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01 May 2018
Issue: 4645 / Categories: Forum & Feedback

Advertising watchdog ruling

In ‘Getting more bang for your bucks’, (Taxation, 29 March 2018, page 20), Andy Wood discussed the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling in the case of CDP Tax and Wealth (trading as Fiducia Wealth and Tax). He expressed doubt about whether the ASA was the appropriate forum for HMRC to take this sort of action.

We thought readers might be interested in more background as to how this complaint came about. Late one evening in July 2017, an advertisement for Fiducia popped into Heather Self’s timeline on Twitter, claiming to be a ‘bespoke, comprehensive plan’ to save stamp duty land tax. She posted a tweet, with a link to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) warning notice about such schemes (, and Dan Neidle responded expressing extreme scepticism.

We thought it was surprising to see someone claim that, in 2017, a scheme could be effective at avoiding SDLT on a standard residential conveyancing transaction (given FA 2003, s 75A and the generally very poor batting average of tax avoidance schemes before tribunals and courts). However, the Fiducia website gave the impression this was all very straightforward. The front page promised ‘we will save you a minimum of 60%’ of the tax, with a handy calculator to show the savings. The website said there was no need to notify HMRC, and anyone could use the scheme – ‘it is a legal tax saving strategy for any buyer of a property that triggers the liability to pay stamp duty’. In case this all seemed too much, it added: ‘We prefer to adopt a traditionally conservative style of tax planning, thoroughly considering all relevant matters throughout the process.’

Heather felt sufficiently strongly that she rang HMRC’s avoidance hotline and alerted it to the scheme. She then asked Dan what the process would be to report the advisers to the SRA – since they appeared to be SRA-regulated, but to be promoting a scheme in contravention of the authority’s guidance on the matter.

Dan picked up the baton and ran with it. He found that the firm was not on the SRA’s register at all, so filed a formal complaint. We then dug a little further and established (again through Twitter) that the picture of the barrister named on the site appeared to be used without his consent and, indeed, he said that he had asked repeatedly for the references to him be removed. He said he would report Fiducia to the Bar Standards Board (BSB). However, he remained featured on the website until the time of the ASA decision.

So within about 48 hours what appeared to be aggressive promotion of an avoidance scheme had been reported to HMRC, the SRA and possibly the BSB. It was Dan who decided to go further and complain to the ASA.

Initially, the ASA was reluctant to take the case probably because it was on very technical grounds, but it was persuaded to do so after HMRC joined in and supported Dan. The ruling, issued in February 2018, found against Fiducia on all counts.

It seems to us that the weapon of making a complaint to the ASA is one that should perhaps be considered more often – not only by HMRC, but by professionals who continue to be frustrated by those who sell schemes that, frankly, mislead the public. Although HMRC can, and should, follow the route of a technical challenge, the merit of the speed of the ASA response is that it may save consumers from being duped into wasting their money.

It may also be something for the professional bodies to consider – whether their standards processes should include asking members to alert them to potentially dodgy advertising so that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Chartered Institute of Taxation and Law Society can themselves help to protect most of their members and the public from the activities of those who promote these schemes.

A brief internet search on the name of Fiducia Wealth and Tax reveals many previous comments (such as the couple who paid fees of £16,000 as they tried to save £32,000 and were hit with SDLT, interest and penalties of £75,000 – see the Telegraph, More encouragingly, the website of the firm is ‘undergoing routine maintenance’.

Heather Self, Blick Rothenberg, and Dan Neidle, Clifford Chance (on this occasion both writing in a personal capacity).


Issue: 4645 / Categories: Forum & Feedback
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