Averaging profits of farmers etc

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 30 Mehefin 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have a couple of technical points and an opening comment. Clause 25 is about averaging profits of farmers. I am a great believer in averaging income. I first filled in an income tax form many years ago—I think it was called a T4 then; it might still be called that in Canada—in the days of automatic income tax averaging. As a fairly impecunious student, I benefited from that as my income rose over the years. I do not know whether it was done by computers in those days, but income tax averaging makes a lot of sense and the clause will extend it from two to five years. I gather there was a consultation on it, which closed on 27 September last year, but that there were only 26 respondents, 17 of whom thought the two-year option should be retained.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation has raised a technical issue. It likes the idea of retaining both the two-year system and the five-year system. That was its suggestion, and fair enough: the CIOT is not always right, but it is very helpful to all parts of the House. The CIOT cross-references clause 25 with HMRC’s “Making tax digital” approach, with its quarterly reporting or quarterly records being lodged, or whatever term we used to use—I realise they are technically not quarterly returns. The CIOT says: “We wonder how something like farmers’ averaging is going to work, given that taxable profits will depend on averaging calculations over a number of years, so rendering quarterly figures pretty much meaningless.” Perhaps they are meaningless; perhaps they are not. Will the Minister say a little about that?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 25 will give self-employed farmers the option to average their profits over five years as well as the existing option to average over two years. Farmers typically have volatile profits, often due to uncontrollable factors such as the weather, disease or fluctuating product prices. Farming is a highly capital-intensive sector, the volatility of which makes it difficult for farmers to plan and invest for the future. It is a long-standing feature of our income tax system to allow farmers to average their profits over two consecutive years for income tax purposes, smoothing their tax bills over consecutive good and bad years, which prevents them from having to pay significantly higher amounts of tax in the good years. The clause will give farmers additional flexibility and protection from volatile profits by allowing them to choose to average their profits over a two-year or five-year period. More than 29,000 self-employed farmers could benefit from the additional option, with an average saving of around £950 on their income tax bill each year.

As for online digital accounts, it is expected that annual claims such as the averaging of profits will be incorporated into the design of the “Making tax digital” programme as it develops. However, I stress that quarterly reporting is not a quarterly calculation or a quarterly return. It is not about being taxed on the basis of what is earned in the quarter; it is about the provision of information. HMRC is well aware that issues such as seasonal work mean that one quarter may be very different from the next—it is certainly alive to that. As more information on HMRC’s thinking is put into the public domain, people will be reassured that the “Making tax digital” programme should not in any way undermine the policy objectives set out in clause 25.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27