Article by Stephen Taylor in association with Peter Styler. Stephen Taylor is Chairman of the South West of England Branch of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. Peter Styler is External Partnership Manager, Regional Business Services (South), HM Customs and Excise. This article appeared in the January 2003 issue of Tax Adviser.
The first meeting with Customs in the South West took place on 9 March 2001, although the project started much earlier.
In January 2000 as the local Branch Chairman, I wrote to who was to be the last Collector of Customs & Excise for South West England proposing ‘Working Together’ meetings. The response to that letter and several others was encouraging, but it was difficult for a Collection to make progress without Head Office support.
The turning point seemed to be the Lawress Hall Conference for Indirect Taxes in September 2000. This was a joint conference with Customs. Over a few glasses of wine Richard Mannion and I discussed the Working Together concept with Lance Railton from Customs’ policy group. Good sense (not the alcohol) prevailed and Lance Railton went away seemingly persuaded.
At the same time, an ‘External Partnership Manager’ (Peter Styler) was appointed within the region. A part of his brief was to further the relationships with external organisations including accountants. With the necessary local resources to make it happen and the support of Policy Division ‘lift off’ was achieved and the inaugural meeting took place in Bristol in March 2001.
From the outset the South West project has sought to involve as many professional bodies as possible. To succeed it needed to be inclusive, not exclusive. It needed the support of many of the professional bodies who regularly deal with Customs.
Represented at the inaugural meeting were The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), the Tax Faculty, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the Institute of Indirect Taxation (IIT), Institute of Company Accountants (ICA) and several firms. Nowadays meetings are regularly attended by CIOT, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICEAW), CIMA, Chartered Association Of Certified Accountants (ACCA) and IIT. This support and commitment has been and remains vital to the continuing success of ‘Working Together’ in the South West.
If the project was to work it had to be more than a talking shop. It had to produce tangible results. More than that the meetings could not be regarded as an opportunity to castigate Customs. They had to be constructive engagement with a government department rather than an opportunity to berate them.
I am informed that some in Customs were also unclear as to exactly how the meetings would go. Peter Styler had some experience of the Revenue meetings, but would Indirect Tax have the same needs? As the experiment progressed, signs were to emerge that that some in their organisation were wary of engaging with tax advisers, accountants and other such professionals. Overall, however, Customs officers and management see it as an excellent opportunity to progress the department’s wishes to be a supportive organisation.
Meetings in the South West are not about the cutting edge of taxation policy. They are concerned with everyday operational matters. The technical committee is there to deal with policy matters – isn’t it?
If my recollection is correct Richard Mannion once said that ‘Working Together’ is about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of tax rather than policy. ‘Working Together’ is about making matters work in practice rather than rates of tax or what should be taxed.
For the sceptics it is a case of working together rather than fighting together. The South West meetings are convivial and constructive. Frequently, and more often than perhaps any one would expect, Customs and the professional bodies concur about the issues discussed.
Here is a sample of matters discussed with Customs at South West England meetings:
- information to be provided when seeking permission to ‘waive the exemption’ on land or building;
- Form 2A used in connection with DIY Housebuilder’ claims; and
- making contact with local value added tax (VAT) offices.
In each of the above there was common ground. Customs acknowledged the legitimacy of the problem. They readily agreed with difficulties identified by the professional bodies.
Obtaining permission to ‘waive the exemption’
When dealing with requests to ‘waive the exemption’ Customs need to know certain information.. However their representatives in the South West acknowledged that it was unreasonable to ask applicants to predict the likely rental income for the next 20 years! Due to pressure from ‘Working Together’ and other groups this has been changed to the ‘foreseeable future’.
DIY Housebuilder claim forms
Do it yourself (DIY) housebuilders claiming a VAT refund are required to complete Form 2A. Form 2A is a summary of building and materials used. The purpose is probably so that Customs may satisfy themselves that quantities are commensurate with the property constructed. A reasonable request until one considers the form. For example, claimants must know the number of bricks used (subdivided between facing, common and engineering bricks) cubic metres of timber and litres of paint used.
Customs are currently reviewing DIY claim packs including Form 2A. They would like input from professional bodies. Useful ideas and suggestions can be sent to me at email@example.com.
Contacting local offices
Contacting staff in local VAT Offices by telephone is a problem in the South West. The local offices have telephone answering services mostly advising callers to ’phone the National Advice Service (NAS). In some instances you cannot even leave a message!
Breaking through this barrier is not simple. Various methods have been used in the South West including:
- calling the NAS which then transfers the caller to the required person in the local office;
- telephoning a direct line number if you have one and asking that person to transfer the call to the appropriate person; and
- leaving a message if there is an answering machine!
At the next ‘Working Together’ meeting we expect to be told how it should be done! To know this saves so much time and aggravation! (see the insert for contacting Customs in the South West in writing).
‘Working Together’ in the South West has been an enlightening and rewarding experience. What started off with uncertainty and perhaps trepidation for both sides has changed into a constructive and fruitful arrangement. The meetings are convivial and purposeful. They are surprising because of what can be achieved and the agreement between Customs and the professional bodies. Both sides are working together to improve the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the indirect taxes.
For Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Bristol, contact with VAT Offices should be as follows:
- send written queries to H M Customs & Excise, Business Advice Centre, Portcullis House, 21 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff, CF11 9SS;
- submit voluntary disclosures to HM Customs & Excise, 2 Rivergate, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6EJ;
- when ‘waiving the exemption’ (Option To Tax) notify, or seek permission from, HM Customs & Excise, 2 Rivergate, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6EJ; or
- telephone enquires– National Advice Service (0845 010 9000).
020 7235 9381
January 2003 by