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Tax Simplifier 28: Reforming the Annual Budget

    The 'Tax Simplifier' series aims to make the case for a much simpler tax code with practical recommendations for policy change. Blogs are published twice a week, on Monday and Thursday. Read David's previous blog on retrospective tax. You can follow David on Twitter @TaxSimplifier.

    How many pages are there in Tolleys Taxes now? - the answer is an astonishing 18,500 pages, an increase of 68% in only 7 years! To put such a figure in perspective, a typical bible containing both Old and New Testaments would only have about 1,000 pages.

    The annual guide to corporation tax published by Tolleys now stands at 2,194 pages - 10 years ago this guide was 873 pages. Taxation Magazine’s review of the latest guide says that it is “a very useful guide for all requiring an initial pointer towards the possible solution of a corporation tax problem”.

    There are now a total of 197 HMRC manuals explaining how the tax code is interpreted and applied. 

    We have 280,000 qualified accountants in the UK - more than in the whole rest of the EU put together. Much of their time will be spent on overcomplicated tax issues.

    The size of our tax code has been created by annual Finance Acts, which have been getting significantly longer. 

    The draft legislation and explanatory notes issued in December 2012 for the 2013 Finance Act were 1,074 pages long!

    We need a new approach to this annual spectacle to tackle this problem. It is recognised that the Treasury are lobbied from all quarters for tax changes, adding to the pressure coming from ideas generated internally within Government. In spite of the length of Finance Acts, they reflect only a small proportion of these proposals which survive the sifting process.

    But we should all exercise the utmost restraint in arguing the case for something which will complicate matters further. More eye-catching initiatives are unlikely to be helpful. 

    Everyone should instead praise a short Finance Act - save to the extent it contains material to simplify and rationalise the current muddle of tax law.

    David Martin enjoyed a career spanning 23 years as a tax lawyer within a large City Law Firm, latterly as Head of the Tax Department, before taking early retirement in 2002. During that time he advised both company and individual clients. He now lives a less pressurised life in Devon with his wife and two daughters and maintains an active interest in tax law.

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