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One minute with... Steven Porter

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What’s keeping you busy at work?

I lead Pinsent Masons’ contentious tax practice and, as well as the day job of being a tax disputes lawyer, I manage a team of fantastic and high performing solicitors and tax professionals. We work with all kinds of taxpayers, across all types of taxes, and advise on areas of tax law likely to give rise to uncertainty, HMRC enquiries and investigations as well as technical disputes.

My practice is really about helping clients manage tax risk. I advise on everything from HMRC’s enquiries relating to IR35 in the Large Business population (the current law and HMRC practice is difficult for Large Business to apply) right though to Landfill Tax on large infrastructure projects (HMRC’s approach to the tax seems at odds at times with Environment Law and the waste hierarchy).

If you could make one change to tax, what would it be?

That’s a hard question. As a tax disputes lawyer I would probably choose to revise HMRC’s Litigation and Settlement Strategy (LSS). I think it’s crucial that HMRC have a lens through which to judge and settle disputes without falling into ‘sweetheart deals’. Much has been done in this area but a more flexible approach in the LSS might be better for all concerned without encouraging avoidance. Unfortunately there are many areas of the law where a taxpayer can do their absolute best to get it right but some tax analyses are finely-balanced, where there is no clear right or wrong answer. The LSS needs to better recognise this so as to allow HMRC to settle issues with taxpayers without first spending years investigating or litigating a point which just isn’t clear.

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

When reflecting on my career, there are a few nuggets of wisdom I wish I’d taken to heart sooner. These are things that, although simple, aren’t easy to integrate into your life.

Firstly, authenticity matters. Whether in the boardroom or at the coffee machine, be yourself. Let colleagues and friends see the same person – inside and outside work. Comfort in your own skin makes work so much more enjoyable.

Second, you can’t underestimate the importance of strategic planning. Amid a deluge of data, strategy and planning remain key. Come up with a plan and stick to it unless fresh information becomes available. It can be the difference between success and wasted effort. In our fast-paced world, most of the time stepping back and seeing the big picture yields the best outcomes.

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

Currently it’s the IR35 credit provisions which will allow a large business credit for the tax paid by a PSC and its worker in circumstances where a misclassification of a worker led to the large business treating them as outside IR35 and the PSC being paid gross (when HMRC consider that they should have been taxed as inside IR35). HMRC can assess on a best judgement type basis for taxes arising from IR35 errors, but the proposed credit provisions require a named PSC to be specified to obtain the credit. Although we now have the legislation (SI 2024/355), my experience suggests HMRC hasn’t finalised its policy in this area and large businesses need to be very careful when assessing the provisions and guidance to ensure they can take the benefit of the credit.

Finally, you might not know this about me but...

Growing up, my dream job was to become an astronaut. However, my height turned out to be an obstacle. I was devastated when I found out there was a height limit for astronauts! Somewhat undeterred, I pursued my love for science and studied Biochemistry at university. To this day, I continue to share my passion for science, much to the occasional boredom of my team and those around me. 

Issue: 1657
Categories: One minute with