FD Intelligence

Five must-haves for good tax strategy and governance

Martin Lambert Martin Lambert

Greater public scrutiny of individual and corporate tax affairs means greater risks around your tax strategy and governance. Here are five ways to get up to speed in a tax-sensitive world.

Greater public scrutiny of individual and corporate tax affairs brings greater risks around your tax strategy and governance. Here are five ways to get up to speed in a more tax-sensitive world.

Benjamin Franklin said there were two things certain in this world, death and taxes. And right now tax is rarely out of the headlines and it's not going away.

For businesses that think the current scrutiny only applies to the big boys, they need to think again. A mid-sized business (MSB) might escape the media spotlight and may not be directly affected by wider international initiatives (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting as an example) but MSBs need to adopt similar approaches to their tax strategy and governance – and quickly.

Good tax strategy and governance shouldn’t be adopted just because HMRC is checking – although our experience indicates this is happening more regularly to mid-sized businesses – it needs to be adopted because it's good business practice, and is vital if the UK is to become a vibrant economy. Tax shouldn't drive behaviour but it needs to be considered and considered early. The sooner you adopt good tax strategy and governance, the sooner it will embed into your processes and procedures, and the risk of being caught out reduces.

So what do you need to do to ensure you have good tax strategy and governance in place?

1. Implement a tax strategy

The key is to be proactive and ensure that MSBs implement a robust, transparent and effectively communicated tax strategy that meets the needs of the business. The strategy should cover the governance of specific business activities with ongoing tax operations, in order to comply with both local and global requirements. It is best practice to formally document the strategy, get it approved by the board of directors and then communicate it to all relevant stakeholders. 

2. Maintain a tax risk register

Many businesses have processes and procedures in place for a range of situations, anything from a terror alert to Icelandic volcanic ash clouds. Historically not many MSBs have had any processes or guidance in relation to tax risks, however. In conjunction with implementing a tax strategy, businesses should set up, monitor and maintain a tax risk register that should be reviewed regularly at board level.

The register should include:

  • regular assessment of external and internal tax risks facing the organisation and controls in place to manage these risks
  • identification, monitoring and documentation of controls and processes surrounding tax risks arising from all tax processes, including compliance and financial reporting
  • obtaining assurance from the relevant tax authorities with regards to any areas of tax uncertainty.

3. Benchmark your tax control framework

The quality of the underlying systems, control and governance frameworks will often affect the accuracy of a business’s tax returns. It is important that businesses understand the quality of their tax control framework, and develop plans to enhance and improve it in light of changes to relevant legislation. All businesses should, at the very least, benchmark their current tax control framework against the internationally approved COSO standards and, if appropriate, make the necessary improvements to ensure their framework is fit for purpose.

4. Carry out a tax health check

The tax code continues to grow in complexity and length, and already-stretched financial departments often need assistance with keeping up to date with changes to the law. It is best practice, especially with the increasingly fast-paced changes made to the transactional taxes such as employment tax, to undertake periodical reviews of effectiveness of the control framework for each tax. A health check covers the main principals of the tax code and ensures that businesses are meeting their obligations under the tax code. 

This is especially true for those businesses preparing for sale; in our experience these areas can create difficulties in the sale process, including price chipping, delay of sale and, in the worst-case scenario, a deal collapse.

If tax issues arise as part of the review then it is important to rectify the situation in the most cost-effective manner, ensuring that HMRC is informed and a voluntary disclosure made.

5. Maximise innovation reliefs

In recent times the government has led a push for the UK to be a leader in innovation. A number of tax incentives exist to help businesses operating in this respect and to encourage innovation. Not all businesses are maximising their entitlement to relief, however, and there are significant sums available for businesses to claim. The main reliefs are:

  • research and development (R&D) tax relief
  • Patent Box
  • grants
  • creative sector reliefs. 

More support

We appreciate that businesses often have limited resource and that in-house tax teams in can be fairly small. If you would like to discuss any of the areas raised in this article, please speak to Martin Lambert.