure to comply with this guidance may result in an assessment being issued.   The general point is VAT is only due after a tax point has been created.  A crude example is that if goods are shoplifted from a store, there is no output tax due.  However, if the goods were sold and recorded via a till, and the money which went into the till was stolen, output tax is still due on the supply of those goods (as found in the case of G Benton [1975] VATTR 138).

As always with VAT, it is crucial to keep accurate and up to date records to evidence supplies (as well as recording the movement of stock and any discrepancies in these circumstances).  Although an inspector will need to demonstrate “best judgement” in issuing an assessment in respect of missing goods, it is obviously prudent to be able to demonstrate why the anticipated output tax has not been declared and therefore be prepared for such enquiries.

In this instant case, it was not discovered why the goods were not located in the warehouse.  It could be that there was a miscommunication between parts of the business, a simple underdeclaration of sales, staff theft, or any other hazards of business.  Even for non-tax reasons it is vital that a business’ systems are sufficiently robust to identify such occurrences and procedures are put into place to deal with them.

If you or your clients have received an assessment of this sort, it is usually worthwhile obtaining a review of the position.

VAT – Intended penalty for participating in fraud

By   October 3, 2016

justice-godess-of-2Consultation

A consultation was proposed in the 2016 Budget on the introduction of a new penalty for businesses that participate in VAT fraud. Now HMRC has announced that views are sought on; whether there is a case for a new penalty, its structure and to whom it should apply.  The intended changes will require amendment to Schedule 24 of the Finance Act 2007.  The main target of these proposed new measures is MTIC (Missing Trader Intra-Community) fraud.

Full details of the consultation paper here

Penalty principles

It may be worth reviewing HMRC’s view on the principles of applying a penalty, which they state are;

  • The penalty regime should be designed from the customer perspective, primarily to encourage compliance and prevent non-compliance. Penalties are not to be applied with the objective of raising revenues.
  • Penalties should be proportionate to the offence and may take into account past behaviour.
  • Penalties must be applied fairly, ensuring that compliant customers are (and are seen to be) in a better position than the non-compliant.
  • Penalties must provide a credible threat. If there is a penalty, we must have the operational capability and capacity to raise it accurately, and if we raise it, we must be able to collect it in a cost-efficient manner.
  • Customers should see a consistent and standardised approach. Variations will be those necessary to take into account customer behaviours and particular taxes.

Consultation Process

It may be an appropriate time to look at what the consultation process is and how it works.  This may helpfully be summarised (by HMRC) as:

There are 5 stages to tax policy development:

  • Stage 1 Setting out objectives and identifying options.
  • Stage 2 Determining the best option and developing a framework for implementation including detailed policy design.
  • Stage 3 Drafting legislation to effect the proposed change.
  • Stage 4 Implementing and monitoring the change.
  • Stage 5 Reviewing and evaluating the change.

The closing date for comments on this consultation is 11 November 2016.

Comment

Putting to one side the minor irritation of taxpayers being called customers (a bête noire of mine I’m afraid) it is difficult to argue with the above principles and any attempt to prevent or deter VAT fraud is to be welcomed, as long as it does not impact on innocent parties and HMRC apply any such penalty in an even-handed manner. As a taxpayer in a personal and business capacity, I welcome any measures that may result in my tax bill being increased to cover revenue lost to fraud!

Action

Of course, please respond to HMRC should you feel that you should make your views known.  The consultation is open to businesses, individuals, legal firms, accountants, and other interested parties.

We occasionally come across situations where innocent parties have been inadvertently been caught up in fraudulent supply chains. Please contact us for advice on planning that may be put in place to avoid this position and how we can assist if HMRC are making enquiries. As always in VAT, it always pays to be proactive to ensure that processes and structures in place are robust and are demonstrably so.