2 July 2020
Finance Bill, New Clauses: Taxation of coronavirus support payments

Jesse Norman moves new Government eight new clauses to the Bill, mainly in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

Jesse Norman

The Government have tabled eight new clauses to the Bill, the majority of which are in response to the covid-19 pandemic. I would like to start by offering Members an explanation for why these new clauses are being brought forward on Report. The Government have been working very hard to combat the pandemic, as the House will know, and these measures are just a small part of a much more extensive and wide-ranging response. I am sure that colleagues across the House will appreciate that Ministers and civil servants have been working in extraordinary circumstances in the past three months. As I often do, I again pay great tribute to officials at the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Without their work, it would not have been possible to deliver many, if any, of these aspects of this extremely comprehensive response, let alone in such a rapid timeframe as, for example, with the coronavirus job retention scheme.

We have brought forward these new clauses at the earliest possible opportunity, and for technical reasons, it is on Report. We have also been slightly limited by the fact that to table each new clause requires a new Ways and Means resolution to be agreed by the House. Report was the first amendable stage of the Bill to take place after the Government had been able to agree the necessary Ways and Means resolution on the Floor of the House. I hope the House will agree that there is a clear need for each of these new clauses to stand part of the Bill.

I will touch on each new clause briefly. New clause 19 seeks to do two things. First, it confirms that grants made under covid-related schemes—for example, the furlough scheme, the self-employment scheme, the small business grant fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund, the local authority discretionary grant fund and schemes corresponding to those grants within the devolved Administrations—are subject to tax. The new clause also includes a delegated power to add or remove further grant schemes through a statutory instrument, which provides sensible flexibility, so that the Government can continue to support the economy in their response to the pandemic.

The second part of the new clause ensures that HMRC has appropriate and proportionate compliance and enforcement powers in relation to the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme. To ensure that taxpayer money is going only to those who are eligible, the new clause gives HMRC powers to recover overpayments and to impose penalties where ​there is deliberate non-compliance. HMRC has given a clear undertaking that these powers will not be used to penalise taxpayers who may be going through difficult times but make honest mistakes in their applications. As previously stated, the powers are designed to be proportionate, and they balance the fact that we are in unprecedented and uncertain times with the need to ensure that HMRC has sufficient powers to enforce the schemes according to eligibility criteria set out and to protect the Exchequer.

New clause 20 seeks to mitigate potential pensions impacts for those with a protected pension age returning to work to help in the battle against the pandemic. Its purpose is to provide certainty for those people by temporarily suspending rules that would otherwise see the pension income of recently retired people reduced if they were to return to work in crucial workforces at this important time. These retirees have been and will remain critical to the Government’s response to covid, and this new clause temporarily removes restrictions that might impede a flexible response.

New clause 21 temporarily relaxes the statutory residence test so that highly-skilled individuals from across the world are not discouraged from coming to the UK and helping this country to respond to the unprecedented health emergency. The actions and presence of normally non-resident individuals in the UK could have inadvertently affected their tax residence status. The measure is to be restricted, however, to ensure that it applies only between 1 March and 1 June 2020 for time spent in the UK by individuals who worked specifically on coronavirus disease-related activities in specified sectors. That time will not count towards the residence test.

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I turn to new clause 22, much loved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who is not in his place. It modifies the current enterprise investment scheme and seed enterprise investment scheme so that individuals who made EIS and SEIS investments before a future fund investment in the same company will not lose relief on those previous investments when the future fund loan converts into shares or is repaid. As the House will know, those schemes were intended to encourage investment in smaller, higher-risk trading companies by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who subscribe for new shares in qualifying companies. The Government announced the future fund as part of its business package in response to covid-19. Current EIS and SEIS legislation means that some future fund investors who have used those schemes for previous investments in the same company might lose their reliefs, depending on how and when the loan converts. The new clause intends to ensure that those investors do not lose that relief as a result of investing in the future fund to support innovative UK companies that may have difficulty raising finance during this period.

Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)

May I press the Minister on innovative companies getting a lack of support from HMRC? I have come across a case in my constituency where a very innovative British company appears to have had a lack of support from the agency. Would he look into that for me?

Jesse Norman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As the House will be aware, HMRC is often responsive and generally extremely responsive to such issues. I will happily look at any correspondence he wants to send me, and I will ensure that there is a properly engaged response to the extent that my limited powers over HMRC permit me. I hope that will be effective.

New clause 23 enables the Treasury to specify in an order made under section 135 of the Finance Act 2008 which payments of tax and other liabilities will not attract late payment interest or surcharge as a result of being deferred by agreement during a period of national disaster or emergency. It also enables the Treasury to set specific relief periods for different deferred taxes or liabilities. As the House will know, the Government have announced an unprecedented package of economic support for businesses and individuals affected by covid. The new clause ensures that late payment interest that would normally accrue automatically where tax is paid late does not apply, supporting taxpayers further and in ways in which I am sure the whole House will support. The payment deferral for VAT that we have announced provides taxpayers with a much-needed cash flow boost. HMRC is using its existing powers as set out in the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 to defer those payments of tax.

New clause 24 allows a refund of the additional 3% higher rate of stamp duty where exceptional circumstances prevented the sale of the previous main residence in the three-year window within which a sale must ordinarily take place. The new clause applies to those whose refund window ended on or after 1 January 2020. It is to ensure that responsible actions taken by people do not lead to negative tax implications and that those who would otherwise have received a stamp duty land tax refund are still able to receive it, despite the pandemic.

New clause 25 suspends the heavy goods vehicle road user levy for a period of 12 months, cutting fixed operational costs to the logistics and haulage industries as the economy begins to recover from the pandemic. These industries support many other industries, and temporarily easing their financial burden will support the haulage sector, reducing fixed costs as the economy recovers over time.

I turn finally to new clause 32, which makes minor changes to the existing enterprise management incentives legislation, introducing a time-limited exception to the disqualifying event rule so that EMI option holders who can no longer meet the EMI working time requirement due only to the pandemic are not forced to forfeit their options or to exercise them earlier than planned. This has the effect of protecting employees furloughed under the coronavirus job retention scheme or who have taken unpaid leave and had their working hours reduced. The measure means that affected employees will not forfeit their options or be forced to exercise them within the statutory 90 days normally required.

Since the point of EMI schemes is to help high-growth small and medium-sized enterprises recruit and retain skilled employees by giving them tax-advantaged share options, I am sure the House will understand that the measure supports a very important sector that is also likely to be important to our recovery. The changes will be effective from 19 March to ensure that employees who were furloughed or had to reduce their hours do ​not lose out. I hope the House will accept the need for the new clauses in these highly uncertain and unusual times. I commend them to the House.