Home / Posts tagged "tax"
Dividend tax changes from 2016/17

Dividend tax changes from 2016/17

Nasty extra dividend tax hits owners of small companies.

April 2016 sees the start of a new dividend tax regime which will affect the owners of most of the UK’s small limited companies. Many will be hundreds or thousands of pounds worse off.

Individual investors who own shares can also be affected, but only if their total dividends in the year exceed £5,000.  So that means a fairly small number of people.

The Chancellor George Osborne has introduced this new dividend tax to balance out the tax bills suffered by people who have the same income, but receive it in different ways.

My video at explains the change, and read on for further details.

Take 3 categories of people:

  • Jenny runs her own limited company. It can make £50K per year and she can take a mix of salary and dividends.
  • Roger is a sole trader who makes profits of £50K per year.
  • Andrew is an employee and his salary is £50K.

Prior to April 2016 Jenny could arrange her dividend/salary mix to make a big saving, mainly on National Insurance Contributions (NIC)

If we worked out the 2015/16 total tax and National Insurance bills (including Jenny’s company tax) there would be widely varying bills, as follows:

  • Jenny’s percentage of the £50K taken in taxes could be as low as 18% (or up to 33% if she took all her money as salary, against the advice of her accountant.)
  • Self-employed Roger would lose some 25% of his profits in tax and NIC.
  • Andrew, the employee would lose 27%.

Why the changes for 2016/17 and beyond?

With previous governments having encouraged businesses to form up as limited companies, now the Chancellor has decided to take away one of the main advantages – the ability to juggle your salary and dividend split to save some money.  He wants self-employed and limited companies to have a more similar tax regime.  I do not need to get into the morality of the old or new approaches, I must merely warn those with large dividends about the new regime. Before I go into the detail, let’s see the effect of the changes in April 2017.

How do Jenny, Roger and Andrew fare in 2016/17?

  • Jenny’s best case split of salary and dividend raises her tax bills to about 21%, up from 18%. (If she took all salary there would be no change at 33%, but that would be daft.)
  • Roger, being self-employed, is unaffected at 25%.
  • Meanwhile employee Andrew is also unaffected at 27% to the government.

So we can see that the Chancellor’s measure is closing the gap in the tax regimes between someone being self-employed and choosing to set up their business as a limited company. Jenny faces a few thousand more in tax each year due to the dividend tax.

The 2015/16 dividend tax regime in summary

Up to 5 April 2016 dividends, to the basic rate taxpayer, were simply treated as if they had already been taxed.

Higher rate taxpayers paid extra tax on dividends – 25% of the net they received.

This meant that the owner of a small company could take out a salary of say £10,000 and dividends of say £28,000 and pay no tax and only minimal National Insurance.  The company would pay tax, but taken together the company and owner would be better off that if they had just been self-employed.

Working out if you were close to the limit to start paying higher-rate tax was confusing.  Net dividends you received had to be grossed up.  Every £90 of dividend was treated as £100 gross.  The gross dividends plus your other income dictated whether you had some higher rate tax to pay.

The 2016/17 measures in detail

Dividend income will no longer have any form of tax credit to confuse the sums.  What you get is regarded as the gross dividend.

If your dividends in the year are £5,000 or less there will be no income tax to pay. This £5,000 is called your Dividend Allowance.

More reading and some examples are on the HMRC website at

If your dividends exceed £5K, then those dividends above the allowance will be taxed.

The tax rates will depend on whether your total income exceeds the basic rate threshold. (£43,000 in 2016/17)

  • The starting rate for dividend tax is 7.5% on dividends over £5,000.
  • Any dividends which push you into the higher rate threshold will be taxed at 32.5%.
  • People earning over £150,000 will have a dividend tax rate of 38.1%.

Tax planning points for those in business

If thinking about setting up a limited company, then the decision is much less clear-cut than it used to be. You might decide just to be a sole trader or some form of partnership.

Limited companies will still be attractive if you can make a lot of money but do not need to take it all out of the company each year. They will also still provide some protection from risking your house and savings if something goes wrong or the business is sued.

Advice on the best form to use for your business is now more important than ever.

If you already operate through your own limited company then look carefully at dividend levels, amount you need to take out, and pension contributions.

Tax planning points for people with high dividends but are not in business

This new tax makes it much more attractive to reduce your dividend income to under £5,000, and one way to do this is to move your shareholdings into an ISA.  Dividend income in an ISA is tax-free.

Ba careful of Capital Gains Tax if selling a lot of shares or ones which have risen well since you bought them.  If worried, then paying for a chat with a tax expert might be worthwhile.

In conclusion

Anyone who gets more than £5,000 in dividend income will be affected by this from 6 April 2016.  They need to know what tax they will owe, and how to declare the income to HMRC.  They also need to set some money aside to pay the bill when it arrives.

VIDEO: See also my video on this subject at


Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co – or 028 9080 6080.
Tax codes explained – are you on the wrong tax code?

Tax codes explained – are you on the wrong tax code?

Is my tax code wrong?

Tax codes dictate how much tax we lose from our wages and pensions. If they are wrong then the tax is wrong. If we don’t spot it then there is no guarantee that HMRC will! This is why understanding tax codes is important.
Unless your tax code begins with a K, or is BR or D0, then there is a simple rule of thumb. Most tax codes show your tax-free allowances, but divided by 10.
For example the standard tax-free Personal Allowance is £10,600. Divide this by 10 to get the tax code. Thus most people are on a code of 1060L.
Picture is an example tax code for 2015/16 for a 40% taxpayer who pays gift aid and personal pension contributions

HMRC tax code
Example tax code for 2015/16

Adjustments to tax codes
Sometimes HMRC will try to make adjustments to your tax code. This is normally a good thing. They are trying to have the correct amount of tax deducted from you over the year. In theory this should leave your tax correct at the year-end of 5 April.
Examples of adjustments made include:
• State pension or benefits expected
• Collect tax owed from an earlier year
• Rental profit estimated
• Company car – the taxable benefit
• Relief for professional subscriptions you pay
• Relief for gift aid payments (if you pay higher-rate tax)
• Higher-rate relief for pension contributions
So your tax code may have extra allowances added – to give you extra tax relief. Or it may have things deducted – HMRC’s way of taxing some income.
By far the most common adjustment is to reflect the state pension HMRC thinks you will get this year. State pension is taxable, though if that was all you earned it would be below the tax-free Personal Allowance. However if you have another source of income, and it is taxed at source, then HMRC will try to collect the tax due on both the pension and that other source, all from the same place. This can make it look like you are losing a lot of tax from your job or works pension. In fact you are losing the tax from two sources of income, but only having it taken off one!
What if I think my tax code needs changed?
You need to contact HMRC in one of two ways:
• Phone them on 0300 200 3300 (open 8-8 weekdays, 8-4 on Saturday)
• Write to them at HMRC, BX9 1AS. (Yes the address is that short.)
If you are nervous about phoning them then write to them. The answer may take longer, but at least the answer will be in writing. You will have time to study it. If phoning then write down the date of the call and who you speak to.
If you don’t understand part of what makes up your tax code – then ask for it to be explained. It is the tax official’s job to help you understand.
What happens if code is wrong and I do nothing?
Then your employer or pension provider will deduct the wrong amount of tax. Depending on the error, this may never be discovered by HMRC, and you could lose out.
Deferred state pension
HMRC is normally told how much state pension you will get. They use this to adjust your code. The adjustments are NORMALLY correct.
However I have seen some cases recently were people put off receiving their state pension for a few years. I found that HMRC was adjusting their tax code each year. In other words HMRC assumed they were getting the pension, and were taxing them too highly. One client was owed a tax refund of thousands.
Unusual codes
Here are the most common codes which are NOT simply 10% of your tax-free allowances after adjustments:
• BR – means deduct Basic Rate tax of 20%. Used for second jobs, extra pensions etc.
• D0 – means deduct 40% tax. Used for second jobs where the person pays higher-rate tax.
• K codes – mean the items deducted from the code are greater than the allowances, and you have a negative amount of tax-free allowances. The K code is roughly 10% of the negative allowances. These codes are most common with company cars or large state pensions.

In conclusion

• Tax codes dictate the amount of tax your employer deducts.
• They may be wrong, and the mistake can go undiscovered.
• If in doubt ask HMRC to check your tax code.

The author Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co – or 028 9080 6080.

Gary Barlow tax avoidance notes and links

Gary Barlow tax avoidance notes and links

23 May 2014

According to The Times of London, the Take That members poured £66 million ($111 million) into two dubious partnerships, set up by a company called Icebreaker Management. It is claimed the musicians were able to avoid tax on about £63 million ($106 million) from tours and CD sales, and they could be forced to pay back £20 milllion ($33 million).

Judge Colin Bishopp said: “Icebreaker is, and was known and understood by all concerned to be, a tax avoidance scheme.” The aim, the tax judge continued, “was to secure [tax] relief for members, and to inflate the scale of the relief by unnecessary borrowing.”

A spokesman for Icebreaker Management told reporters: “This decision puts valuable funding for the U.K.’s independent music industry in jeopardy.”

The singers are said to be among 1,000 investors who sheltered more than £480 million ($809 million) through Icebreaker partnerships, which have been under the microscope since details were exposed in a Times investigation back in 2012.


Judge – “No serious or even moderately sophisticated investor, genuinely seeking a profit… would rationally have chosen an icebreaker partnership,” said the judge.



The judge concluded that icebreaker members inflated investments through “entirely circular” loans. In doing so they could offset losses against other tax bills.


Tory-supporting Barlow, 43, and bandmates Howard Donald, 46, Mark Owen, 42, and their manager Jonathan Wild, poured £66million into Icebreaker Management, which styled itself as a music industry investment scheme.

Tax avoidance – for dummies (i.e. explained for non-experts!)

Tax avoidance – for dummies (i.e. explained for non-experts!)

Tax avoidance schemes – not only the rich and famous get burnt!

Why so many words?

This is not an article typical of my articles about tax, as it is very detailed and about twice as long. My more normal articles can be accessed on my website at

The article was written, on request, as a detailed background to, and opinion on, the tax avoidance cases we read about in the national news, and should be a valuable resource for journalists and anyone with an interest in the tax avoidance subject.

Who is the author Adrian Huston?

Adrian was a senior HM Inspector of Taxes before leaving the Revenue to set up UK tax firm Huston & Co Tax Consultants & Accountants . He was joined by his Tax Inspector wife Felicity Huston and they have built a successful practice with a national and international profile.

Adrian has hundreds of overseas clients and the firm has the full range of accountancy clients ranging from landlords through business-people and companies to High Net Worth Individuals.

Adrian & Felicity help people who find they are being investigated by HMRC, whether for a failed tax-avoidance scheme or for suspected tax fiddling. Many are brought to them by accountants, and then, once all sorted, handed back to the accountant who continues with their routine affairs.They use their tax/negotiation skills, and HMRC inside knowledge, to steer the client though this stressful time with the minimum of cost and in the quickest possible time.

Adrian is regularly consulted by the national media and frequently quoted by them as a tax expert. He commented on Tony Blair’s business network in Bloomberg Magazine

Adrian frequently appears on the BBC (TV & radio) and independent news channels and is quoted in The Times, the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Times, Belfast Telegraph etc.


Background and timeline of a tax avoidance scheme

After many years where complex tax schemes were talked about in hushed tones and no-one knew who was in them, a new era has dawned. One where word reaches the national press perhaps monthly of failed tax avoidance schemes and the well-known people caught up in them. Gary Barlow is the latest to hit the headlines, in May 2014.

In just one week in February 2014 we heard how:



Those involved in tax avoidance schemes includes very experienced and respected professionals as well as highly paid media personalities and business-people. These people probably have some idea of how things can go wrong.

For the rest of you I will paint a picture of what happens and how it can all unravel – very, very slowly. I will use a fictional character called Danny Danegeld.

  1. Danny pays 40% tax or more and decides he would like to pay less. People like Danny typically pay a lot of tax every year, but sometimes his friends want a tax saving on an isolated Capital Gain or house deal. There they may want to reduce the CGT or Stamp Duty.
  2. Danny finds an advisor who knows the ‘perfect’ scheme to cut his tax bill. Maybe for a fee they can even make the tax bill disappear altogether (however the fee might be 10-15% of the income covered, which is as good as a tax.)
  3. This scheme has usually been devised by clever financiers, accountants and lawyers who believe they have spotted a weakness in UK tax law, and plan to exploit it until the weakness is corrected by new legislation.
  4. The schemes have often been reviewed by QCs (Queen’s Counsel) who give their opinion that if implemented properly the tax avoidance scheme will legitimately reduce one’s tax bill. And if challenged by HMRC it should stand up to scrutiny. This QC opinion is a massive selling point used by the promoters selling the idea.
  5. Danny decides to go for it and hands over a hefty fee to the promoter. The paperwork starts being generated.
  6. Tax avoidance schemes generally have some odd features – like loans which will never be repaid, businesses you really aren’t running, but for tax purposes look like you are – that sort of thing.
  7. In due course Danny files his personal or company tax returns with HMRC. The tax bill is greatly reduced.
  8. HMRC expects those using registered tax avoidance schemes to declare them on their Tax Return. For example in the 2012/13 Return this is entered in the Additional Information, page 4 – see
  9. The idea of having a tax avoidance scheme registered with HMRC, and having to put down its number on your Tax Return always amuses me. If a tax expert tells HMRC they have devised a clever scheme and plan to sell the idea to others, what’s going to happen? Of course HMRC is going to try to close whatever loophole they plan to exploit. And then HMRC will investigate everyone they find using the scheme.
  10. In Danny’s case he either admits on his tax return that he is using scheme number 123456, or his advisors tell his he is not obliged to admit it. (Perhaps because they say the scheme does not need to be registered.)
  11. Then HMRC discovers some or all of the people using the scheme, including our Danny. This is easy if he and others put the scheme reference on his tax return.
  12. In other cases HMRC might stumble across the scheme when investigating someone’s affairs. Or investigating a scheme promoter. Then they might require the promoter to tell them everyone who is in the scheme.
  13. There then follows a deliberately long and protracted game. HMRC launches formal tax ‘enquiries’ into the hundreds of people in the scheme, including Danny. They have to do this to keep open their chance to ask for extra tax.
  14. HMRC then selects a small sample, say 5, of the taxpayers. In their case they will be required to supply all the supporting documentation about their tax scheme. HMRC’s aim is to probe the papers and see if they can find faults, or perhaps to see if the scheme is legit.
  15. HMRC has no interest in doing this quickly. Remember while only 5 people have their affairs gone over with a fine-toothed comb, Danny and the other 500 are told their enquiry (investigation) remains open until the samples are examined. This could be years. (Chris Moyles’ tax return was for 2008 and only now in 2014 does he know he has to pay the full tax after all!)
  16. If properly advised Danny and the 500 will consider paying, on account, to HMRC the original tax they would have owed – to reduce the amount of interest HMRC can charge them. If Danny wins the case he will get the tax back. If he loses then he only owes HMRC penalties and interest to the date the tax was paid. Interest over 6 years could add nearly 20% to what he owes HMRC.
  17. If HMRC, after taking its own sweet time, decides the scheme is legal and achieves the tax advantage it set out to do, then they will apply this decision to Danny and all 500 investors. They are in the clear. (HMRC may change the law to stop new people doing the same.)
  18. Of course on the other hand if they decide the case fails then they will expect all Danny and the 500 investors to accept the ruling and cough up their tax, interest, and probably penalties.
  19. Only the brave would continue to fight their corner since they would be spending thousands of pounds with a limited chance of success.

So what were Alex Ferguson and Chris Moyles up to?

  • Alex Ferguson, in common with Sven-Goran Eriksson and about 287 others, joined a partnership to buy the rights to Disney films Enchanted and Underdog. The scheme was called Eclipse 35 and was first used in 2006. Yet only now in 2014 is it becoming clear that HMRC has successfully defeated the scheme. (See what I mean about the long delays.) The partnership borrowed money to buy the rights to the films. These were bought by Eclipse 35, who then promptly leased them back to Disney over 20 years. HMRC has to date successfully challenged the legitimacy of the scheme. Fergie could face a £1 million bill in the end and lots of fees to advisors.


  • When Moyles’s tax avoidance scheme came to a Tax Tribunal he asked for anonymity as the bad press could damage his career. He lost that point as well as the overall tax case. In his case his tax returns claimed he was a car dealer making massive losses and thus claiming tax relief. His scheme was called Working Wheels. In an incredible tax return Moyles declared used car sales of just £3,731. (Was that one car or maybe two?)  Yet finance costs left him with losses of £1 million! Amazing that HMRC noticed this looked a little odd. It was clear to the tax Tribunal that Moyles was not really a car dealer and the whole aim of the exercise was to generate losses and thus tax advantages. Of all the fund managers, celebrities and high earners who tried this ‘Working Wheels’ Moyles was one of 3 taken for detailed testing. All the other 450 people who paid to get into scheme will now be expected to settle up with the tax-man – including paying penalties.

Why does HMRC take so long on these cases?

They will say the matters are complex and accountants take time to supply information.

However it is clear to those in the tax avoidance field (and those of us who help clear up the mess) that HMRC is quite happy that the cases drag on. If people considering a tax avoidance scheme know their affairs will be under scrutiny for 5 or 6 years – and they won’t know their true tax liability until it’s over, then this will discourage people from the schemes.

The March 2014 Budget saw the Chancellor announce that he wants people embarking on a tax avoidance scheme to pay their full tax, then argue with HMRC and hope to get the tax back later.  This will make tax avoidance schemes much less sexy.

What to watch out for in tax avoidance schemes?

Have in your mind the old saying “If it looks too good to be true…then it probably is.” Paying 11% fees to a tax avoidance scheme and no income tax might seem attractive. 5 years on and HMRC descends. Then you have years of uncertainty, and end up paying all the original 40% plus of tax, added to that interest and penalties. Not to mention tens of thousands in accountancy and legal costs. And then you may not be able to get back any of the 11% fees to paid the scheme. So you end up massively worse off than if you paid the full tax in the first place …and could have slept easy in your bed.

Also watch for schemes where – if the full workings were sent to your own tax office – the Revenue might not agree with the tax treatment. Ask the person promoting the scheme if you should do this, and watch their reaction. I find this approach flushes out the truth from many people who say they have the perfect scheme. Most schemes involve some form of smoke-screen. Many also involve offshore jurisdictions, though that aspect on its own may be legal. HMRC often looks for the commercial purpose of a series of transactions. If none is visible, then they may win their tax case.


I do not recommend these tax avoidance schemes to my clients. Even the ones which sound good can leave people with years of uncertainty. And just because it has worked for a few years does not mean you are in the clear. HMRC can look back 20 years! At worst a failed scheme can cost people a small fortune.

There are legal ways of managing your tax bills – especially now Corporation Tax rates are going to be at most 21%, and 20% for many. It’s not long ago that big companies paid 30%, 21% is pretty good. Pension contributions can be very helpful, though not of much help for those earning millions.

If you use a company then the amount of personal income tax you pay will be a factor of the amount of money you insist on taking out of your company to fund your lifestyle. Take more salary and dividends, pay more tax. Live quieter, pay less. You decide.

10 step guide to fraud protection

10 step guide to fraud protection

10 step guide to fraud protection

I recently met convicted fraudster Elliot Castro at a fascinating event run by the Northern Ireland Fraud Academy. Suppress that yawn – having a convicted fraudster on the platform answering our questions was far from dull.

The book of his life of crime (before he went to jail) is a good read. “Other People’s Money: The Rise and Fall of Britain’s Boldest Credit Card Fraudster” was written by Neil Forsyth & Elliot Castro.

Just like the wonderful Leonardo DiCaprio film about the real life con-man (“Catch me if you can”) Scottish Elliot Castro travelled the World on £2 million of other people’s money. In Elliot’s case credit card details obtained in a number of ways. Also on the platform were Jonathan Wilson, Head of Special Investigations at the bank AIB plc, and Charlie McMurdie – the woman who was until recently the Met’s Head of Cyber Crime. So we had former fraudster, victim and enforcer all there together.

Inspired by the talk, and aware from clients and daily professional life how easy it is to be conned, I have pulled together my top ten tips to help keep you safe from fraud. Further detail on each is after number 10.

  1. Don’t regard a high credit limit on your card as a badge of honour.
  2. Be careful what you share on social media.
  3. Your friend is NOT stranded abroad in need of your help
  4. When someone rings you, how do you know who they are?
  5. Phishing – be very careful what links you click in emails
  6. Online purchases – use just one card
  7. If someone phones you and says there is a problem with your card – they may be a crook.
  8. Online shopping in public wifi zones is risky.
  9. Make a bit more effort with passwords
  10. Be less trusting

Now I will go into why I gave these 10 tips.


  1. Don’t regard a high credit limit on your card as a badge of honour. If the limit is £10,000 and you never go over £2,000, then ask your card company to reduce your card limit. I do this. That way if a crook tries to book a business class flight to Cape Town costing £3,500 the purchase will fail.
  2. Be careful what you share on social media. I knew posting that I am on holiday could let burglars know to call at my house. What I didn’t think of was that Elliot Castro would use these times to phone your office and speak to a PA or colleague and persuade them to give him some useful information, like a mobile phone number etc.
  3. Your friend is NOT stranded abroad in need of your help. If you get an email from a known contact saying they are in some far-flung place stuck with no money for an emergency operation/ flight home/ hotel bill, its 99.9% sure to be fake. I get one of these every month or so ‘from’ a friend or client.       Nearly always they have had their BT email address hacked. Having a BT email myself I see regular things popping up on my phone or in emails tempting me to log in. Don’t do it. Once they have your email and password they can hack your email. And if you use part of that password in other sites your whole online life may be upset.
  4. When someone rings you, how do you know who they are? Just because they say they are from your bank, don’t divulge to them any of your security details. For example if they ask for letters 1 and 3 of your password, then in a month’s time ring and ask for letters 2 and 4…you can see how they could build up a picture! Elliot would sometimes work for weeks on a person’s case before he actually tried to use their money. If someone is from your bank you should be able to ring back on their published phone number (not the one the person gives you!) and speak to someone.
  5. Phishing – be very careful what links you click in emails. These emails are getting very sophisticated. For example HMRC will NEVER email you about a tax refund or tax bill to be paid. It is easy to be drawn into clicking a link and ending up in a fake website where you then put in your banking details, and overnight become very poor.       Always go to your online bank by either following a ‘bookmark’ on your computer or typing from fresh the web address you already know. Those extra seconds could save you a fortune.
  6. Online purchases – use just one card. The ex-detective advised that you keep just one credit card which you use for online purchases. Don’t use the others. Maybe also keep a low but suitable credit limit on it.
  7. If someone phones you (say when you are in your hotel room) and says there is a problem with your card – they may be a crook. This was one of Elliot Castro’s techniques. Ring up and say the card they checked in with has a problem, and Bingo – the guest gives you all their card details!
  8. Online shopping in public wifi zones is risky. The ex-detective warned that you could be attached to a proxy wifi-zone. In other words it looks legit but is taking a note as you browse of all your log-ins, passwords and card details – perhaps while you buy that fraud book by Elliot Castro on Amazon!.
  9. Make a bit more effort with passwords. Put an odd character in the middle. Instead of piggy1474runs try pi6%ggy1474runs. Avoid using things people might find like your date of birth, your child’s name or your current pet. (Imagine the Facebook post – ‘look here’s a snap of wee Spot after he came back neutered & sad from the vet.’ Crook guesses password Spot2013 )
  10. Be less trusting. Just because you hear a call centre in the background, it might just be a recording. If the girl calling you interrupts to ask her ‘colleague’ to “Get the porter to collect those bags” this does not confirm the girl works in your hotel. It just makes the call to you sound legit!

And finally I am sure you are wondering why Elliot Castro flew back to Belfast (where he once lived) to talk about his life before jail. The answer is that he has turned his life around and now advises the police and lots of blue-chip companies about how businesses can beef up their security and prevent the fraudster making off their or their customers’ money. I wish him all the best – we need his help.

Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is a director of Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co – or 028 9080 6080.