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One minute with... Rhiannon Kinghall Were

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Tell us about your role at Macfarlanes.

One of my key objectives is to increase the firm’s voice on tax policy. I am responsible for monitoring policy changes; managing the representations we deliver to government and other bodies; and engaging with clients on the policy developments that matter to them most. I joined just after the Autumn Budget, so I am in the final stages of the consultation season. One thing that is keeping me busy at the moment is our response to the consultation regarding the tax treatment of gains arising to non-residents on the disposal of UK real estate.

If you could make one change to a tax law or practice, what would it be?

I won’t be alone in wishing for a better informed debate on tax. I have been particularly impressed with the amendment Kirsty Blackman MP put forward to introduce oral evidence sessions during the Finance Bill process. Enabling MPs to have a rigorous examination of complex tax laws before they are passed is an obvious starting point, but it goes further than government. Later this year, the Women in Tax network (of which I am a member) is hosting a panel event on how education can help rebuild public trust in the tax system. I hope this will bring some renewed energy to this cause and encourage a better quality debate based on facts not fiction.

Are there any new rules that are causing a particular problem?

After the energy of the OECD BEPS project I had hoped governments would have more patience. It wasn’t that long ago (2015) that the BEPS Action 1 project concluded that ‘because the digital economy is increasingly becoming the economy itself, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to ring-fence the digital economy from the rest of the economy for tax purposes’. It appears as though it is no longer impossible. In November 2017, the UK pre-empted the work of the European Commission and the OECD (which are due to issue papers this spring) by publishing its own position paper on how to tax the digital economy.

At the heart of the UK’s proposal is the idea that it will be possible to value the active participation of users in the digital economy. While the examples provided in the UK’s position paper leave little doubt as to whom the targets are, drafting a legislative definition with similar precision is likely to be more problematic. Many businesses use the power of data analytics to better understand their customers by tracking their browsing behaviour. Some have developed online comment facilities within a product to foster a community amongst users. The intensity of the users actions will be instructive in ruling these out, but it may prove challenging in practice.

What’s on the horizon in 2018?

The Brexit rollercoaster will take up a lot of UK parliamentary time during 2018. I don’t think this means it will be quiet on the UK tax policy front, but it might be quieter than in previous years. And, if there isn’t enough from a UK perspective, getting to grips with US tax reform is a good distraction. It will be interesting to see how their measures play out. The reduction in the headline rate has prompted some businesses to re-evaluate the US; however the BEAT is likely to cause some pain. A retaliatory response from European finance ministers has been threatened, so perhaps international tax fragmentation rather than harmonisation is on the cards in 2018.

How did you get involved in the Women in Tax network?

I got involved with the Women in Tax network right at the beginning. A group got together to see how we could support women in the profession and before the end of the evening we had a website, a Twitter account, and were organising our first event. We now run a range of events through-out the year, primarily focused on soft skills, as well as our annual dinner and panel event. We are always keen to receive ideas for events and for more people to get involved, so I would be very pleased to hear from anyone who is interested. 

Issue: 1388
Categories: One minute with