Dealing with HMRC in the shutdown

HMRC is encouraging tax agents to correspond with it by email where possible and has introduced a number of temporary concessions to avoid processing paper forms.

VAT errors in excess of £10,000 normally have to be reported on form VAT652, but during the coronavirus shutdown the VAT post room is closed so you need to submit this form by email to:

The IHT400 and IHT100 forms normally require a “wet” signature of the trustees or personal representatives, but where there is a professional agent acting for the estate HMRC will accept a printed signature accompanied by a statement from the agent confirming that all PRs or trustees have seen and agreed the account. All payments for IHT due should be made electronically or by phone as HMRC is not accepting payments by cheque.

All work on tax enquiries has been paused so HMRC will not press you for replies to queries or ask for new information or documents until the coronavirus lock down is lifted.

The First Tier Tax Tribunals have not been sitting since 24 March, and are due to resume again on 21 April, but that shutdown period is likely to be extended. If you want to appeal to the tax tribunal against a HMRC decision you should do so within the normal 30 days, but use the online appeals service, or email.

Working from home expenses

The Government has urged everyone to work from home if they can. This allows millions of people to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Working at home will increase the running costs of the property slightly as more energy and water is used. The employer can help the employee with these costs by paying them an allowance of £6 per week (£26 per month) from 6 April 2020.

This is allowance was increased from £4 per week in the Spring budget, and is tax free when the employee is working at home under homeworking arrangements. HMRC has indicated that home working arrangements will exist where the employee’s workplace has closed or the employee is following advice to self-isolate.

Where the employer pays for the necessary equipment needed to work from home such as; laptop, monitor, keyboard, desk and chair, no taxable benefit arises. However, if the employee buys those items personally and the employer reimburses the cost, that reimbursed amount will be taxable as it is difficult for the employee to prove the items are “necessarily” required for their work. The employer could pick up the extra tax due in a PAYE settlement agreement.

Grants for the self employed

HMRC will pay a taxable grant to self-employed individuals and partners equivalent to 80% their average trading profits for three months, capped at £2,500 per month.

However, the grant will not be payable to anyone who:

has average profits of £50,000 or more per year – they will get nothing;
has not submitted a tax return for 2018/19, taxpayers have until 23 April 2020 to submit this return in order to qualify;
receive less than half of their annual taxable income from self-employed profits.
It is difficult to determine the income of self-employed individuals in real time, so the Government has chosen to base the amount of grant available on the average of reported profits in the last three tax returns: 2015/16 to 2018/19. If the taxpayer started trading in this period the monthly average of profits will be drawn from the periods in which they were trading.

Those who started trading on or after 6 April 2019 are not eligible for this grant. It is also likely, but not confirmed, that people who earn the majority of their income from furnished holiday lettings will not qualify for this grant.

HMRC will contact those taxpayers who are eligible for this grant and will invite them to apply for the payment online. It is not clear not how this contact will be made, possibly by letter, but certainly not by email or text message. Warn your clients to be aware of scams offering money from HMRC and asking for bank details to be confirmed by clicking a link in an email or replying to a text.

To obtain the grant taxpayer will probably have to pass through the normal two step security process used to access their online personal or business tax account on If your clients haven’t yet used this online account to view their personal tax details, encourage them to do so.

The taxpayer may also have to confirm that they were trading in 2019/20 and expect to continue to trade in 2020/21 once the shutdown has been lifted.

The grant for three months will be payable in one lump sum into the taxpayer’s bank account, but the money will not be available until June.

VAT and income tax deferment

All VAT registered businesses have an automatic VAT payment holiday for the period from 20 March to 30 June. The VAT due between those dates does not have to be paid until around 31 March 2021, but exactly when the deferred payment will become due is to be clarified.

Where the business pays VAT by direct debit (DD), it must cancel its DD to take advantage of the VAT deferment. This needs to be done at least 5 working days before the payment is due to be taken. HMRC cannot cancel the DD from their end, and the VAT reported on the VAT return will be taken automatically if the DD is not cancelled.

Businesses who pay the VAT by electronic transfer can simply not make the payment due in the period. They do not have to inform HMRC why the payment is not made.

HMRC’s systems should be adjusted so that default surcharges are not trigged by payments not arriving in the 20 March to 30 June period. We understand that HMRC will not charge interest on the deferred VAT payments, but that is to be clarified.

The VAT return must still be submitted on time. Where the business is due a VAT repayment it is even more important to get the return in on time, as the repayment will be accelerated to business.

Self-employed individuals and partners will have a payment on account (POA) to make on 31 July 2020, for the tax year 2020/21. This POA can be reduced by the taxpayer making an adjustment in their personal tax account, or by using form SA303. However, this is not necessary for the POA due on 31 July 2020, as HMRC is providing an automatic payment holiday.

As with VAT, where the income tax is normally paid by direct debit that DD must be cancelled or the tax will be taken.

This tax payment holiday only applies to anyone who has to make a POA on 31 July 2020, including employed taxpayers who may be making a POA because of tax due on dividends or other income.

Reduction in entrepreneurs’ relief lifetime limit

After much speculation that it would be abolished in the Budget, entrepreneurs’ relief remains available, but with a significantly lower lifetime allowance. For qualifying disposals on or after Budget day (11 March 2020), the lifetime limit is £1 million – reduced from £10 million.

Where clients took protective action prior to Budget day in an attempt to secure availability of the relief, it should be noted that anti-forestalling provisions apply.

Where a contract was entered into prior to 11 March 2020 in respect of a disposal that would be a qualifying disposal for entrepreneurs’ relief purposes, the new £1 million lifetime limit will apply rather than former £10 million lifetime limit unless the parties to the contract are able to demonstrate that they did not enter into the contract to take advantage of the timing rules in TCGA 1992 whereby the date of the disposal is set as the time at which the contract was made. Further, where the parties to the contract are connected, they must also demonstrate that the contract was entered into wholly for commercial reasons to benefit from the £10 million lifetime limit.

Anti-forestalling measures also apply in certain circumstances where shares are exchanged for those in another company in the period from 6 April 2019 to 11 March 2020 and both companies are controlled or owned by substantially the same person.

It should be noted that disposals qualifying for entrepreneurs’ relief prior to 11 March 2020 count towards the new £1 million limit and clients who have already benefitted from entrepreneurs’ relief on qualifying disposals of more than £1 million will not be able to benefit from the relief on further disposals. Spouses and civil partners have their own lifetime limits allowing some planning to maximise the relief available, but each must meet the qualifying conditions for the requisite two-year period.

Pension contributions

Doctors have been retiring early and turning down extra shifts because the extra earnings pushes their pension contributions over the permitted level of annual allowance, leading to penal tax charges. The Budget has gone some way to solve this problem for high earning medics from 2020/21.

“High earning” in this context means having adjusted net income of over £150,000 AND threshold income of over £110,000. These thresholds will increase to £240,000 and £200,000 respectively from 6 April 2020.

“Net income” is basically income from all sources including the value of pension contributions, “threshold income” is net income less all pension contributions (see link below).

These higher earners currently have their pensions annual allowance tapered down by £1 for every £2 over the threshold to a minimum of £10,000 per year. From 2020/21 this minimum will be £4,000 in line with the MPAA.

However, unlike those subject to the MPAA, taxpayers with a tapered annual allowance canuse up any unused annual allowance brought forward from the three immediately preceding tax years (ie 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19). The unused allowance from 2016/17 will drop out of the calculation for contributions made on and after 6 April 2020.

When the value of pension contributions exceeds the available annual allowance, the taxpayer must pay an annual allowance charge. Where this charge is more than £2,000 they can ask the pension scheme to pay under the “scheme pays” rules. The detailed rules are complex, so take advice from a qualified IFA.

Contractors who are winding down their companies, as they will be caught by the off-payroll rules from 6 April 2020, may want to extract the maximum cash as pension contributions before that date.

You will need to work closely with their IFA to ensure that the company has sufficient available profits and the individual has the available annual allowance. A pension contribution paid after the company has ceased trading, and has no income, will not get tax relief on that contribution.

Remember you should not recommend that a payment should be made into a specific pension scheme unless you are authorised to give financial advice and registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

HMRC issue Notice of Coding notifications

HMRC are sending out P9 Notice of Coding notifications during the period 10 February 2020 to 10 March 2020. The P9 notices tell employers the code that they need to use for the employee in question for the 2020/21 tax year. They can be accessed electronically from the employer’s PAYE online account. Employers should receive paper P9 notices by 21 March 2020.

Although it is expected, as announced at the time of the 2018 Budget, that the personal allowance for 2020/21 will remain at £12,500, this will not be finalised until the Budget on 11 March 2020. In light of this, HMRC have issued codes for 2020/21 based on 2019/20 rates and allowances. In the event that changes are announced in the Budget, HMRC will undertake a recoding exercise and will issue revised codes on form P6b. Should this happen, employers should note that they should only start using the code shown on the P6b from the date shown on that notice.

Indications of being inside IR35

HMRC are still challenging taxpayers under the IR35 rules, and such disputes can take years to reach the tax tribunal in order to resolve the matter. If your client is at risk of an IR35 challenge, it’s worth checking whether the following indicators of employment exist in their case:

Mutuality of obligation
If the contractor is obliged to take up any work offered under the contract, and the engager is obliged to pay the contractor whether or not the work is performed, this is a clear indicator that there is a mutuality of obligation. This is a cornerstone of an employment/ employee relationship.

No substitution
Where the individual is performing a role because of their “star quality”, the engager may insist that the worker can’t be substituted by another person. In this case it is clear that only a personal performance of the task is acceptable, that is what the engager is buying. This is a strong indication of an employment; a contract of service rather than a contract for services.

Independent contractors like to think that they not controlled by the engager, but you need to question the detailed rules which they work under. For example, is the worker required to wear a uniform, or forbidden to wear certain items? Is his other commercial activity restricted where it could conflict with his work for the engager? Does he have to keep away from risky leisure activities?

All of these restrictions point to controls over the contractor by the engager, in a similar fashion that an employer may place controls on an employee’s behaviour.

Is the contractor expected to bear all of their traveling and accommodation expenses? If the engager books and pays for hotel accommodation where the work is performed off-siter, or pays directly for transport to the engager’s workplace, this is an indication of an employment relationship.

To maintain an independent relationship the contractor should book and pay for any travel and subsistence, even if he later charges that cost on to the engager.

All of the above indicators of employment were present in the case of Eamonn Holmes’ contract with ITV, which was found to fall within the IR35 rules.

Money laundering supervision

As an accountant you will be aware of the obligation to train your staff to be aware of the laws covering money laundering. HMRC advise that this training should cover anyone who deals with your customers, including the receptionist.

At the very least every member of your staff should know:

who the nominated officer is and what they are there for;
how to spot suspicious activity and report it to their senior manager or the nominated officer; and
know where to go for help about the money laundering regulations.
But are your staff aware of which of their own clients have an obligation to register with HMRC for money laundering supervision?

This includes any business in one of the following categories, if they are not already supervised by their own professional body, the FCA, or the Gambling Commission:

  • art market participants (see below)
  • accountancy service providers
  • bill payment service providers
  • company or trust service providers
  • estate agents
  • high value dealers
  • money service businesses
  • telecommunications, digital and IT payment service providers

The art market participants are only brought within the money laundering rules if they sell or purchase works of art in a single transaction, or in series of linked transactions, for €10,000 or more.

Trading in any of these sectors while not registered with HMRC (or other supervisory body) is a criminal offence, which may result in a penalty or prosecution.

The businesses in these sectors also need to register their business premises including; offices, shops, call centres, auction houses, and even cruise ships in UK territorial waters. Buildings which are only used for training employees or storing business records do not need to be registered for money laundering purposes.

Change to off-payroll working rules

The off-payroll working rules are due to be rolled-out to private sector contracts from 6 April 2020, but it seems that neither the Government, HMRC, engagers or the contractors themselves are ready.

This is hardly surprising since the legislation to introduce these rules is still in draft, there are two on-going reviews into how the law will work, and a key aspect of the implementation was changed only last week.

As we explained on 29 August and 7 November 2019, the off-payroll working rules are a fresh application of IR35, with the responsibility for compliance switched 180 degrees to the engaging organisation. Those contractors who work for “small” clients (generally those which don’t require an audit), are not affected.

As originally proposed the off-payroll working rules were to apply to private sector contracts where payment for the services was made on or after 6 April 2020. This would have meant that work performed in February and March 2020 would be drawn into the new regime, as contractors regularly have to wait 30 days or 60 days for their payments.

Fortunately, common sense has prevailed. Now the off-payroll working rules will only apply in the private sector where the service is performed on or after 6 April 2020 and payment for those services is also made on or after that date.

HMRC has published detailed guidance in its Employment Status Manual at ESM 10000 onwards, but all the guidance relating to the rules from April 2020 is marked: “This is a draft and may be subject to change”. In spite of this warning it is worth reviewing this guidance if you have any contractor clients who will be affected by off-payroll working.