Accountants lash out at new tax avoidance restrictions

The Government was accused yesterday of adding to a mountain of red tape when it published a 600-page finance Bill to enact measures from last year's Budget.

Dawn Primarolo, the paymaster general, said the Bill, which include new tax avoidance rules, "introduces important measures to modernise taxes, keeping pace with real world developments ... and to tackle tax avoidance and evasion".

Measure include an obligation on accountants to register tax avoidance schemes, the end of a corporation tax loophole and a simplification of eight pensions regimes into one.

But the Conservatives accused the Treasury of publishing a "monster bill". Howard Flight, the shadow chief secretary, said: "Complexity and double meanings will result in businesses and individuals finding scant reward for many additional burdens."

Accountants echoed this, with one firm describing the Bill as a "lengthy labyrinth of legislation". Grant Thornton said Labour had added 1,500 pages of tax laws to the statute books since it regained power in 2001.

"In this light the Government's attempts to tackle tax avoidance can be seen as a problem of its own making," said Mike Warburton, its senior tax partner.

Aidan O'Carroll, the national head of tax at Ernst & Young, said the industry had "no difficulty" with the concept of full disclosure. "Our concern is to ensure that UK businesses are not put at a competitive disadvantage through extra administrative burdens or by an overly wide interpretation of what constitutes a tax avoidance arrangement," he said. "Equally, the tax authorities will find it difficult to cope if they receive thousands of reports of routine, inoffensive tax planning."

Trevor Llanwarne, the chief actuary pensions at PwC, said that rather than reducing the pensions system from eight regimes to one, the finance Bill had created six new systems. "This extends to 160 pages on pensions with some regulations still to come, which shows what this simplification means," he said.

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