A new poll suggests Government plans to end tax-free shopping after the Brexit transition period will cost airports £300m every year. A survey of the 20 biggest members of the Airport Operators Association shows that scrapping duty-free shopping will see them each lose an average of £15m annually. Heathrow has filed a pre-action notice in a legal challenge to halt the tax change, with tax refund specialist Global Blue supporting the airline.
Writing in the Scotsman, Graham Boyack of Scottish Mediation offers details of a Chartered Institute of Taxation webinar led by Azets’ Veronica Donnelly. He says he was “both surprised and pleased” to discover that not only does HMRC have a mediation scheme, but that it has this year adapted it to make it more accessible. He notes that the service enables taxpayers to apply for Alternative Dispute Resolution, adding that this can be considered where: communications have broken down; the facts are disputed; the dispute is a result of a misunderstanding; and where clarity is required over information HMRC has rejected or requires.
The Scotsman, Page: 30
SMEs NEWS – THURSDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2020
Government urged to help small retailers
Blick Rothenberg has claimed that small retailers should receive 75% of last year’s takings to help them through the festive period, mirroring an approach taken in Germany. The firm’s Mark Hart said the latest lockdown measures are going to “hit small retailers hard just when they were just starting to get their businesses back in shape”. He added that by guaranteeing three-quarters of last year’s income, ministers would give firms the resources to pay rent, salaries and other outgoings. Without support, he added, “many of them will not be around to trade at all in the new year”.
EMPLOYMENT NEWS – THURSDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2020
Job vacancies decline in October
A report by KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation shows that employers are cutting back on permanent hiring amid increasing economic uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus crisis. Demand for permanent employees fell in October, having risen in September. The KPMG-REC index for permanent placements last month fell from 56 to 48.8 on an index where a reading below 50 indicates that vacancy numbers are shrinking. The index for temporary hires saw an increase, however, climbing from 56 to 56.5 in October. The survey was conducted in the two weeks before the Government announced a nationwide lockdown in England. Lames Stewart at KPMG warned that the lockdown “puts the UK jobs market in a precarious position,” adding: “While the furlough scheme extension may give a brief respite, it will fuel economic uncertainty and further dampen prospects for jobseekers, hitting hiring activity hard . ”
London has climbed from fourth to second in a league table of European cities with the most attractive property investment and development prospects. The survey, by PwC and the Urban Land Institute, saw London rank behind Berlin as the top city in which to invest. Investors polled said London was boosted by good liquidity and Brexit-related pricing discounts relative to continental markets. Gareth Lewis, real estate director at PwC, said: “It’s clear that, at this time of significant uncertainty, investors continue to see Europe’s core cities as safer bets and there remains cautious optimism.”
A £100m rescue deal will see the family that founded Clarks lose control of the shoe retailer for the first time in its 195-year history. Hong Kong-based private equity firm LionRock Capital is set to become Clarks majority shareholder in a deal that will see the chain go ahead with a CVA. The firm said the CVA, which is being handled by Deloitte, should allow it to keep all 320 stores open and pay no rent on 60 sites, with the remaining branches expected to pay rent based on turnover.
Johnston Carmichael has advised firms that ongoing uncertainty makes cash flow management and access to sufficient funding a priority, adding that scenario planning is crucial to help “prepare for the unexpected”. The firm’s finance director Alan Hamilton comments: “Business resilience planning has never been more important”.
The Press and Journal, Page: 29
CRIME NEWS – THURSDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2020
HMRC makes arrests over support-scheme fraud
HMRC has announced that three people have been arrested on suspicion of fraud in connection with the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out discount scheme. Meanwhile a further three arrests were made over fraud related to Bounce Back loans worth £145,000. Kath Doyle, deputy director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, commented: “This is taxpayers’ money, and any claim that proves to be fraudulent limits our ability to support people and deprives public services of essential funding.”
The IHS Markit/Cips services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) was down to 51.4 last month, from 56.1 in September. The measure of the services sector, which accounts for three quarters of economic activity, shows a slowdown in its recovery and marks the slowest monthly growth since June. Tim Moore, IHS’s economics director, said the service sector was “close to stalling” even before the latest lockdown announcement, adding that the economy “seems on course for a double-dip recession this winter and a far more challenging path to recovery in 2021”. Pantheon Macroeconomics economist Samuel Tombs said the data suggests the recovery “essentially ground to a halt in October”, adding the impact will be seen in lower GDP growth. The EY Item Club forecasts that there could be a GDP contraction of 5%-8% in Q4, with chief economic adviser Howard Archer saying there seems “little doubt” that the national lockdown will cause the economy to contract, “and, very possibly, by an appreciable amount.”
The Bank of England is expected to launch a fresh round of quantitative easing (QE). The measure, set to be announced today, comes with Britain facing a double-dip recession, with Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, warning: “Hopes of a V-shaped recovery are dead and buried.” Experts predict that, having already cut interest rates to a record low of 0.1%, the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee will opt against a move toward negative rates, instead choosing to roll out further QE worth £100bn. This would add to the £300bn of emergency cash created through QE since the outbreak of COVID-19. While analysts say the Bank is unlikely to move toward negative rates at this point, PwC economist Hannah Audino said policymakers “continue to flirt with the idea” of taking them below zero.
Daily Mail, Page: 81
OTHER NEWS – THURSDAY 5TH NOVEMBER 2020
Focus on law firms
The Times’Best Law Firms supplement says Macfarlanes has invested heavily in its tax team over the past five years, more than doubling in size to become one of the largest tax advisory practices at a UK law firm. It adds that Macfarlanes now competes with large accountancy firms. Elsewhere, it is noted that Addleshaw Goddard has advised Deloitte on administrations, while the firm’s Paul Fleming has acted as conflict counsel for PwC.
Potential successors to HMRC chair Mervyn Walker are being interviewed by a Whitehall panel, according to Sky News. Mr Walker, who has chaired HMRC’s board since 2017, has “had “a tremendous influence on the strategic direction of HMRC,” chief executive Jim Harra said. Sky News notes that HMRC’s previous boss, Sir Jon Thompson, left to become chief executive of the Financial Reporting Council. In a statement, HMRC said it was engaged in “a major programme of transformation to execute on its strategy for becoming a modern, trusted tax and customs authority”. Meanwhile, the FT reports that HMRC cut the number of tax probes it launched by half following the emergence of the coronavirus crisis to focus on implementing the government’s COVID-19 emergency support plans. Additionally, the Times notes that the total amount self-assessment taxpayers can now pay off in monthly instalments has been raised to £30 ,000 a year, up from £10,000. The move is designed to help people who are struggling financially because of the pandemic.
The Government remains under pressure to reverse its decision to pull out of the VAT Retail Export Scheme, which was announced last month and will mean an end to overseas visitors reclaiming 20% VAT on items including handbags, clothes and watches. Both Harvey Nichols and Selfridges have warned of the severed impact on businesses across the country by the removal of the scheme. About £28.4bn was spent by overseas tourists in Britain last year, with £2.5bn reclaimed as tax-free shopping, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
Tories set to rebel over plans to hike taxes for self-employed
Backbench Conservative MPs are planning a rebellion over Treasury moves to increase taxes on the self-employed to bring them in line with normal employees. One Tory MP said: “Self-employed workers have had a pretty rough deal and the idea that [the Chancellor] would now choose to make it even tougher for them seems perverse. Most people do not like the Treasury’s continual and institutional obsession with increasing tax on self-employed people.” Rishi Sunak was also criticised this weekend for failing to provide self-employed workers with extra support during local lockdowns. “Local lockdowns will affect many self-employed people just as much as employees, but as it stands they have much, much less support available to them,” said Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE.
The Mail on Sunday interviews Lord Bilimoria, the new chairman of the CBI, who has a simple message for the Chancellor which is not to jeopardise Britain’s recovery by hiking taxes for businesses, but slash taxes instead. Lord Bilimoria told the paper’s Alex Lawson: “With record low interest rates, we can afford to borrow to save the economy and to save jobs, and the worst thing you can do is put up taxes. If anything you need to put taxes down. You need to help businesses to survive and incentivise growth to get demand back. Business resilience is lower than it has ever been with cash and stockpiles running down, so when business is down on its knees, struggling in many cases to survive, you don’t want to stifle their recovery and their growth.”
The Mail on Sunday, Page: 131
Dedicated work spaces could invite a hefty tax bill
David Byers warns Sunday Times readers that if they created a home office during the pandemic that aspect of their property may be viewed by HMRC as a business premises when they come to sell and be subject to capital gains tax. Tim Stovold, a partner at Moore Kingston Smith, says people who, like him, have built a shed in their back garden during the pandemic are particularly at risk. RSM partner George Bull adds that home workers should avoid boasting online about their newly built or adapted office space. “If you set aside a room and say: ‘This is my study, I have a phone in there, a computer in there and I’m keeping it locked from the children’, that is going to crystallise a tax exposure,” he warned.
The Sunday Times reports that more disputes against HMRC are being upheld – 44% in the 12 months to April of this year compared with 35% in the previous 12 months. Accountants suggest the department is understaffed to meet the challenge of closing the tax gap, which they are under pressure to do, and is therefore making more mistakes. The paper talks to Tim Parr and Chris Etherington at RSM about how to resolve conflicts with HMRC. John Cassidy, a partner at Crowe UK, also advises on successfully appealing against a fine.
Make use of savings and investment allowances while you can
Jeff Prestridge posits in the Mail on Sunday that Rishi Sunak will target investors with a tax hike to help pay for the pandemic, starting with a rise in CGT on share disposals. The Chancellor may also look to dividend income and increase rates in line with income tax rates. With this gloomy prediction, Prestridge says: “Use your savings and investment allowances while they are still around – and get as much of your wealth as possible tucked inside an Isa.”
The Mail on Sunday, Page: 131
COVID-19 BUSINESS SUPPORT
Chancellor’s latest package branded ‘too little, too late’
Rishi Sunak’s new scheme to provide grants to businesses affected by local lockdowns and support for employees will not be sufficient to stave of mass redundancies or save businesses, experts say. From the start of November, workers in businesses forced to close in England will be given 66% of their usual wages by the state up to a maximum of £2,100 per month. Employers will not be required to contribute towards wages and only asked to cover national insurance and pension contributions. The Treasury will also pay cash to companies to help with their fixed costs of up to £3,000 per month payable every two weeks. Adam Marshall at the British Chambers of Commerce comments: “More generous cash grants will be of some help, but for most this will not be enough to offset a sustained cash crunch.” The Telegraph points out that the new measures only apply to businesses ordered to close completely, rather than partially, and so fail to help the sector outside a full lockdown. Roger Barker at the Institute of Directors welcomed the measures, but urged ministers to “get on the front foot where possible” by cutting employer national insurance costs and offering tax reliefs to encourage new jobs. Finally, Blick Rothenberg’s Nimesh Shah says in the i that the Chancellor’s expansion to the job support scheme illustrates “that he should have acted sooner with a revised furlough scheme when it was clear a few weeks ago that lockdown measures would need to be tightened.”
Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group has confirmed plans to appoint administrators in an attempt to save the business, putting up to 21,500 jobs at risk. The owner of Jaeger, Peacocks and Austin Reed – had been seeking a buyer for some weeks and will spend the next few weeks considering its options. The company said it was “responding to the harsh trading conditions caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent reduction in its credit insurance”. It comes after credit insurance, which suppliers take out to cover orders yet to be paid for, was withdrawn two weeks ago amid a dispute over £27m that Bangladeshi factories say they are owed. Insolvency practitioners FRP Advisory are carrying out an urgent review before taking further action.
Vue is to shut a quarter of its cinemas for part of the week after the cinema network brought in Deloitte to advise on surviving the pandemic. Vue will cut back opening times to four days a week at 21 of its 87 sites, keeping them closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The temporary closures come after chief executive Tim Richards said Vue is “looking at all options” following the postponement of the release of the new James Bond film No Time To Die.
The Sunday Times, Business, Page: 7 The Mail on Sunday, Page: 126
Private equity-owned companies in ‘intensive care’ due to pandemic
New analysis has found that half of the companies owned by private equity managers are moderately or very affected by the coronavirus pandemic, while one in ten is in “intensive care”.
UK fleeced by Eastern European gangs ripping off support cash
The Mail on Sunday reports that UK security services, HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions are all working to crack crime networks plundering millions from the Chancellor’s coronavirus support schemes, with a whistleblower telling the paper that up to 90% of the fraud is being masterminded by gangs from Romania, Poland, Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey. The Government is reportedly considering expanding the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders to target high-level Covid fraudsters.
The Mail on Sunday, Page: 20
PENSIONS NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH OCTOBER 2020
Pensions: We’re not all in this together
The FT’s Merryn Somerset Webb says the pandemic has intensified Britons’ pension planning concerns, by creating uncertainty about the future of employment and the value of defined contribution pensions.
Poor growth figures raise doubts about V-shaped recovery
Data from the Office for National Statistics show the UK economy grew by just 2.1% in August, far below the 6.4% expansion recorded in July. The 2.1% was less than half of the 4.6% which had been expected by analysts, according to a consensus taken by Pantheon Macroeconomics. Head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, Suren Thiru, said: “While the latest data confirms a rebound in economic activity continued into August, the sharp slowdown in growth indicates that the recovery may be running out of steam, with output still well below pre-crisis levels.”
Sunak issues warning over further lockdown measures
Caroline Wheeler reports in the Sunday Times on how Rishi Sunak has “cemented” his position as a lockdown hawk and has made fresh warnings about how a smaller economy in the future will mean less money for the NHS. Wheeler notes how concerned the Chancellor is too about young people starting their careers in a remote working environment and how he is determined they do not inherit a poor set of public finances, hinting at tax rises ahead to lower the debt burden.
Lenders update systems in preparation for negative rates
The Mail on Sunday reveals that banking chiefs have been preparing lenders for negative interest rates telling the Bank of England they could be ready within weeks if they were introduced. Industry figures are understood to have warned Bank officials that their systems cannot currently cope with a zero or negative value for interest rates, as they were designed only for positive values. In a report, PwC said: “There is a Y2K aspect to being ready for negative rates, as an enormous number of models, reporting systems, contracts and processes were designed by people who believed interest rates could only ever be positive.” The paper understands that major lenders have no plans to charge ordinary savers, current account customers or small businesses for holding money in their accounts if rates go negative. However, they would levy fees on deposits held by large corporate clients and wealthy individual customers may also face extra charges, sources said.
The Mail on Sunday, Page: 125
REPORTING NEWS – WEEKEND TO 11TH OCTOBER 2020
View earnings numbers with caution
Risk Capital Partners chairman Luke Johnson comments on the difficulties with projecting future earnings with the pandemic bringing so much uncertainty. He says, “auditors are being especially cautious this year and are focusing on the going-concern prospects for even very secure businesses, because of the unparalleled disruption.” He goes on to caution against taking computer modelling seriously, pointing to the Neil Ferguson projection of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 – a “wild exaggeration” that “fuelled lockdown, panic and a disastrous assault on our way of life.”
UK has most to gain from Brexit state aid compromise
The Institute for Government has suggested that the Competition and Markets Authority should mimic the current EU rules covering state aid when Britain leaves the single market and customs union at the end of the year, until a new system is designed.
Advisers are telling wealthy American families to transfer fortunes to the next generation now or risk stinging taxes under a Joe Biden administration. The Democratic presidential candidate has proposed substantially higher taxes on the rich, including making it much harder to avoid a 40% levy on large estates. Tax law changes ushered in by President Donald Trump in 2017 doubled the amount that rich families can pass on without paying the tax, to $11.58m for individuals and $23.16m for couples this year. Jere Doyle, an estate planning strategist at BNY Mellon Wealth Management, said: “We’ve been telling people: ‘Use it or lose it’,” adding: “It’s the golden age of estate planning for a lot of people. We may not see anything like it again.” The Times points out that Biden’s promise to raise corporate taxes would negatively impact the revenues of British companies doing business in the US.< /span>
Green’s refusal to enter Ashley talks blamed for BHS demise
A court has heard how Sir Philip Green’s refusal to “entertain” the sale of now-defunct BHS to rival Mike Ashley played a part in its demise. Trevor Burke QC at London’s Southwark Crown Court, representing Dominic Chappell, who bought BHS for £1 from Sir Philip a year before it collapsed, claimed a last-ditch effort was made to rescue BHS when Mr Ashley expressed interest in buying it in a “late night meeting”. He added: “Sir Philip Green wouldn’t entertain the notion of selling to a competitor and refused to engage, and ultimately BHS collapsed in chaos. Chaos for him, chaos for all those who worked there and chaos for the pensioners.” Mr Chappell is accused of dishonesty regarding VAT, corporation tax and income tax between January 2014 and September 2016 related to Swiss Rock, his bankrupt finance company. He has denied all charges.
Hopes for travel corridors between New York City and London
US officials are preparing to open up safe travel corridors between the US and international destinations as availability of COVID-19 tests grows. Talks are underway about opening up travel between New York City and London with shortened traveller quarantine periods as soon as the holidays. Currently, American citizens traveling to the UK must quarantine for 14 days and for the most part cannot travel to the European Union. The US bars entry to travellers from the UK and Europe unless they are US citizens or permanent residents.
A deterrent to corona-fraud would improve public finances
The Times’ Patrick Hosking says public tolerance of furlough fraud is likely to be zero and there will no doubt be plenty of whistleblowers willing to spill the beans on employers in the coming months. Mr Hosking talks to Sarah Wallace, a partner at Constantine Law, who believes this has the makings of a real headache for some companies if HMRC decides to get heavy. The successful prosecution of a high-profile employer would be the best way for HMRC to maximise revenues from companies that have wrongly claimed money, Hosking suggests.
A report compiled by Tax Justice UK found that 74% of Brits want to see wealth taxed more with supporters of the move including 64% of Tory voters and 88% of Labour. Robert Palmer, executive director of Tax Justice UK, said: “Brits want fair tax rises to support better public services, tackle inequality and deal with the climate emergency.”
Daily Mirror, Page: 13
CORPORATE NEWS – THURSDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER 2020
New Look faces administration risk if restructuring blocked
New Look warns it will have to consider “less favourable alternatives” if unsecured creditors do not support its latest restructuring plan, potentially putting around 11,000 jobs at risk. Last month, the group launched a second major restructuring of its store estate in three years, asking landlords to agree new turnover-based leases at 402 stores to help it through the COVID crisis. A recapitalisation that would reduce senior debt from about £550m to £100m can only be delivered if the firm secures the support of its landlords for a CVA at a vote on September 15th. New Look has been criticised by the British Property Federation (BPF) over alleged inaccuracies in how it has presented the restructuring plan. “New Look and Deloitte have launched this CVA with reference in their communications that the BPF’s views are reflected in the proposal – this is not true,” chief executive Melanie Leech said.
Bank branch staff stopped £19m of fraud in first half of 2020
The Banking Protocol that enables bank branch staff to alert their local police force when they suspect a customer is being scammed has prevented victims from losing £116m from fraud and led to 744 arrests since it was introduced three years ago. Just in the first six months of 2020, £19.3m of fraud was prevented and more than 100 arrests were made through the scheme, according to figures from UK Finance. A range of scams that trick elderly and vulnerable customers into withdrawing cash from their branch were prevented, including courier scams, romance fraud and rogue traders. Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “It is sickening that criminals are preying on elderly and vulnerable victims during this difficult time. Bank branch staff on the frontline are doing a heroic job in stopping these cruel scams and helping bring those responsible to justice.
Businesses forced to close to be eligible for grants
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay has announced a new scheme to help businesses survive closures due to coronavirus lockdowns. Large businesses in England which are forced to close as a result of a local lockdown will now be able to claim a £1,500 grant per property for every three weeks they are not able to open their doors. Smaller businesses will receive £1,000. The British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the payments but warned they would not be enough for many firms. Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, described the intervention as “a much needed additional financial lifeline” while Annie Gascoyne, of the Confederation of British Industry, warned that more targeted support would be needed in the autumn.
State loans should be repaid only when businesses return to profit
A study by the centre-right think tank Onward has found that around 20% of British businesses are only making enough profit to cover their debt interest payments. High levels of corporate debt built up by companies during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 4.3% of firms into technical insolvency, the report estimates. Angus Groom, Onward fellow and report author, said: “The Government’s loans schemes have been highly effective at helping firms through the worst of the crisis, but they represent a double-edged sword in that they have weighed down firms with debt just as we need them to invest.” About £53bn has been loaned to SMEs and The City UK has estimated that £35bn may not be repaid. Researchers at Onward are calling on the Government to convert the debt into “income-contingent loans” that do not need to be repaid until companies become profitable.
WEALTH MANAGEMENT NEWS – THURSDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER 2020
St James’s Place reopens frozen UK property funds
St James’s Place has become the first investment manager to reopen its £3.2bn property fund range, saying that its portfolio manager was confident the products were liquid enough to allow investors to trade in and out.
City analysts have said the probability of a no-deal Brexit has increased following the publication of the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill. Fitch now expects the UK and the EU to trade on WTO terms from January 1st and has taken 2% of forecast for next year. Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group consultancy now puts the likelihood of no-deal at 60%, up from his previous 40% prediction while Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg, commented: “It suggests the UK is trying to increase the pressure to get a deal more to its liking rather than going for a hard exit. Either way, the strategy does not raise the chance of a good outcome.”
Government sets out plans for new approach to subsidy control
UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma yesterday confirmed that the UK would follow World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on subsidies and other international commitments after the end of the transition period. In a press release, the BEIS said: “The WTO rules are an internationally recognised common standard covering financial assistance granted by governments and public authorities to companies. Unlike EU member states, most advanced economies do not have substantive rules regulating subsidies beyond those set by the WTO.” In a statement to MPs, Mr Sharma insisted the change would not mean a return to the 1970’s policy of picking winners or bailing out losers. Rather the UK needed “a modern system for supporting businesses to grow” and to “maintain the flexibility to support the UK’s strategic interests”. Sharma added that a detailed plan for a post-Brexit state aid regime would not be published until next year, prompting anger in Brussels.