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This week's opinion: 14 February 2019

12 February 2019
Issue: 4683 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
Section numbering is out of hand

I was working on the entrepreneurs’ relief changes recently and it struck me how crazy section numberings have become. I found myself, for example, having to analyse s 169LA(1ZA)(a). There was a time when I could quote many of the key section numbers, but I defy anybody to be able to remember these strings of almost meaningless digits.

Why do we have them? These days the draftsman’s policy is to include new material within the body of the main acts rather than keeping it separate. So when entrepreneurs’ relief was introduced it was slotted into the TCGA 1992 at s 169H at the end of the part dealing with business assets. Every time there were changes to the relief they had to be fitted in as well, hence the bloated references in the latest amendments.

This did not use to be the case. Entirely new provisions were retained in the relevant Finance Acts rather than incorporated into the main acts. So you looked in FA 1976 rather than TA 1970 for the benefit in kind rules. The new system may be more logical, because it brings everything together in the right place, but I fear that the numbering has become unmanageable and before long we will have to go through a new consolidation exercise.

Does it matter? It does – legislation must be comprehensible and some of what we have now does not meet that test. When the tax law rewrite project was planned some work was done on different numbering systems, but nothing came of it. Perhaps it is time to have another look.

If you do one thing…

Read the report of the BBC’s appearance before the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee to discuss personal service companies ( Whatever one’s view on the BBC’s handling of the matter, it shows clearly how difficult it is in practice to manage such a complex issue of tax and employment law.

Andrew Hubbard

Issue: 4683 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
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