Clause 22 - Transfers of assets abroad

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 am ar 21 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

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

Clause 22 makes changes to ensure that individuals cannot use a company as a device to bypass anti-avoidance legislation, known as the transfer of assets abroad provisions. Those provisions are designed to prevent individuals from transferring ownership of income-generating assets, such as real estate or stocks, to an overseas individual or entity while still benefiting from the income that the assets generate. The provisions prevent the moving of assets into offshore structures outside the scope of UK taxation being a simple tax avoidance route for UK residents.

The clause has been introduced following a Supreme Court decision. Prior to the decision, HMRC considered that shareholders and directors who controlled a company could transfer an asset and were therefore in scope of the transfer of assets abroad provisions. However, the Supreme Court decision means that a shareholder cannot be determined as a transferor, which therefore opens up a loophole that can be exploited by shareholders transferring assets abroad via a close company to avoid UK tax. A close company is a company with five or fewer participators, usually shareholders or directors, who have ownership or control over the business.

The changes made by the clause will introduce a provision that deems an individual as the transferor where they are participators in a close company that transfers an asset to a person abroad in order to avoid UK tax. The amendment also applies to transfers by non-resident companies that would be treated as a close company if they were UK resident. The changes will have an impact on transactions only where the purpose of the transfer is to avoid tax and will not have an impact on transfers that are genuine commercial transactions. The changes will apply to income that arises after 6 April 2024, regardless of when the transfer took place.

In situations where multiple shareholders are involved in the transfer of an asset, any resulting tax charge will be apportioned between those individuals in proportion to their respective shareholdings. Further details will be provided in HMRC guidance. The measure is expected to affect a small number of individuals a year and will raise about £15 million in tax revenue over the forecast period.

This change was anticipated by external groups and demonstrates that the Government are quick to crack down on tax avoidance loopholes. This clause prevents tax avoidance by ensuring that individuals cannot bypass anti-avoidance legislation by using a company to transfer assets abroad while still benefiting from the income they generate. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury) 10:30, 21 Mai 2024

We believe that individuals or companies generating wealth in the UK should pay their fair share, so we are in complete support of the aims of this clause. However, we have heard concerns raised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation about the effectiveness of the Government’s proposals and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on those concerns.

First, the Chartered Institute of Taxation has argued that the clause adds complexity to the tax system, because it uses income tax legislation to tackle perceived corporate tax avoidance. Clause 22 extends provision within the Income Tax Act 2007 to cover avoidance of any tax through transfer made by a closely held company. Could the Minister explain the thinking behind the Government’s decision to tackle corporate tax avoidance in this way, rather than through the corporate tax regime? Does he agree with the Chartered Institute of Taxation that it could add unnecessary complication to the tax system?

Secondly, the Chartered Institute of Taxation made the case that the Government’s position that any participator in a company is deemed to be involved in a company’s decision to move assets abroad is unfair. For example, a company may have several minority shareholders who have no participation in the running of the company. What is the Minister’s assessment of the case made by the Chartered Institute of Taxation that only major shareholders, directors and shadow directors should be assumed to be involved for the purposes of this legislation?

Thirdly, the Chartered Institute of Taxation has warned that these changes could damage the UK’s international competitiveness, because the test as set out in the legislation leaves too much discretion to HMRC, which compounds uncertainty for businesses. For example, a UK holding company that provides a loan to an offshore subsidiary that in turn generates profits could be caught by the changes, despite that being a routine transaction. The Chartered Institute of Taxation argues that that could lead to an increased number of inquiries and appeals to the tax tribunals and could seriously undermine the UK’s attractiveness for international headquarters.

What does the Minister make of those concerns? What steps will HMRC take to ensure that involvement and objection defences under the clause are not ambiguous or uncertain, and to ensure that those charges do not prove to be increased excessively for taxpayers?

My final point is that the changes introduced by clause 22 appear to be retrospective, as no date is specified whereafter transactions are affected; the clause says only that income arising after April 2024 is caught by the regime. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case? Will commercial transactions that were carried out many years ago, but from which income arises after April 2024, still be caught?

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

I thank the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn for her comments. We very much appreciate the input that we have received from stakeholders and interested parties, including the Chartered Institute of Taxation. Some of those points are about broader issues around the TOAA regime, rather than specific to this legislation, but we do hear what they have to say.

I will respond to the hon. Lady’s points about the changes that apply to companies when the TOAA regime is primarily about individuals. The transfer of assets abroad legislation is an anti-avoidance provision aimed at preventing individuals from avoiding a tax charge by transferring an asset to a person overseas while still being able to enjoy the income of that asset in some way. It would be easy for an individual to sidestep the legislation by transferring such an asset to a company that they controlled before the company then made the transfer abroad. The legislative changes are aimed at preventing that situation and ensuring that the TOAA rules are applied as intended.

On the point about the legislation being broad, let us not forget that it is being brought in in response to the Supreme Court judgment; we are trying to make sure that it acts as intended throughout. The intention of the legislation is to put the situation involving transfers by companies back to how HMRC considered it operated before the Supreme Court decision. The transfer of assets abroad legislation aims to stop that tax avoidance.

It is also important to remember that the legislation does not bring a tax charge when the transfer is for genuine commercial reasons or when tax avoidance was not the purpose of the transfer. The new legislation gives individuals the opportunity to exclude themselves from the tax charge if certain conditions are met. We respectfully disagree with the CIOT on some of those conditions. We have outlined some of those, and HMRC will produce further guidance in due course.

On the retroactive criticism, the clause has retroactive effect because if it did not, it would have allowed individuals to abuse the loophole between the date of the Fisher judgment and the enactment of the legislation. Again, we do not believe that there will be a significant increase in complexity. The purpose behind the legislation is primarily to ensure that the regime acts as intended.

I will not go into the weeds on HMRC’s determination process—further guidance will be given—but HMRC will review the facts of a case to judge whether someone is directly or indirectly involved in the decision making of a company. It will accept evidence that shows whether someone is involved or not. However, any arrangements that are put in place purely to be used as evidence that an individual is not involved in the decision making of a company will be disregarded and a charge will be levied if the other conditions are met. As I said, HMRC will issue guidance on how it will approach the matter in due course. Decisions will be made based on the facts of each individual case.

I hope that I have given the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn some assurance. We appreciate the concerns that have raised by key stakeholders, and further information and guidance will be forthcoming.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.