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UK tax code is shorter and probably simpler than it seems, says OTS

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The UK’s tax legislation runs to fewer than 5,500 pages and almost half of it has been rewritten in a ‘more logical and readable’ style, according to research conducted on behalf of the Office of Tax Simplification.

The size of Tolley’s Yellow and Orange Tax Handbooks, published by LexisNexis – which also publishes Tax Journal – has been cited several times in recent years as evidence of the complexity of UK tax law.

But the OTS has pointed out that the length of the legislation is not the only factor. Others include ‘the language used, the drafting style and the diversity of taxes’.

Furthermore, the handbooks now contain ‘a great deal of useful additional information’ that is beneficial but is not legislation, Caroline Turnbull-Hall and Richard Thomas noted in an article published in this week’s Tax Journal.

Reviewing the length of the UK tax code

The Daily Telegraph reported in September 2009 that the UK had the longest tax code in the world: ‘The handbook of tax legislation now runs to 11,520 pages’.

‘The increase in tax legislation is largely down to the government's recession-busting measures and the new Corporation Tax Act. But it will reinforce criticisms over Gordon Brown's apparent tinkering with the tax code. Accountants claim that the system is now unnecessarily complex,’ it said.

In July 2010 the paper warned in a leading article that much of the red tape burden was ‘caused by the complex design of Britain's tax system’. It added: ‘Yet over the years the regulatory impositions have only worsened. The legacy of Gordon Brown's incessant tinkering is a regime reckoned to be the world's most complicated, apart from India's. Since 1997, Tolley's [handbook of fiscal legislation] has more than doubled in size.’

The Yellow and Orange books for 2010/11 ran to almost 18,000 pages, Turnbull-Hall and Thomas found. But if non-statutory material and duplicated and repealed legislation were excluded there would be 5,430 pages.