Market leading insight for tax experts
View online issue

Time for reflection

printer Mail

I decided a few months ago to call it a day and end my long professional association with Tax Journal and LexisNexis, whilst my mind was still alert, my personal bucket list had been completed and my retired life was still enjoyable. Now, I cast my mind back to when I started my career as an 18 year old executive officer in the former Surtax Office, learning all about taxation, and then moving on to the PAYE Audit Division, inspecting employers’ PAYE records. That was probably the best job I ever had, playing away from home all the time on my own, learning how to deal with the public and how to argue the toss successfully.

After that, I moved to the Shares Valuation Division and ended up in the Superannuation Funds Office (later the Pension Schemes Office) in 1979, where I eventually became responsible for the office’s policy on small self-administered pension schemes and concluded the SFO’s first successful judicial review case in the High Court in 1988.

Venturing outside: Things were not all that rosy at the time within the Inland Revenue. Pay levels were starkly low compared with private industry, promotion was limited and the prospects of an office move to Nottingham would not suit my family. So I took the plunge, retired early and became an employed pension consultant in the private sector. Unlike Lot’s wife, I have never looked back.

Apart from giving advice to the likes of clients whom I had formerly been ensuring kept to the rules, I got involved with Tolley/LexisNexis, writing articles and books on pensions, speaking at conferences and representing the pensions industry at meetings with the Inland Revenue (later HMRC). After seven years in employment, I became self-employed, and experienced many a tussle with the Special Compliance Office (who remembers them?) and HMRC, before retiring on that front six years ago. I kept up my connection with LexisNexis for another 15 years or so, writing regular monthly articles on pensions for Tax Journal, coming runner-up in Tolley’s ‘tax writer of the year’ awards in 2002 and 2003, and being a member of this journal’s editorial board for a good number of years. I must say I will miss the connection with LexisNexis considerably in future.

Legislative changes: When I started work in pensions in 1979, the tax regime was a discretionary one until 2006. It had many shortcomings – most of all its complication and the size of the governing legislation (primary and secondary and copious practice notes). It was time for change, so a statutory pensions tax regime was introduced in 2006, ostensibly to make things much simpler. That aim has unfortunately not been borne out; that is not just my view, but that of many others in the pensions industry. Indeed, as Heather Self wrote in this journal as recently as 8 March 2019: ‘Changes to pensions tax rules have been made far too frequently over recent years, and the system is now hugely complex.’ For the remainder of my reflections, let me concentrate on these aspects.

Complexity: The primary aim of the pensions tax regime introduced in FA 2004, which came into effect from 6 April 2006, was to make the regime simple to understand by, amongst other things, reducing the length of the legislation. Well, every single Finance Act since then (two in some years) has included further legislation regarding pensions, making it less easy to understand and bringing more complication. And the over-burdening plethora of secondary legislation has just added thereto.

HMRC may well claim that irresponsible parts of the pensions industry have themselves brought this about by their continual pursuit of tax avoidance schemes, which HMRC has had to counter with anti-tax avoidance legislation. That may be so in some instances, but the masses of legislation surrounding the carry forward of unused allowances are nothing to do with tax avoidance. Nor are what I call ‘previous expectations’ stemming from FA 2004 with its introduction of primary and enhanced protection.

In these latter instances, what has followed as fixed protection for three separate years (2012, 2014 and 2016) and individual protection for two years (2014 and 2016) has complicated things inordinately, so that individual pensioners cannot now understand the statutes and require professional advice as to which option would benefit them most. These annual changes need to cease before everyone is crying out once again, after only 13 years, for the pensions tax regime to be simplified.

Thank you: Well, that is enough of grousing. I will finish on a brighter note. There are great memories to treasure and that boils down to the people I have met over the years, rather than the work itself. I am still friends with people I met in the Inland Revenue more than 60 years ago and I meet up regularly with former colleagues. Editors of Tax Journal also spring to mind – many an enjoyable meeting or lunch with Alison Lovejoy and others at Tolley and LexisNexis. I shall always remember them. So, may I close by wishing this great journal a long and prosperous future. 

John Hayward, former editorial board member (

John, thank you for all your help over the years and for your kind words. On behalf of everyone at LexisNexis, best wishes for a well earned retirement – Paul Stainforth, editor.

Issue: 1438
Categories: In brief