Banks, accountants and businesses that help people evade tax are looking at giganto fines, according to George Osborne. The Chancellor is clearly responding to the HSBC scandal where their Swiss wing helped a load of bad sorts sidestep that pesky business of taxation.
Apparently, Gideon will be using the platform of a policy statement before the election to say that companies and organisations who are enabling tax-dodging will face the same penalties as those who benefit from dodging. Words being thrown around are “corporate failure” and the severe sounding “economic crime.”
People who fund political parties across the board will be hoping that he’s bluffing, eh?
Of course, this is a headache for Osborne, as he batted away questions about whether or not he’d talked about the HSBC scandal with Lord Green who just so happens to be a former HSBC chairman and was given the role of Trade Minister by the Government in 2011. Speaking about that, Osborne said: “Some very serious allegations have been made about HSBC Swiss and its role in knowingly advising people on tax evasion. Of course this is a matter that our criminal authorities, prosecuting authorities will want to look into.”
“We are currently in active discussion which I think will come to a fruitful end to get the French to allow us to pass some of this information to the Serious Fraud Office and other prosecuting authorities to address the concern… about the potential or alleged role of banks in this affair.”
HSBC are, as you’re more than aware, in the middle of a rather large tax avoidance scandal. Even though they said ‘sorry’, it hasn’t stopped a 17% fall in their annual profits.
Of course, the bank saw profits fall to £12.14bn, which is still a stupefying amount of money, but we can still laugh at them. They reckon that this drop reflects ”lower business disposal and reclassification gains and the negative effect, on both revenue and costs, of significant items including fines, settlements, UK customer redress and associated provisions”.
Did you catch all that? In English, what they’re saying is that a number of scandals is costing them money, including the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI). Basically, they’re sorting out their own mess as well as watching their share price falling by more than 5%.
And what’s even more ridiculous about all this? This news follows reports that HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver has himself enjoyed a Swiss bank account and the benefits that brings you. While he’s promising to reform the bank in the wake of all manner of allegations, this is rather embarrassing for him. It is worth pointing out, legally, that Gulliver denies doing anything wrong.
He said: “2014 was a challenging year in which we continued to work hard to improve business performance while managing the impact of a higher operating cost base. Profits disappointed, although a tough fourth quarter masked some of the progress made over the preceding three quarters.”
“Many of the challenging aspects of the fourth-quarter results were common to the industry as a whole.”
Are you tired of having to hold things in your hands and poke at devices with your beautiful, delicate fingers? Want to get online without all the hassle of moving your arms, but don’t fancy the idea of Google Glass (then again, no-one does)?
Well, you’re in luck! That’s because a research division of the U.S. military is working on a chip (roughly the size of 10p piece) which is put in your brain and works like a computer from there. If you want to access some dirty films online, you’d simply have to think about it.
That could be a problem if you spend all day thinking about dirty films and you’re in a meeting with human resources and all you can see is a load of sweaty limbs and bodily fluids. It all sounds like a science fiction film doesn’t it? And they never run smoothly.
This idea has been hatched up by the brilliant people at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) who basically get paid to come up with crazy ideas and then try and execute them. That said, some of the things they’re partly responsible for are a predecessor to the internet, so they’re not daft.
“The short term goal of the project is the development of a device about the size of two stacked nickels with a cost of goods on the order of $10 which would enable a simple visual display via a direct interface to the visual cortex with the visual fidelity of something like an early LED digital clock,” report Humanity+.
“The implications of this project are astounding.”
Thus far, the research has tried it out on a bunch of fish, so it is too early to say how this is going. Besides, to fish even use the internet? Would they even know where to find dirty films with the use of their brains? Either way, when Samsung start installing bloatware into your mind, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The heat is being turned up on HSBC as the authorities launch an investigation into the bank’s private bank in Switzerland over allegations of money laundering. This, you’ll know, follows the news that HSBC seem to have been turning a blind-eye to dodgy goings on where the bank have been helping blood diamond traders and gun-runners to evade taxes. Allegedly.
Prosecutors in Geneva have announced that they’re searching the premises of HSBC Private Bank. In a statement, they said: ”Following the recent revelations related to the HSBC Private Bank (Switzerland), the public prosecutor announces the opening of a criminal procedure against the bank … for aggravated money laundering.”
They also added that this probe was against HSBC themselves, but depending on their findings, they could well include individuals who have been ”suspected of committing or participating in acts of money laundering”.
The cache of leaked files given to the press makes a lot of bold claims that will be making a lot of people very nervous. There’s accusations that HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm helped out the wealthy from more than 200 countries to sidestep taxes, on accounts that totalled over £77bn. There’s some celebrities being implicated too, as well as arms dealers, dictators’ associates and other “outlaws”.
A statement from HSBC said: “We have co-operated continuously with the Swiss authorities since first becoming aware of the data theft in 2008 and we continue to co-operate.”
Tampons! The scourge of wimpy men the world over who feel a bit awkward for having to buy something that goes in a lady and gets some gunky blood on it. Of course, you don’t buy them soiled so you’d think they’d treat them like buying toilet roll, but no, it makes some blokes screw their faces up. The wusses.
Anyway, the weird attitude toward tampons is, bafflingly, still a thing in 2015, where they’re still a product that is deemed ‘a luxury’ for women and are taxed accordingly. Presumably, women are supposed to use bits of old rag or something, which would stink up the place and ensure that they couldn’t work properly or function as normal members of society.
With that, a petition is doing the rounds, with over 150,000 signatures aiming to ditch the tax on tampons.
There’s been a 5% tax on tampons for years now, because HMRC think that they’re a ‘non-essential, luxury’ item. As the petition points out, this is a bizarre decision that is costing consumers money, needlessly, given that tax-exempt things include cold sandwiches, ’edible sugar jellies’ and ‘crocodile meat’.
It is nigh-on impossible to argue against the fact that tampons are as close to an absolutely necessary product for millions of people, making this one of the most baffling consumer issues of the past 50-odd years.
The petition says: “Sanitary products control and manage menstruation. They are essential because without them, those who menstruate would have no way of pursuing a normal, flexible, public or private life and would be at risk of jeopardising their health. We should all feel free to enjoy a life of our choice: period or no period.”
“Essential items should not be taxed because tax implements a monetary discouragement that lessens a product’s accessibility and affordability. It is therefore damaging to stand by a tax that has restricted the public’s access to healthcare and constrained their ability to consume a vital range of products for decades.”
“We are here to remind HMRC that menstruating men and women exist and that public policy should reflect this. Tax allocations should expose the needs of society as a whole, and the needs of those who menstruate as well as those who don’t. Because we care about these people, this campaign was made in support of tax allocations representing them and reflecting something that is vital.”
Insert your own ‘Tax office rakes in blood money’ joke here.
The culture around banking has been a cesspool since the ’80s, when they were let off the lead to do pretty much whatever they wanted. Successive governments didn’t do anything about it either, letting them crack on… until they mucked everything up and loads of information came out about them which painted them in a bleak light.
Of course, the current government isn’t going to do anything about it either. And why would they? The whole rotten system can be fixed by simply saying ‘sorry’.
And that’s what HSBC have done and, with their apology, we can all sleep soundly, knowing that that simple phrase has transformed decades of awful behaviour in the world of finance.
You’ll know that HSBC have been doing all manner of dodgy tax business via their Swiss arm, helping clients to sidestep taxes – many of whom just so happen to be fundraisers for the Conservative Party.
Anyway, the bank was so very, very sorry that they took out a full-page advert in the Sunday papers, saying that the whole thing had been a painful experience and that standards in place today “were not universally in place” in years gone by. Fixing all the problems in banking, HSBC said: ”We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.”
Nice that all those shady dealings are now consigned to the past, eh? It really is a big relief to us all and, more importantly, it was so nice to see MPs across the board talking about the issue and not ignoring it at all.
That said, now we think of it, it would’ve been nicer if HSBC had said something along the lines of ‘this won’t happen again’, and maybe some assurances from politicians that they might want to put penalties or rules in place to ensure that huge amounts of money don’t vanish like this, and that massive institutions actually bolster the tax pot for the UK, so maybe we wouldn’t have to see so many cuts made to public services.
All that is by-the-by now, because HSBC have said sorry, which makes absolutely everything right and proper in the world. God bless every one of them.
Things haven’t been too bad for your pocket so far in 2015- with supermarket wars meaning they are almost paying you to buy milk, and fuel prices sliding back towards £1 a litre. Still, things can always get even better, and wouldn’t cheaper booze make this year worth celebrating even more?
Duty on wines, beer and spirits is normally a one-way street, with rates rising in successive Budgets, although in recent times, we have benefitted from duty freezes, meaning that prices haven’t gone up just to fill the Treasury coffers. However, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) want to go one step further, and have today met with Treasury officials to argue the case for a 2% reduction in tax on wines and spirits (they aren’t fussed about beer).
According to the WSTA, the UK wine and spirits industry is worth almost £45bn and delivers £14.5bn in tax revenue for the Treasury, as well as providing 600,000 jobs in the UK. The WSTA claims that a 2% reduction in tax on wine and spirits would generate a further £3 billion for the economy and £1.1bn in additional tax income. As well as making our favourite tipples just that little bit cheaper.
“Despite the fantastic contribution the UK wine and spirits industry makes to the Treasury, we have still faced a difficult climate in recent years,” commented Miles Beale, WSTA chief executive. “Sales and consumption in the UK has been in decline and the impact of seven years of the Alcohol Duty Escalator has taken its toll on producers and retailers, who have seen their margins squeeze and on consumers who have seen prices rise higher than inflation as a result.”
Of course, the mere fact of a submission does not guarantee, or even indicate that a cut in duty is on the cards for the Chancellor’s next Budget in March. However, this being election season, George could probably do with a couple of extra sweeteners to help persuade the electorate round to his way of thinking, so why not promise cheaper alcohol? Would it buy your vote?
It seems wonders will never cease. Earlier this month we reported that almost 900,000 people failed to deliver their 2013/14 Self Assessment Tax Return by 31 January, leading a happy payday for HMRC as each one of those will be issued with an automatic £100 penalty. However, HMRC itself now thinks that perhaps its penalty system is “too rigid” and has opened up a consultation on whether the penalty regime should be softened to be less harsh on occasional or small offenders.
It is, of course, not the first time that the penalties regime has been investigated- between 2005 and 2012 tax penalties across the board were reviewed and the most significant change for income tax paying individuals was that, from 2012, the £100 penalty was levied even where there was actually no tax outstanding. So even if you didn’t owe the taxman any money, you could end up owing money. The situation was exacerbated last year when the high earners child benefit charge came into effect, meaning those who hadn’t disclaimed their entitlement may have needed to complete a return for the first time.
Now, HMRC has issued a 26 page consultation document which outlines its thinking on the issue and details a number of possible amendments to the penalty regime. While HMRC stressed that the introduction of a £100 penalty regardless of the tax due did increase on-time compliance, it wants to be seen to be differentiating between coming down hard on “the honest majority” and instead wants to focus its sternest attentions on the “dishonest minority”. HMRC are also very clear that “penalties are not to be applied with the objective of raising revenues.”
What HMRC is considering are questions such as whether penalties should be applied for an “uncharacteristic failure by an otherwise compliant customer”, or for those who make “a simple mistake when entering a particular tax regime for the first time”.
Possible amendments to the system include the withdrawal of the £100 penalty if people are “ a day or two” late filing a return, although this would have to be combined with the prospect of a higher interest rate on late payment of tax to both prevent the deadline merely becoming two days later and also to be a heavier penalty on those who actually owe tax. Alternatively, HMRC are proposing a possible tax “driving licence” scheme, where you get penalty points for non-compliance, potentially across a number of taxes, with penalties rising in severity and amount with repeated failures to comply.
The consultation is open until 11 May, and anyone can respond, should they feel so inclined. The email address for responses is TAP@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk or these can be made by post to: Paul Miller, HMRC, Tax Administration Policy, Room 1C/06, 100 Parliament Street, London SW1A 2BQ.
While Team Bitterwallet sets up helplines for all of you who are emotionally unprepared for this betrayal, we’ll give you the low-down.
A huge cache of files have been leaked which show that HSBC helped their clients to sidestep taxes and hid millions of dollars. These files cover the period from 2005 to 2007, concerning 30,000 accounts and concealing around £78 billion.
At the time, HSBC was led by Lord Green, who was a trade minister and just so happens to sit in the House of Lords.
The shadow financial secretary to the treasury Cathy Jamieson said: “HMRC were made fully aware of these practices back in 2010. There are serious questions for the Chancellor to answer about why just one person out of over a thousand have been prosecuted in five years. And why the Government’s Swiss tax deal has been such an embarrassing flop, raising a fraction of the amounts initially boasted of by ministers. Tax avoidance and evasion harms every taxpayer in Britain, and undermines public services like the NHS.”
It is HSBC’s Swiss banking arm that indulged in this behaviour, helping rich people to not pay tax. Obtained through the collaboration of a number of media outlets, the reports show that HSBC’s Swiss private bank regularly allow their clients to withdraw bricks of cash while allowing wealthy people to avoid taxes all over European and were in cahoots with some conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities.
They also gave accounts to international criminals, corrupt businessmen and a load of other high-risk people.
This is the biggest banking leak in history and will see even more pressure being put on the banks who are already fantastically unpopular with everyone after a serious of scandals.
HSBC have said: “We acknowledge and are accountable for past compliance and control failures.” There’ll be a special Panorama on the BBC about the whole thing tonight, with talk of blood-diamond criminals and the like.
As we move into February, there will be a dawning realisation for some that they completely failed to notice the 31 January tax return deadline. Not that there’s much excuse for missing it-it’s been around for a very long time now- but an estimated 890,000 will shortly be receiving a letter enclosing a lovely £100 fine for failing to file their online tax returns on time.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said that the number of offenders was greater than last year, but well below the 1.6 million recorded in 2010. Or bounty 2010 as the Treasury called it, but even so, 890,000 £100 fines is a nice reward for other people doing nothing.
According to HMRC estimates, if you have missed the deadline you are most likely to be a young man working in the communications industry, with those aged 18-20 living in London the worst culprits. The over 65s were, perhaps unsurprisingly, most likely to get their returns in early.
However, HMRC were also keen to point out that the number of people actually filed on time was also up, with a record 10.24 million people filing before the 31 January deadline, some 3.8m of those filed in January itself. Some of the increase may be to do with falling unemployment caused by people choosing to go self-employed, who would therefore definitely need to complete a return.
“This is another record-breaking year for self-assessment, with 210,000 more people filing their returns on time than last year,” said Ruth Owen, HMRC’s director general of personal tax, in an uncharacteristically chirpy manner.
However, if you are one of the dolts who is currently slapping a meaty palm to the forehead wondering how you could have been so daft as to miss the deadline, don’t start shrugging and moving on to more pressing matters. The £100 is just the start of your unnecessary financial woes. If you continue as a delinquent, further fines kick in after three, six and 12 months of non-compliance behaviour, and could cost you a further £1,500.
After the initial (and now probably unavoidable) £100 penalty, the subsequent fines are as follows:
after three months, additional daily penalties of £10 per day, up to a maximum of £900
after six months, a further penalty of 5% of the tax due or £300, whichever is greater
after 12 months, another 5% or £300 charge, whichever is greater
Although it’s only January, all the political parties are upping their efforts with a view on the general election in a few short months’ time. Of course, part of the election campaign is to impress upon the electorate how much better any given party is than all the others, so what the coalition needs like a hole in the head is a national thinktank providing economic evidence of how much worse off the average UK household is as a result of the coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, it’s a fairly sizeable £489 a year.
Of course, that is an average figure, and depending on your personal circumstances, you may have lost more than this, or ended up better off. However, the IFS has also identified broad groups who are likely to have been winners or losers under the coalition regime.
It may come as a surprise to a few, but low-income working-age households have been hit hardest, losing the most under the coalition as a percentage of their income. Also losing out are families with children, who fall within the lowest 10% of earners, who lost £1,223 on average. However, the richest 10% of households also lost £5,350 a year.
So where are the Tories and Lib Dems going to get their votes from? Middle and higher-income households of working age have escaped “remarkably unscathed” from the government’s austerity measures. Those falling into this bracket who don’t own children have actually gained financially from the changes, largely due to increases in the threshold for paying income tax, according to the IFS.
Overall, the poorest households lost around 4% of their incomes, followed closely behind by the next poorest tenth, losing around 3.5% of their income. The richest suffered a loss of 2.5%, a percentage that falls to zero for middle-income households.
Pensioners were “relatively unaffected” on average, as the “triple lock” on the state pension, whichmeant they have been relatively better protected against the economic downturn than those employed, was largely offset by a hike in VAT.
The hardest-hit region was greater London, where households lost an average £1,042, followed by south east England, the West Midlands and north west England.
James Browne, a senior research economist at IFS and co-author of the report said: “Whichever way you cut it, low-income households with children and the very richest households have lost out significantly from the changes as a percentage of their incomes.
“Increases in the tax-free personal allowance have played an important role in protecting middle-income working-age households meaning that those without children have actually gained overall.”
Of course, the deadline for online tax returns is upon us and so, to show us all that they’re a bit of fun and not just dead-eyed bean-administrators, HM Revenue and Customs have gone and released their annual list of the 10 worst excuses that folk have given for filing or paying their tax return late.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
1. My pet dog ate my tax return… and all the reminders.
2. I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a postbox or get an internet signal.
3. I fell in with the wrong crowd.
4. I’ve been travelling the world, trying to escape from a foreign intelligence agency.
5. Barack Obama is in charge of my finances.
6. I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.
7. A work colleague borrowed my tax return, to photocopy it, and didn’t give it back.
8. I live in a camper van in a supermarket car park.
9. My girlfriend’s pregnant.
10. I was in Australia.
We quite like the idea of palming everything off on Barack Obama. ‘Why are you covered in baked beans?’ ‘Obama was feeding me.’ ‘I thought I’d told you not to get so appallingly drunk…’ ‘Barack Obama was out. And I had to look after some fox cubs while I was there’.
What will you be doing over the festive season? Getting online for those early sale bargains? Pricing up how much you can flog those unwanted gifts for on eBay? If all else fails, actually talking to your relatives? Well, an estimated 23,000 of you will be doing something far less boring instead. You’ll be submitting your tax return.
Last year 23,059 people submitted their self-assessment returns between Christmas and Boxing Day. Admittedly, most of those returns were submitted on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, but there were still over 1,500 people with naff all better to do on Christmas Day than to complete their tax returns.
Of course, if you are sent a return form, or notification to complete a return, then you need to complete it, and around 9 million workers need to submit a self-assessment tax return. The paper deadline for submitting your return was 31 October, so your only option now is to use the online system.
But perhaps these folks aren’t just boring. Perhaps they are just so busy, holiday season is the only time they have to complete their returns. If so, they’d better hope they don’t need to call to ask anything about their return form, as chances are, they’d get cut off and be unable to speak to anyone. Or have to find an extra 40 minutes to wait on hold, according to Which!!! reports on the matter.
If you do still need to file your return for the 2013/14 tax year, you can still file online up to the 31 January deadline, and if you make a mistake, you can amend your return online before that date as well. You also don’t have to complete it all in one go- a bit like Christmas dinner you can do some of it on the day and save the fiddly bits for a curry later in the week as the system automatically saves your progress
The tax helpline has been criticised in a new report by the watchdog of consumers, saying that there had been little improvement in the service since they met up in July with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which served them a scathing review of their lengthy waiting times and shoddiness in answering phone calls, which were costing customers £136 million a year.
The service will be in heavy demand in the next two months, as thousands will be completing their self-assessment tax returns before January 31st.
HMRC’s chief executive Lin Homer, reckons that they had been improving the service in recent months.
However, Which!!!’s report details that 29% of calls made by their members, were cut off by an automated answering system carping on about the lines being busy.
Where there were 71 instances of callers not being cut off, they were then put on hold for an average of 18 minutes, with one caller being held hostage for 41 minutes. PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: “Customers of Government services should be able to contact those services easily and cheaply.”
So the Chancellor gave us his Autumn Statement yesterday, updating us on the sorry state of the economy, while adding enough sweeteners to make us feel like it’s not all so bad. We made our predictions earlier in the week, and we’re feeling pretty smug. Here are the highlights of Autumn Statement 2014:
Under the previously existing system, stamp duty is calculated as a percentage of the whole property price – but this goes up in sharp steps at specified points, rather than being a smooth curve upwards. The rates were 1% for properties bought for more than £125,000, 3% for homes bought for more than £250,000, 4% at over £500,000, 5% at over £1m, and 7% at over £2m.
As explained in our predictions for the Autumn Statement, this system means that the difference in Stamp Duty between buying a property for £249,999 and paying £250,001 would be a massive £5,000 – up from £2,500 to £7,500.
The new system, announced by the Chancellor yesterday and taking effect from midnight on 4th December, smooths out those steps and fiddles with the rates as follows:
No stamp duty will be paid on the first £125,000 of a property
2% will be paid on the portion up to £250,000
5% is paid for the portion up to £925,000
10% is paid on the portion up to £1.5m
12% is paid on anything above that
This means that anyone buying a property for less than £937,500 will be better off, which works out at approximately 98% of house sales. However, if you are in the process of buying a property, and exchanged contracts before 4th December, you can choose whether to use the old or new rules, and HMRC have produced a handy calculator to help you see which is the most expensive option. The average family home buyer in the UK (at £275,000) will save £4,500 under the new rules.
Of course, it’s a fool’s errand to try and please all of the people all of the time, and in addition to the 2% of seriously expensive property buyers, there are a great many disgruntled buyers out there. All those who completed on a property in the last week/fortnight/month who are now feeling considerably out of pocket and decidedly hard done by.
Personal Tax Rates and Allowances
We predicted there would be no change to the previously announced figures of £10,500 personal allowance and £42,285 higher rate starting point from 6 April 2015. We were almost right, the rates have been changed, but only by a token £100 each. Still something is better than nothing, and basic rate taxpayers will now pocket an extra £20 on top from next April.
A few things have been announced surrounding inheritances. Firstly inheritance tax will be cut for families of aid workers who die in course of their work. Which seems pretty decent.
Also, ISAs can now be passed on to spouses tax-free. Previously an ISA would lose all its tax benefits on the death of the holder, but now they can be inherited as a tax-free vehicle. The investment limit for ISAs is also set to go up from the recently-inflated £15,000 to £15,240 in April 2015.
And, after all the speculation and fiddling with annuities, confirmation that the current 55% death tax on pensions pots that are passed on to loved ones will be abolished for those dying before the age of 75.
Alongside an anticipated freeze in fuel duty, Air Passenger Duty will be scrapped for under-12s from 1 May next year and for under-16s the following year. This might go some way to easing those currently having kittens over the proposed scrapping of APD entirely in Scotland once those tax powers are devolved to Holyrood, along with groundbreaking ability to do what it likes with Scottish income tax rates (but not allowances). Northern Ireland is to (potentially) get autonomy over its corporate tax rates and Wales will be able to set their own business rates.
New anti-avoidance measures include a £90,000 charge for non-doms resident in the UK for 17 of the past 20 years, and a new 25% tax charge on multinational companies shifting profits out of the UK, which is predicted to be a big earner. But then the Chancellor probably would say that.
Finally, postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 will be available to Masters students, but only if they are under 30. If you are older than 30 you should clearly Get A Job.
So what do you think of the Chancellor’s early Christmas presents? Are you filled with the joys of Christmas or muttering Bah Humbug into your solitary mince pie?