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Quarterly news:

Autumn 2021

Income tax administration to get a shake-up

It’s not just technical tax talk – recent proposals could have a major impact on income tax liabilities.

The government is currently discussing proposals for what’s called income tax basis period reform, something entailing fundamental change for unincorporated businesses. There are also discussions on whether the UK tax year itself should change. A year end of 31 December or 31 March, rather than 5 April, has been suggested.

It’s not often that the tax administration framework gets an overhaul, and many of the suggestions need to be seen in the context of the move towards Making Tax Digital for income tax (MTD for ITSA). This will take effect in three stages, starting from 6 April 2024 for most self-employed businesses and landlords, and 6 April 2025 for partnerships with only individuals as partners.

Other partnerships would enter later. The recently-published regulations stipulate that fixed quarters, rather than quarters based on the individual accounting year of the business, will be used to report to HMRC. This puts the spotlight on the choice of accounting year end, and it may be prudent to review this as part of your MTD preparation.

Basis period reform, if implemented as it stands, also has a bearing on the choice of year end. It would end the present system whereby calculations are based on the accounting year of the individual business. Instead, profits (or losses) assessed would be those occurring in the actual tax year, regardless of accounting year end. The new tax year basis would apply from April 2024 at the earliest.

There would be a transitional year (2023/24 at the earliest) in which payment of tax would be accelerated. Businesses without a 31 March/5 April year end would potentially face higher tax bills, and those with higher taxable profits in 2023/24 because of the change would be able to elect to spread the ‘additional’ profit over a period of up to five years.

Businesses with accounting year ends other than 31 March or 5 April would see additional complexity to tax calculations on an ongoing basis and potentially a need to submit estimated returns to meet filing deadlines. A change of accounting year end might be the optimal solution here. Many businesses would also want to consider the practical implications of the transitional year on tax bills.

No genuine simplification

However, the Tax Faculty at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) argues that implementing such changes to income tax basis period would ‘not provide any genuine simplification to the UK’s tax system’.

Instead, it says such reforms would be likely to increase costs, complexity and uncertainty for those businesses affected. It could also damage the UK’s attractiveness as a place for the location of international service firms, the ICAEW added.

The ICAEW highlights that those businesses not following the tax year are likely to have very good reasons for doing so, including aligning with 31 December, which is the international standard for the tax year end.
The response also stresses the considerable difficulties that the proposed change would pose for seasonal businesses, agricultural firms and GP practices.

Whatever last-minute adjustments to timetabling or smallprint there may be, change is very much in the air.

Please be assured we are monitoring all these developments closely and will advise on the latest developments as they impact you.

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