Tag Archives: tax simplification

Workshop held at Number 11 Downing Street on the 18th July 2013

CIMG0311The OTS marked its third anniversary by holding a simplification workshop at No 11 Downing Street, by the kind invitation of the Chancellor. Over 40 attendees, including MPs, senior government officials, academics, tax agents from practice and commerce, and low income representatives took part in a lively debate about issues arising from the OTS’s work.

The Rt Hon Michael Jack, Chairman of the OTS, began proceedings by welcoming attendees. Following on, David Gauke MP, Exchequer Secretary to HM Treasury, described the OTS role as “vital”, and set out its previous successes; including the completion of four major projects, involving seventeen private sector secondees, and over two hundred recommendations, the majority of which were being taken forward.

John Whiting then chaired a discussion on tax simplification, asking those present for their thoughts on the question at the heart of the debate – what’s the best way to continue to simplify the tax system?

A note of the main points made during the discussion is here: Workshop readout (pdf)

What do you think? We’d be very interested in your comments, either by commenting publicly on this blog or by emailing us at ots@ots.gsi.gov.uk

Our new team

OTS standThe OTS team has seen a few changes over the past couple of months. Martin Gunson and Kelly Sizer have now completed their work on pensioner taxation, whilst Sarah Anderson and Tony Page have finished with employee share schemes. A big thank you to all four of them for their effort and dedication in producing their respective reviews.

In their place we have recruited a new team of Theresa Dendy, Tracey Bowler and Suzy Giele to work on our review of employee benefits and expenses. They will be joined by Michael Wilson later in the summer. 

Morwenna Scott has also joined the OTS to work on our tax definitions project. She will work Caroline Turnbull-Hall who returns as a formal secondee having previously worked on our tax reliefs review and the disincorporation relief project.

A new biographies section on our ‘About the OTS’ page has further details on all of our secondees.

Go anywhere and meet anyone…

Motorway lights

The title of this post has become the unofficial OTS motto. In the past we have been as far west as Toronto (see previous post) – Belfast in person – as far North as Aberdeen, South to Exeter, East to Norwich and most places in between. It is now that time of year again and we are looking forward to getting out and about to hear the views of businesses, individual taxpayers, advisers and HMRC alike.

Our review of employee benefits and expenses is now in full swing – we have a team of secondees in place and are starting to plan meetings with interested parties across the UK. This is (hopefully) where you come in.

If you have an interest in the review and would like to feed input into it please contact us at the following email: ots-employee.benefits@ots.gsi.gov.uk We welcome any comments you can make or we will be happy to travel to meet you – especially a local group of businesses or other interested parties –  or welcome you to our offices in central London.

Please note that we only have a small team and whilst we will try to get around as many groups as possible we can’t commit to meet everyone.

A secondee’s experience

IMG_0414 (427x640)The OTS is looking to recruit experienced tax professionals on short-term secondments for its review into employee benefits and expenses. Further details of the role can be found on the vacancies page of our website:

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/ots_vacancies.htm

If you would like to offer input to the employee benefits and expenses review, either in person or via email/telephone, please email the OTS at OTS-Employee.Benefits@ots.gsi.gov.uk

To give a flavour of what it is like to work for the OTS one of our secondees, Sarah Anderson, kindly blogged on her experiences. Over to Sarah:

In July 2011, I rather unthinkingly applied for a position as a secondee at the Office of Tax Simplification. I’d not heard of the OTS at that point but they were looking for people with experience with share plans, particularly with private companies, and it sounded interesting. In addition, the idea of simplifying even a tiny part of the tax code sounded like an excellent idea!

Eighteen months on and I can honestly say that the unthinking application was one of the best things I’ve ever done. For starters, there’s the undoubted kudos of swanning into the Treasury buildings like you belong there and the thrill of bumping into the big guns in the canteen. But even if you’re not as shallow as I am, the experience is one that I’d recommend wholeheartedly.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my 18 months’ secondment has undoubtedly been the opportunity to work alongside the leaders in my industry – particularly the chance to look at life from the perspective of HMRC and Treasury officials. I have always had respect for their experience and expertise; now I have had a greater insight into challenges they face on a daily basis that respect has increased enormously. I hope that one of the positive outcomes of the work of the OTS generally will be to increase trust and understanding between the private sector and HMRC – in the majority of cases, I really believe that our views and objectives are more closely aligned than perhaps we realise.

The experience has sometimes been challenging from a technical perspective. When the OTS produces a report, every single aspect of it is put under the spotlight by various parties: committee members with specialist tax knowledge, HMRC teams with (sadly, too much) experience of tax avoidance opportunities and the broader tax implications, Treasury officials looking at the hidden costs of proposed changes…and, of course, the civil servants always with an eye to the political angle. From the vague, “lightbulb” idea, right through to the precise wording (is it a “charge” or a “penalty”? Does the word “arrangement” have negative connotations?), every point is tested, questioned and argued with individuals who are absolutely the leaders in their field. Sometimes, you lose the arguments. That can, frankly, be terrifying – but like Nietzsche said (or Kelly Clarkson sang, take your pick), “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”!

The experience has been frustrating at times, downright infuriating at others, and sometimes the demands can really impinge on your day job. On a bad day, I think that we could, and should, have been braver, making more radical in our suggestions on employee share schemes. But I do believe we have made at least some improvements to the tax advantaged share schemes, and I hope our recommendations for unapproved plans will be accepted and remove some of the existing complexities for companies and HMRC alike. 

The reason I chose to work in this area is because I was given the chance to own shares in my employing company, and saw the difference it could make. So I am also really proud to have been involved an exercise that publicises the concept of employee share ownership. And – sad though it sounds – I am really excited when I see improvements to the share schemes legislation and I can say (to anyone who cares to listen): “I did that!”

Sarah Anderson
OTS Secondee on employee share schemes 

Tax thresholds

ThresholdsWe like counting things in the Office of Tax Simplification. It’s a way of getting a handle on what a massive task tax simplification really is, and helps give us a better idea of where we should direct our efforts. In 2010, we counted up all the tax reliefs in the UK and ended up with a figure of 1,042. Earlier this year, we counted the total pages of tax legislation  17,795  and then counted how many were left when you took out repealed legislation, obsolete rules and duplications  6,102.

Now we have counted the number of monetary tax thresholds, ceilings and other figures in tax legislation – everything that is expressed in pounds or pence (or fractions of pence). We got the idea from our reliefs review, where we found some numbers that hadn’t been changed for many years, but others that were updated pretty regularly. We wanted to explore this further, and see if we could come up with any general themes or lessons for tax simplification.

The paper we are publishing today is the result of this work. It didn’t take long to put together – two or three weeks’ work at most, over the past 3 months. It was a relatively quick job to skim through the 17,795 pages of tax law to list the figures, but rather harder to trace each one back through successive Finance Acts to see when they first appeared and how often they changed since.  We haven’t asked HMRC to check the accuracy of the list, so it comes with a bit of a health warning and if you do find any mistakes, please do let us know.
We hope the article and spreadsheet will be of interest, and not just to tax nerds like me.
 

Tax thresholds paper

List of numerical thresholds in tax legislation

Jeremy Sherwood, OTS Secretariat

P.S. Our next big counting job is to list and analyse all tax definitions, and we are recruiting a postgraduate student to help us do this – see the OTS vacancies page.

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/ots_vacancies.htm