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Companies 'see growing reputational risk' in avoidance

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The number of disclosures of avoidance schemes has fallen in the six months to 30 September 2010, according to provisional figures released by HMRC. Fifty-six disclosures were made, including 48 relating to direct taxes and NICs. There were 99 disclosures in the six months to 31 March 2010.

A fall in SDLT disclosures accounts for much of the reduction. ‘Main regime’ and NIC hallmark schemes account for 44 disclosures in the six months to September 2010, compared to 64 in the six months to March 2010.

‘Tax avoidance has become less acceptable for corporates and individuals in the post credit-crunch environment. Companies now see a growing reputational risk in being seen to undertake aggressive tax planning, especially ideas which are bought off the shelf,’ said Jason Collins, a Partner at McGrigors.

The disclosure of tax avoidance schemes (DOTAS) regime has made it possible to move quickly to 'close off avoidance opportunities' by making changes to legislation, the Treasury said in June.

But the way in which avoidance has sometimes been tackled has contributed to 'instability and complexity', it added. The Government has been consulting on the merits of a general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR).

In a recent Tax Journal survey, 64% of respondents said they would support a GAAR if there was a pre-transaction clearance procedure.

‘Are they mad?’ asked Ashley Greenbank, a Partner at the law firm Macfarlanes, in a comment piece posted on the firm’s website. He doubted whether a clearance procedure was ‘the panacea for the uncertainties which a GAAR would inevitably introduce’.

Greenbank told Tax Journal that the comment, sent to clients via Twitter, was ‘inevitably in a rather informal style’.

HMRC guidance on changes to the DOTAS regime, which take effect in January 2011, is available via