With changes and challenges ahead, there was plenty to discuss at this year’s ICAEW Practical Tax Conference – Jane Walker looks back at a busy two days…
Speakers and delegates gathered in Cumbernauld at the end of September for this year’s Practical Tax Conference. With new experts joining familiar faces on the speakers line-up and some first time attendees joining returning regular delegates – plus some new and unusual sessions – the event covered a range of taxing topics, and provided plenty of talking points.
ICAEW Scotland’s Council Representative, Chair of the Tax Faculty and one of the founders of the Conference, Carl Bayley started things off with a special extra session on Scottish Taxes. “This year, for the first time, devolved tax is hitting people’s pockets and Scottish tax payers are caught in the middle of a complex interplay between Scottish and UK legislation, often putting them at a disadvantage” explained Carl after his session. Little wonder then that delegates with practices (or clients) in Scotland braved the earlier than usual start for the chance to quiz Carl.
With delegates attending the event from across the UK, the slightly staggered start allowed those travelling from outside Scotland the chance to relax and register during the special Scottish session. And no sooner had that wrapped up than Carl was stepping into his other role as co-host of the Conference – ably assisted (in Keith Proudfoot’s absence on day one) by a familiar face, David Heaton who had formally retired from Conference speaking duties at last year’s event. Carl and David outlined the programme and introduced sponsors Mercia; outlined the work of event supporter CABA and talked about the work of exhibitors Resource Efficient Scotland.
A familiar face to anyone involved in tax – and to regular attendees of the Conference in particular – tax expert Rebecca Benneyworth started the main programme with the first of her three presentations (four if you count the panel session which closed the conference). Rebecca covered three key topics: business start-up and early years tax planning; digital tax; and small business tax.
“Don’t under estimate the challenge is getting clients ready for Making Tax Digital for VAT” Rebecca told us, “consider migrating clients early for income tax to reduce the burdens of transition when it comes” Rebecca stressed when talking to us after her session.
She also advised practitioners to keep up-to-speed with changes in tax and revise plans accordingly, “incorporating a business purely for tax purposes is pretty much redundant, but review the position annual, as tax is an ever changing picture”.
Taking a break from the usual presenting format, Peter Raney – joined by Carl Bayley and Patricia Caputo – had devised a role-play session to convey some of the challenges involved in business exit strategies and succession.
“Succession planning involves an incredible range of skills. It combines tax, legal and accounting knowledge with the ability to handle difficult personal and family scenarios with sensitivity” Carl explained. “We decided that performing the role play session would help us communicate our key points in a new, memorable and innovative way which we hope delegates found both informative and entertaining” he added.
In previous years conference stalwart David Heaton has presented the session on employment tax, this year having taken on the role of host, it instead fell to him to introduce his successor, Kate Upcraft. Outlining Kate’s career, particularly her time as Payroll Legislation Manager at M&S David joked that this wouldn’t be any presentation, adding that given all the recent changes in employment taxes he was glad he wasn’t presenting on the topic this year.
Kate’s presentation explored some of the key issues cropping up in employment tax over the last twelve months, focussing particularly on the changes that have taken place in that time. Adding a musical twist to her talk Kate suggested songs that might be apt choices should anyone wish to make a playlist to sum up the year – the inclusion of “Highway to Hell” proved a hit with delegates.
Kate was followed by another new face at the event; Campbell Dallas’ VAT Director and regular on the tax speaking circuit, Greg McNally who led day one’s penultimate session, VAT Updates.
We caught up with Greg after his presentation to find out what he felt the key issues for practitioners are. “VAT continues to keep us on our toes as we anticipate some challenges ahead. Unless HMRC further delay, we’re expecting changes to both the rules on pensions and disclosing schemes to come in on 1 January 2018. We also watch and prepare for the impact on Making Tax Digital and Brexit, which could both land on 1 April 2019. With so much uncertainty, we’re expecting 2018 to be an interesting year” he said.
Friday ended with another session with a difference – a discussion on alternatives to corporation tax led by Tracey Wilson, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University and Shaun Robertson, Director of Qualifications, ICAEW.
Delegates were invited to explore and discuss the proposals for corporate reform, which Tracey is currently exploring as part of her professional doctorate research. The session began with an overview of the current proposals for more radical reform, which include:
• Retention of a profits based system with an additional tax allowance for corporate equity;
• Realignment of the tax system to remove the tax advantages of business structure;
• Introduction of a destination based cash flow system;
• Replace profit-based tax with a distribution-based system; and
• The abolition of corporation tax
This led to a lively debate on the merits of the current system and the need for fairer tax treatment of smaller firms who are perceived to be easy targets for HMRC.
Want to have your say on this? Tracey is looking for tax experts to participate in an iterative Delphi survey to consider the merits and limitations of the proposal under review. If you would like to find out more please contact her.
Saturday’s sessions started with a Capital Tax Refresher from Sue Moore (ICAEW Tax Faculty) who explored – among other issues – Private Residence Relief and the newly introduced New Residencies Relief. Sue stressed the importance of keeping-up-to-speed with any changes relating to relief rules and being aware of relevant test cases.
Sue’s session was followed by something unrelated to tax – Zena Everett’s talk on time management. Zena explored what it’s like to work in a flow state and how matching skills with challenges can optimise performance. She also stressed how important it is to understand the difference between being busy and doing important tasks.
Saturday morning’s sessions concluded with Gary Brothers’ session on HMRC investigations. Asked for some take-away advise for those helping clients facing investigation, Gary said; “take control, don’t be a passenger – whilst there’s always a judgment to be made about when to take control there are always opportunities to do so and help your client. Remember, if you don’t take control, HMRC will and you’ll end up with the result that they want, which may not be the result that your client wants or deserves”.
“Don’t be afraid to use the full range of legislation that’s available – it’s not aggressive or uncooperative to do so; they’re safeguards that could help your client” he added.
As always, the conference concluded with the ever-popular panel session, during which the speakers took questions on topics as diverse as predictions on the upcoming Budget, VAT exemptions for the health and fitness sector, Section 225, and off payroll working.
This year’s expert panel was made up both of some familiar faces and new additions to the line-up; but what’s it like to be a “newbie” at an established event and how do regular speakers feel the event has evolved over the years? We asked conference favourite Rebecca Benneyworth and ICAEW Practical Tax first-timer Kate Upcraft for their thoughts.
Kate admitted that taking over a topic from an incumbent expert was a little nerve-wracking, “it was quite scary to step into David’s shoes and I was rather nervous at first – I know David well and am in awe of his expertise”.
Although Kate is a regular on the tax lecture and speaker circuit, this was her first time at our event, “it’s well organised, a nice set up and it’s refreshing to be north of the border – we’re four different countries and we, as a profession, don’t talk about that enough. Carl’s session highlighted how complex it all is,” she said.
Rebecca highlighted the close bond between the speakers and the reasons that so many return to the event each year; “it’s a unique conference to attend as speakers and to sit in on sessions at, especially this year where there have been some new and different things such as the role-play session. Many of us say that it’s like a family and we’re always glad to welcome new members to that family”
In his closing remarks, Carl Bayley made a short speech thanking his long-standing conference co-host and “the godfather of the tax conference”, Keith Proudfoot. Keith will be retiring as a Regional Director at the end of this year, so this was his last Conference as a member of ICAEW staff. Carl presented Keith with a suitably Scottish thank you gift, adding that whilst Keith may be about to retire, it’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last of him.
Whilst the final location is still to be confirmed, next year’s ICAEW Practical Tax Conference will take place on Scotland’s East Coast on 5 and 6 October.
To keep up to date with details, offers and other news – or simply to see more about this year’s event – check out the hash tag #ICAEWPracticalTax on Twitter.