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Tax avoidance : a General Anti-Abuse Rule

Published Tuesday, April 19, 2016

UK tax law is specifically targeted rather than purposive: in tackling the exploitation of loopholes in the law, governments have legislated against individual avoidance schemes as and when these have come to light. This note looks at the case that has been made recently for a general anti-avoidance rule, the Goverment's introduction of a 'narrower' General Anti-Abuse Rule in 2013, and subsequent initiatives to tackle aggressive tax avoidance.

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UK tax law is specifically targeted rather than purposive: in tackling the exploitation of loopholes in the law, governments have legislated against individual avoidance schemes as and when these have come to light.  Often the response to this legislation has been the creation of new schemes to circumvent the law, which in turn has seen further legislative action – an ‘arms race’ between the revenue authorities and Parliamentary counsel on one side, and on the other, taxpayers aided and abetted by the legal profession.  Over the past twenty years many commentators have suggested having legislation to counter tax avoidance in general: by providing certainty for both sides as to the tax consequences of any transaction, a ‘General Anti-Avoidance Rule’ might dissuade the most egregious efforts to avoid tax, encourage taxpayers and legal counsel to redirect their energies to more productive activities and allow the authorities to simplify the law without fear of it being systematically undermined.

In its first Budget in June 2010 the Coalition Government announced it would consult on this issue,[1] and in December a study group, led by Graham Aaronson QC, was established to explore the case for introducing an anti-avoidance rule.[2]   Mr Aaronson completed his report in November 2011, in which he recommended a narrowly focused rule targeted at ‘abusive arrangements’ only.[3] In June 2012 the Government launched a consultation exercise with a view to introducing a General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) in 2013,[4] confirming its plans in December 2012.[5] Provisions in the Finance Bill 2013 for the new GAAR were agreed, without changes, and the new rule came into force on 17 July 2013.[6]

A second note looks at earlier debates regarding the case for a GAAR over the last twenty years (Commons Briefing paper SN2956, 13 May 2015).

Notes :

[1]     Budget 2010 HC 61 June 2010 para 2.114

[2]     HC Deb 6 December 2010 cc1-3WS

[3]     HC Deb 21 November 2011 cc2-3WS; HM Treasury press notice 130/11, 21 November 2011

[4]     HMRC, A General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) - consultation document, June 2012

[5]     Autumn Statement, Cm 8480 December 2012 para 1.178; see also, Budget 2013, HC 1033, March 2013 para 1.211

[6]     HM Revenue & Customs’ detailed guidance is published on Gov.uk.

 

Commons Briefing papers SN06265

Author: Antony Seely

Topic: Taxation

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