Anne Main speaks in Finance Bill debate on business rates and the 2019 Loan Charge

8th January 2019

Anne Main speaks in the Finance Bill debate highlighting the problems facing small business and pubs in high property value areas and also speaks against the retrospective nature of the 2019 Loan Charge which is putting people affected under huge pressure. 

I wanted to have more time to be able to say what a great job the Government have been doing: a 43-year low for unemployment rates, 1,000 jobs a day created and bringing in the personal allowance upgrade even earlier. We do not have time to go through all that, but I believe that getting people into work and out of poverty is the way forward for many families.

The Government were absolutely right to target business rates as a way of helping the high street and small businesses, with a cut of 33% in rates for businesses with a rateable value of under £51,000. In areas like mine with high property values, however, it is not having the impact the Chancellor might have hoped. The new rate simply provides a cliff edge that penalises successful businesses in areas that are plagued by high property values. We must devise a system that helps small businesses and pubs to thrive, not just those with a low retail value. I recently met pub owners in my constituency who have been hit extremely hard by business rates. I have cut out an awful lot of my speech, but I am pleased to say that I have secured a Westminster Hall debate on this matter next Tuesday. I look forward to exploring the matter further with a Minister. Pubs in areas such as St Albans are seeing massive hikes in business rates, not the help that was intended.

Time is pressing, but I want to touch on new clause 26 tabled by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). I have serious concerns about the retrospective nature of the tax being collected. Several of my constituents have raised cases with me and I am extremely concerned about how the process has been handled. Many make the case that this was not illegal tax evasion; they were advised to use the scheme as a way of keeping more of their own money. It is worth remembering that these people are not employees. They take on more risk, with no sick pay, maternity pay or other forms of support offered to an employee. I want to give a couple of personal examples, because I think that is key and we have so little time.

One of my constituents, who worked as an IT professional in the FinTech industries, is being pursued for £900,000 by HMRC for the loan charge. He is extremely worried—many are on the brink emotionally—and this has put him and his family under considerable stress. He had been advised that what he had done was lawful and he considered it to be so. He told me, worryingly, that he tried to settle the case with HMRC for about £700,000, but that that had been rejected. Many people who find themselves in tax difficulties manage to make negotiated settlements with HMRC. It appears that this particular group of people are being treated very unfairly and are being left in the very difficult situation of not knowing exactly how much they owe or how quickly they have to pay.

Other colleagues will be aware that the oil industry had a lot of contractors who were using what effectively turned out to be disguised schemes. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a duty on HMRC? We have heard today from another hon. Member that customers should not be unduly disadvantaged if they have not managed to settle their claim to date, because after 5 April it will be significantly more.

Exactly. I have also been advised by a former constituent, who, despite no longer living in the UK, is being pursued by HMRC for thousands of pounds of unpaid tax. Another person was advised that this mechanism truly was lawful and it has come as a huge shock to his financial planning that he is left in this position.

There are reportedly over 1,000 people being pursued for unpaid tax. No one is disputing that people should pay tax that is due. The issue is the way it is being requested. People have been badly advised. They have never been able to check whether anything they were doing was illegal, because they were being advised that it was not illegal at the time. It is a loophole that has now been closed.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

It will have to be very quick, because I am aware other people need to speak.

My hon. Friend is making a very valid point. One of my constituents, an IT contractor, was advised by his own accountant. A review would be very helpful in ensuring that people receive proper advice, so that laws can be followed and taxes collected.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. There are many versions of that story. I have constituents who say that HMRC was made aware of these arrangements but no objection was raised until many years later. That has to be fundamentally wrong. What more due diligence can anyone do?

I will conclude, because I know the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton wishes to speak. The huge pressure and distress—even suicidal thoughts—that this measure has put in people’s minds is totally unacceptable. I say to the Minister: if we do nothing else tonight, can we accept new clause 26? There is a clear ambiguity in the law that applied at the time—perhaps clarity has been provided now. The fact that people cannot negotiate a reasonable settlement even though they acted in good faith at the time, and are being pursued to the point of the destruction of their careers, homes, family lives and marriages, is completely unacceptable. We clearly need a review, and I hope the Minister takes that on board and accepts new clause 26. If it is pressed to a vote, I shall vote for it.

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