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One minute with... Tim Stovold

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What’s keeping you busy at work?

Learning to manage a tax team of more than 70 people mostly working remotely has been taking up a fair amount of my and other partners’ time. Interestingly, having this forced upon us has meant we have achieved a bigger positive step change in the running of the team in six months than we would have otherwise done in years.

From a client perspective, translating the many announcements about coronavirus business support into plain English has been a focus of mine. There has also been a great deal of interest in employee ownership trusts as businesses seek ways to re-engage with their employees. Also, the last six months has reminded many people of their own mortality, so we have seen a big increase in demand for advice on inheritance tax.

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

It is easy to knock HMRC, but it is doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances. We are often required to obtain certificates of tax residence or authorisations for reduced withholding tax rates to apply in other territories and the bureaucracy and delays suffered in almost every other country remind me how easy HMRC are to deal with by comparison. So, the change I would like would be for other tax authorities around the world to adopt some of the good practices of HMRC – even though I know that is a pious hope!

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

When I first became a partner, one of the more experienced partners noticed that my answer to any problem was to throw more energy and hours into solving it myself. He told me to ‘work smarter, not harder.’ I only really understood what he meant years later, and I now rely heavily on the team. I can achieve much more by trusting them to get on with the work, and I know that they will call on me for help when they need it.

Has a recent tax case caught your eye?

I like principal private residence tax cases as it is a deceptively difficult tax relief and one of the few that the majority of the population will rely on at some point in their lives. I followed the case of Higgins v HMRC closely, which concerned an individual who had purchased a property off-plan, with the important point being when the period of ownership commenced. My view is that the Upper Tribunal correctly interpreted the law, i.e. the period of ownership commenced when contracts were exchanged, even though the property did not exist at that time. However, the Court of Appeal ([2019] EWCA Civ 1860) applied some common sense and concluded that the period of ownership could only commence from when the acquisition was completed, citing that this must have been Parliament’s intention. I still believe that this is not what the law says, but it is a good result – especially for anyone buying off-plan.

Comment on a topical development.

After having concerns about the value for money for the Treasury aspect of the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme when it was first announced, it struck me afterwards that it could have been a stroke of genius as far as data collection goes. In a period of a month, HMRC was receiving granular data from more or less every restaurant in the country. Statistical analysis of a population of this size looking at, for example, a comparison of previous trading history would highlight those that have potentially been under-reporting turnover in the past. This data set could enable HMRC to carry out targeted compliance visits to the hospitality sector for years to come. Or maybe I’m just being paranoid...

You might not know this about me...

For a brief while, my shed was more talked about than my tax advice, as it featured in a Sunday Times story about CGT and working at home.

When I’m not in my shed, I am slowly working my way towards a black belt in karate (not there yet!). Having met lots of people through karate, I have discovered that there are many more tax professionals with this hobby than I expected. 

Issue: 1509
Categories: One minute with