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One minute with... Jonathan Main

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What’s keeping you busy at work?

For much of 2021, my time was spent advising clients on the Brexit measures introduced by HMRC and on a wide variety of VAT measures announced in response to the covid outbreak. The common theme running throughout this period has been to help our clients overcome these issues and to keep trading successfully.

In the last few months, our healthcare business within indirect tax has been growing at pace, as an increasing number of clients are coming to terms with the complexities of the interaction of the NHS changes driving primary care networks and archaic VAT legislation which is no longer fit for purpose.

The challenge of covid and keeping our staff healthy has added significant impetus to our plans to introduce agile working across the firm – and, more directly, to the conversion of my garage to a home office!

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

In the 2016 Autumn Statement, the Treasury announced its intention to modernise UK VAT legislation to make it fit for purpose. The Treasury used our impending departure from the EU as a springboard for this change, as we would no longer be bound by overriding EU law. As advisers, we spend far too much of our time and our client’s money advising businesses on the unintended consequences of archaic VAT law which has not kept pace with changes in technology, workplace practices and the ways in which we buy and sell goods and services. I have already mentioned the healthcare VAT exemptions, but one standout example would of course be the VAT law for the sale of foodstuffs.

Has a recent tax case caught your eye?

Medacy Ltd v HMRC [2019] UKFTT 576, which was heard by Judge Vos in August 2019. Although not that recent, it is a case I have used repeatedly in the last two years as it has a clarity of thought on the tests to be applied to determine the VAT liability of a supply of healthcare services. If I could pick a second case, the Upper Tribunal decision in HMRC v The Rank Group plc and others [2020] UKUT 117 (published in April 2020) is further reinforcement of the objective nature of a supply, a very important principle on the operation of a VAT system.

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

The biggest issues at present are not caused by the law, but by our interactions with HMRC. It is taking far too long for HMRC to complete routine administration and to process claims for overpaid VAT. I have also noticed a worrying trend in HMRC focusing its attention on error corrections for underpaid, rather than overpaid, VAT. HMRC expects taxpayers to pay the right tax at the right time. Businesses have the right to expect HMRC to behave fairly, openly and deal with issues on a timely basis.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

I started my professional career at Price Waterhouse and worked in the world’s largest advisory firms for the next 28 years, but I wish I had known sooner how liberating life can be outside a client base comprised mainly from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250.

What should we look out for in 2022?

We hope to see a return to a more responsive service from HMRC. Our clients would also welcome a settlement of the trade relationship between the EU, the UK and Northern Ireland.

You might not know this about me but...

I am a Peloton addict and my favourite instructor is Matt Wilpers. 

Issue: 1558
Categories: One minute with