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FA 2019: Another year, another Finance Act...

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I’ve had some new shelves built recently for my collection of Finance Acts and related publications. Some of the earliest ones in my collection, from the 1920s, are only a few pages long and even into the 1980s the Acts are quite manageable. Indeed, I used to pride myself on reading each year’s act from cover to cover, but with the series of monster Acts from the early 2000s that is no longer a realistic possibility. The additional shelves I have had to install are a very visible sign of just how bulky most Finance Acts have now become.

This year’s doesn’t win the competition for the heaviest ever Act, but at 328 pages it is certainly not a slim volume. So, what does it actually contain? 

First of all, I don’t think that anybody could say the Act represents a major reform to the tax system. There is a lot of tinkering around the edges and correcting oversights from previous years – with the prize surely going to s 87 (voluntary returns) which is retrospective right back to the introduction of self-assessment. 

Secondly, what struck me when looking again at the table of contents was the extent to which the Act was affected by the ongoing political turmoil over Brexit. This is most obvious in s 90(7), which prevents certain measures from taking effect if there is a no deal Brexit, but ss 92–95 all impose on the government a substantial set of obligations to review the effectiveness of various provisions. Of course, reviewing the effectiveness of legislation is a sensible thing to do, but I doubt that a government with a strong parliamentary majority would ever have committed itself to so many statutory reviews.

Perhaps the most far reaching changes are the extended time limits for offshore matters in ss 80 and 81. Nobody would object to HMRC being given all the powers necessary to combat offshore evasion, but a 12 year assessing limit for non-deliberate offshore compliance failures does seem to many people to be a step too far.

The tax administration landscape has changed out of all recognition in the last ten years, and the time has surely come for a proper review of the current regime before yet more powers are given to HMRC. I’d like to think that if I write a similar preface to next year’s Finance Act report I would be commenting positively on the fact that HMRC has not been given any further powers – but somehow I doubt that will be the case.

In this special report on FA 2019: