Life insurance policies: recalculating gains on part surrenders etc

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:45 am ar 17 Hydref 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury) 10:45, 17 Hydref 2017

I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 9, page 17, line 45, at end insert—

“512B  Review of operation of sections 507A and 512A

(1) Prior to 30 June 2020, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review of the operation of sections 507A and 512A.

(2) The review shall consider in particular—

(a) the number of applications made under each section,

(b) the number of occasions a gain was recalculated on a just and reasonable basis under each section.

(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons as soon as practicable after its completion.”

This amendment would require HMRC to undertake a review of the operation of the new provisions for requests for new calculations in relating to wholly disproportionate gains by policyholders.

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 9 stand part.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Clause 9 removes tax liability where wholly disproportionate gains inadvertently are made from surrendering life insurance. We can understand the motivation behind the measure. We know that the clause aims to introduce an application by which policyholders who part surrendered or part assigned their life insurance policies, including capital redemption policies and contracts for life annuities, and generated a wholly disproportionate taxable gain, can apply to HMRC to have their gain recalculated on a just and reasonable basis. None the less, we are concerned about the lack of key safeguards and the exercise of what is essentially a discretionary remedy by HMRC. The measure is not backed by the fundamental safeguard of a statutory right of appeal to a first-tier tribunal of the officer’s decision on what constitutes a just and reasonable basis for the calculation. It would be helpful if the Minister explained the reasoning for not making express legislative provision for a right of appeal, which we feel is a fundamental safeguard in the exercise of a discretionary remedy. Therefore, our amendment asks for greater consideration of that and other issues through a review, and I hope the Government will accept that request.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 9 makes changes to ensure that policyholders who take value from their ongoing life insurance policies in such a way that a wholly disproportionate gain is generated, as the hon. Member for Oxford East pointed out, can apply to HMRC to have the gain recalculated on a just and reasonable basis. Recent litigation has exposed circumstances in which cash withdrawals from life insurance policies, known as part surrenders, can give rise to a wholly disproportionate taxable gain. That could also occur following an early sale of part of a policy, also known as a part assignment. In particular, large early withdrawals of cash from a policy that shows little or no underlying economic growth can generate taxable gains that are wholly disproportionate in size and effect. Usually, if cash had been taken by a different method, little or no gain would have arisen.

At Budget 2016, the Government announced their intention to change the tax rules on part surrenders and part assignments of life insurance policies. The changes made by clause 9 will introduce an application process through which policyholders who trigger wholly disproportionate gains can apply to HMRC to have their gain recalculated on a just and reasonable basis.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of appeals. Although taxpayers do not have a right of appeal, they have strong safeguards through the complaints procedure, which provides a simple and straightforward way for policyholders to express dissatisfaction with a decision and have it scrutinised independently. Recalculation applications will be dealt with by a small team in HMRC, ensuring consistency and quality of approach. If taxpayers are unhappy with the decision made, they can complain, and any complaint will be dealt with fairly and impartially by someone independent of the original decision maker. If taxpayers are still not satisfied, the complaint can be referred to the adjudicator or the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The changes will provide a fair outcome for policyholders who inadvertently generate disproportionate gains. An important point is that the measure is expected to affect fewer than 10 policyholders per year and to have a negligible cost to the Exchequer. The impact on life insurance companies, which broadly support the measure, is also expected to be negligible.

The Opposition amendment would require HMRC to complete a review of the operation of these changes by June 2020. The proposed changes in the clause provide a fair outcome for the very small number of policyholders—around 10—who inadvertently generate these gains. As mentioned earlier, we expect fewer than 10 policyholders to be affected. A formal mandated review, followed by a report to the House of Commons, would be an excessive requirement for changes so narrow in scope and for such a small number of individuals affected. I therefore ask the Committee to resist the amendment.

To conclude, clause 9 will provide a fairer outcome for a small number of policyholders who generate wholly disproportionate gains. I invite the hon. Lady not to press her amendment, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

We are willing to withdraw the amendment, but we want to ensure above all that the information and advice about the provisions are definitely made available to the albeit small number of policyholders. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Graham Stuart.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.