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Sham

Realistic view of the facts

Realistic view of the facts

Look at overall effect​ and disregard artificial steps

 

"[11] The result of applying the purposive approach to fiscal legislation has often been to disregard transactions or elements of transactions which have no business purpose and have as their sole aim the avoidance of tax. This is not because of any principle that a transaction otherwise effective to achieve a tax advantage should be treated as ineffective to do so if it is undertaken for the purpose of tax avoidance. It is because it is not generally to be expected that Parliament intends to exempt from tax a transaction which has no purpose other than tax avoidance. As Judge Learned Hand said in Gilbert v C om missioner of Internal Revenue (1957) 248 F 2d 399, 411, in a celebrated passage cited (in part) by Lord Wilberforce in Ramsay [1982] AC 300, 326:

“If … the taxpayer enters into a transaction that does not appreciably affect his beneficial interest except to reduce his tax, the law will disregard it; for we cannot suppose that it was part of the purpose of the Act to provide an escape from the liabilities that it sought to impose.”

See also Collector of Stamp Revenue v Arrowtown Assets Ltd [2003] HKCFA 46, paras 112-113 (Lord Millett NPJ).

[12] Another aspect of the Ramsay approach is that, where a scheme aimed at avoiding tax involves a series of steps planned in advance, it is both permissible and necessary not just to consider the particular steps individually but to consider the scheme as a whole. Again, this is no more than an application of general principle. Although a statute must be applied to a state of affairs which exists, or to a transaction which occurs, at a particular point in time, the question whether the state of affairs or the transaction was part of a preconceived plan which included further steps may well be relevant to whether the state of affairs or transaction falls within the statutory description, construed in the light of its purpose. In some of the cases following Ramsay, reference was made to a series of transactions which are “pre-ordained”: see eg Inland Revenue Comrs v Burmah Oil Co Ltd [1982] STC 30, 33 (Lord Diplock); Furniss v Dawson [1984] AC 474, 527 (Lord Brightman). As a matter of principle, however, it is not necessary in order to justify taking account of later events to show that they were bound to happen - only that they were planned to happen at the time when the first transaction in the sequence took place and that they did in fact happen: see Inland Revenue Comrs v Scottish Provident Institution [2004] UKHL 52[2004] 1 WLR 3172, para 23, where the House of Lords held that a risk that a scheme might not work as planned did not prevent it from being viewed as a whole, as it was intended to operate.

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[49]        In our view, Parliament cannot sensibly be taken to have intended that “the person entitled to possession” of an unoccupied property on whom the liability for rates is imposed should encompass a company which has no real or practical ability to exercise its legal right to possession and on which that legal right has been conferred for no purpose other than the avoidance of liability for rates. Still less can Parliament rationally be taken to have intended that an entitlement created with the aim of acting unlawfully and abusing procedures provided by company and insolvency law should fall within the statutory description." (Hurstwood Properties (A) Ltd v. Rossendale BC [2021] UKSC 16)

"[64] This approach has proved to be particularly important in relation to tax avoidance schemes as a result of two factors identified in Barclays Mercantile at para 34. First, “tax is generally imposed by reference to economic activities or transactions which exist, as Lord Wilberforce said, ‘in the real world’”. Secondly, tax avoidance schemes commonly include “elements which have been inserted without any business or commercial purpose but are intended to have the effect of removing the transaction from the scope of the charge”. In other words, as Carnwath LJ said in the Court of Appeal in Barclays Mercantile, [2002] EWCA Civ 1853[2003] STC 66, para 66, taxing statutes generally “draw their life-blood from real world transactions with real world economic effects”. Where an enactment is of that character, and a transaction, or an element of a composite transaction, has no purpose other than tax avoidance, it can usually be said, as Carnwath LJ stated, that “to allow tax treatment to be governed by transactions which have no real world purpose of any kind is inconsistent with that fundamental characteristic.” Accordingly, as Ribeiro PJ said in Collector of Stamp Revenue v Arrowtown Assets Ltd [2003] HKCFA 52; (2003) 6 ITLR 454, para 35, where schemes involve intermediate transactions inserted for the sole purpose of tax avoidance, it is quite likely that a purposive interpretation will result in such steps being disregarded for fiscal purposes. But not always.

[65] As was noted in Barclays Mercantile at para 35, there have been a number of cases since Ramsay in which it was decided that elements inserted into a transaction without any business or commercial purpose did not prevent the composite transaction from falling within a charge to tax, or bring it within an exemption from tax, as the case might be. Examples include Inland Revenue Comrs v Burmah Oil Co Ltd 1982 SC (HL) 114, Furniss v Dawson [1984] AC 474, Carreras Group Ltd v Stamp Comr [2004] UKPC 16[2004] STC 1377, Inland Revenue Comrs v Scottish Provident Institution and Tower M Cashback LLP 1 v Revenue and Customs Comrs [2011] UKSC 19[2011] 2 AC 457. In each case the court considered the overall effect of the composite transaction, and concluded that, on the true construction of the relevant statute, the elements which had been inserted without any purpose other than tax avoidance were of no significance. But it all depends on the construction of the provision in question. Some enactments, properly construed, confer relief from taxation even where the transaction in question forms part of a wider arrangement undertaken solely for the purpose of obtaining the relief. The point is illustrated by the decisions in MacNiven v Westmoreland Investments Ltd [2001] UKHL 6[2003] 1 AC 311 and Barclays Mercantile itself.

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[68]   Secondly, it might be said that transactions must always be viewed realistically, if the alternative is to view them unrealistically. The point is that the facts must be analysed in the light of the statutory provision being applied. If a fact is of no relevance to the application of the statute, then it can be disregarded for that purpose. If, as in Ramsay, the relevant fact is the overall economic outcome of a series of commercially linked transactions, then that is the fact upon which it is necessary to focus. If, on the other hand, the legislation requires the court to focus on a specific transaction, as in MacNiven and Barclays Mercantile, then other transactions, although related, are unlikely to have any bearing on its application." (UBS AG v. HMRC [2016] UKSC 13)

"[139] ...(8) in the circumstances, we can see no meaningful distinction between the facts in the present case and the facts in Furniss and Carreras.  This means that, although it is not necessary to decide the point given the conclusion which we have already reached, we are inclined to agree with Mr Macklam that the reality of the arrangements in this case is that the Appellant paid the £55,316 which was paid to the companies in respect of the issue of the Loan Notes not in order to acquire the Loan Notes himself but instead to procure the issue of the Loan Notes directly to the two Settlements and that the Appellant never acquired the Loan Notes at all so that, on a purposive construction of paragraph 2 of Schedule 13, no loss arose from the transactions for a quite separate reason from the reason given above – i.e. there simply was no acquisition of the Loan Notes by the Appellant at all; and

(9) we note that this was an analysis which appealed to the First-tier Tribunal in Bretten at paragraphs [136] to [148], in relation to similar facts."

(Pitt v. HMRC [2022] UKFTT 222 (TC), Judge Beare)

- Look at overall effect​ and disregard artificial steps

Tax advantage motive does not make contractual arrangements artificial

 

"[57] For the reasons set out in paras 36-44 above, I consider that the contractual documentation supports the notion that Med was an intermediary, and, in the light of the discussion in paras 45-50 above, it seems to me that "economic reality" does not assist a contrary view. Further, one aspect of economic reality is that it is the hotelier, not Med, who owns the accommodation and it is the customer, not Med, to whom it is ultimately supplied: that does not, of course, prevent the hotelier supplying the accommodation to Med for supply on to the customer, but it makes it hard to argue that Med's analysis that it is no more than an agent is contrary to economic reality. Further, one must be careful before stigmatising the contractual documentation as being "artificial", bearing in mind that EU law, like English law, treats parties as free to arrange or structure their relationship so as to maximise its commercial attraction, including the incidence of taxation – see RBS Deutschland, cited in para 24 above." (Secret Hotels2 Ltd v. HMRC [2014] UKSC 16)

- Tax advantage motive does not make contractual arrangements artificial

Not about sham

"[5] It is common ground that the schemes have no business or other “real world” purpose and that their sole purpose is to avoid liability to pay business rates. But, subject to one new point, dealt with below, it is also now common ground that the leases granted to the SPVs were not shams so that, as a matter of the law of real property, they conferred an entitlement to possession upon the SPVs. An argument that the leases were shams was rejected at first instance and has not been resurrected on appeal.

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[51]  We emphasise that this conclusion is not founded on the fact that the defendant’s only motive in granting the lease was to avoid paying business rates, although that was undoubtedly so. If the leases entered into by the defendants had the effect that they were not liable for business rates, their motive for granting the leases is irrelevant. Nor does it illuminate the legal issues to use words such as “artificial” or “contrived” to describe the leases, when it is now accepted that they created genuine legal rights and obligations and were not shams. Our conclusion is based squarely and solely on a purposive interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions and an analysis of the facts in the light of the provisions so construed." (Hurstwood Properties (A) Ltd v. Rossendale BC [2021] UKSC 16)

"[67]  References to “reality” should not, however, be misunderstood. In the first place, the approach described in Barclays Mercantile and the earlier cases in this line of authority has nothing to do with the concept of a sham, as explained in Snook. On the contrary, as Lord Steyn observed in McGuckian at p 1001, tax avoidance is the spur to executing genuine documents and entering into genuine arrangements." (UBS AG v. HMRC [2016] UKSC 13)

- Not about sham

- Applies to VAT

"[24]...It is nothing to the point that the present case is not about tax avoidance, or that it is about VAT rather than taxes on income or gains. This principle of statutory construction is of general effect, as Lord Drummond Young rightly observed in the Inner House, at para 13." (Balhousie Holdings Ltd v. HMRC [2021] UKSC 11)

- Applies to VAT

Circular, self-cancelling steps ignored

 

"[132] We agree with HMRC that the evidence was clear that a licence fee of this magnitude, put to this purpose, was not a regular feature of property development projects. It conferred a tax advantage on the individual investors by converting the interest cost into capital expenditure on which BPRAs could be claimed in the first year of the scheme.

[133] That feature alone would not prevent the arrangements from achieving their aim. However, the Interest Account mechanism was devoid of any real commercial purpose. Although (as with the Capital Amount) there was a real transfer of funds into an account in OVL's name and a charging of those funds by OVL, the arrangement was entirely circular and in substance self-cancelling. The fact that the LLP could have achieved the same economic result by holding onto the money itself and depositing it with the Co-op as security is relevant in undertaking a realistic appraisal of the facts because it highlights the circularity and self-cancelling nature of the arrangements and the lack of a strong and close nexus with the conversion works. These points serve to underline the lack of any real benefit to OVL from the Interest Amount." (London Luton Hotel BPRA Property Fund LLP v. HMRC [2023] EWCA Civ 362, Whipple, Falk, Lewison LJJJ)

Circular, self-cancelling steps ignored

Look at arrangements as they were intended to operate

 

"[51] In the pithy words of Ribeiro PJ, the "ultimate question" is "whether the relevant statutory provisions, construed purposively, were intended to apply to the transaction, viewed realistically". Where, as in the present case, the issue is whether, construing the TCGA "purposively", linear transactions should "realistically" be seen as constituting a "disposal" within the meaning of the Act, Furniss v Dawson shows that "a pre-ordained series of transactions" or "one single composite transaction" is required. If, as was the case in Craven v White, there is real doubt, for reasons unrelated to a desire to escape the Ramsay approach, as to whether a tax-saving scheme will be put into effect, it is easy to understand why the requisite "pre-ordained series of transactions" or "single composite transaction" should not be considered to exist. In such circumstances, inability to identify an ultimate purchaser and price is symptomatic of uncertainty as to whether the sale will happen at all.
[52] It by no means follows that the Ramsay approach should be incapable of applying wherever the ultimate purchaser and price cannot be identified. Lord Jauncey, moreover, noted in Craven v White that there could be circumstances in which a transaction was considered interdependent without a final price or a specific buyer having been identified. He cited sale by auction, but it seems to me that it must also be possible for the Ramsay approach to apply to schemes under which assets are sold in the market. If, for instance, the plan were for an asset to be re-sold in the market immediately and arrangements for that had been made by the time of the first transaction in the series, I do not think it could matter that the buyer and price could not yet be determined. The transactions could nonetheless be "realistically" seen as constituting a "disposal" within the meaning of the TCGA. If Vinelott J thought otherwise in News International plc v Shepherd, then I respectfully disagree with him on this point." (Trustees of Morrison 2002 Maintenance Trust v. HMRC [2019] EWCA Civ 93, Newey LJ)

Look at arrangements as they were intended to operate

- Some provisions focussed only on specific transaction

"[52] In Khan, it was held that on a purposive reading of identical words in a different provision of legislation, focus had to be on the particular transaction under which the distribution arose, and not on the connected transactions considered as a composite whole [52]. The same applies here, and the focus must be on the transaction giving rise to the income in question. I do not understand that approach to be disputed in principle although there is a dispute about the way it is applied and with what result." (Good v. HMRC [2023] EWCA Civ 114)

"[73] On the face of it, therefore, s.385(1) is not a statutory provision that is concerned with the overall economic outcome of a series of commercially interlinked transactions, but only with the question of who was entitled to the distribution or who actually received it. In this case, the distribution was the money that was payable by the Company in respect of the 98 shares under the buyback agreement, the OMPA. The agreements in this case did not resemble the cross-cancelling option arrangements entered into in the Scottish Provident case. Mr Khan did not have a "bare legal entitlement" to the distribution. He had a contractual entitlement to the price for the shares he had sold to the Company under an agreement that was last in time to be executed. That price was to be paid by means of a taxable distribution. He had not created a charge or trust over the price in favour of someone else, or assigned it to someone else. No-one had a better right to that money than he did." (Khan v. HMRC [2021] EWCA Civ 624, Andrews LJ - taxpayer seeking to rely on Ramsay approach, unsuccessful)

"[35] We do not think that there was any disagreement between the parties as to the principle that certain statutory provisions may require a series of steps to be looked at as a composite whole whereas others are only interested in specific transactions. The dispute here is how that applies in relation to s385 ITTOIA.

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[71] We, accordingly, reject Mr Sykes’ submission that, for the purposes of s385 properly construed, it is necessary to have regard to the whole of any interlinked transactions viewed as a composite. Having concluded, for the reasons above, that the purpose of s385 ITTOIA is the identification of the person from whom HMRC can seek to recover the tax, all that we need to do is determine whether, on the facts, Mr Khan was either the actual recipient of the distribution or, if not, he was entitled to the 15 distribution." (Khan v. HMRC [2020] UKUT 168 (TCC), Judge Raghavan and Judge Andrew Scott)

- Some provisions focussed only on specific transaction

- Legislation applying snapshot may not be concerned with subsequent events

 

"[93] In the light of the conclusion we have just expressed, the relevant question for the FTT, given the way in which HMRC chose to put their Ramsay argument, was whether the appellants lost legal and beneficial ownership of the Assets when they sold them to SGLJ. The FTT answered that question in the appellants’ favour at [258]. In the light of that finding, it should have concluded that the requirement of s61(1)(a) was satisfied. The FTT wrongly considered that its findings as to the composite nature of subsequent transactions, and the appellants’ purpose in effecting those transactions, led to a different result. The problem with the FTT’s conclusion was not that its factual findings in this regard were wrong. Rather, they were not relevant to the enquiry that s61(1)(a), construed purposively, required. 

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[95] In Scottish Provident, the House of Lords was considering the interpretation of the word “entitlement” whereas in this case we are concerned with the question of whether a person “ceases to own” plant and machinery in circumstances where other parties may be affected by the answer to that question, with a corresponding need for it to be “capable of a ready answer” as Lord Browne-Wilkinson put it in Melluish. In any event, the nature of the analysis in Scottish Provident was very different. In that case, the two cross options were both exercisable at the same points of time. Any gilts that Citibank sought to acquire on exercise of its option could immediately be taken away from it by the exercise of Scottish Provident’s option. The House of Lords held that, once commercially irrelevant contingencies were ignored, there was no point in time at which Citibank had an “entitlement” to the gilts. Our case is different. For a period of three or four weeks, the appellants did not have legal or beneficial ownership of the Assets, but SGLJ did. HMRC’s argument is that the sale of the Assets should not be treated as falling within s61(1)(a) because a later sale back of those Assets on exercise of the Put Option was pre-ordained. We see no reason why the very different analysis in Scottish Provident should apply in our case given the different statutory provisions with which we are concerned.

[96] It follows that we determine Issue 1 in the appellants’ favour. We understand that some readers of this decision may find it surprising that an artificial series of transactions which, on the unchallenged findings of the FTT, were devoid of business purpose and effected only to achieve a “magical” increase in qualifying expenditure should survive a challenge based on the Ramsay line of cases. We stress that we have reached our conclusion based on the Ramsay argument that HMRC chose to put forward. Just as with Issue 4, it is not for us to comment on other ways in which the Ramsay argument could have been advanced, or the conclusions we might have reached if different arguments had been put forward." (Altrad Services Limited v. HMRC [2022] UKUT 185 (TCC), Falk J and Judge Jonathan Richards)

- Legislation applying snapshot may not be concerned with subsequent events

Substance over form

 

"[60] Lest it be thought that this produces an unfair result because the question whether a payment is taxable or not depends on the structure of the settlement agreement and the label put on the payment, I would emphasise that the question whether a payment is taxable is a matter of substance, not form. If in substance the agreement involves an obligation on the part of the employer to make payment or reimbursement of costs or expenses which are unconnected with the payee's services as an employee, that element will not be taxable as "earnings". But in this case the parties chose to enter into an agreement by which only part of the settlement sum fell into that category, and the rest represented payments which, had they been made when it was alleged they fell due, would have been taxable as part of the employees' income.
[61] Those payments did not cease to be taxable in full because the recipients had to use some of the money to pay the balance of what they owed their own lawyers and the premium due to the insurers. I do not regard this as giving rise to any unfairness. Moreover, there was evidence that the amount of the settlement was increased by £200,000 in recognition of the fact that the Principal Settlement Sum would be taxable. Whilst that does not affect the legal analysis, and played no part in my conclusion, it does provide a degree of comfort that the end result has not disadvantaged Mr Murphy." (HMRC v. Murphy [2022] EWCA Civ 1112, Andrews, Lewison, Newey LJJJ)

 "[126] I consider that as a matter of law I must take a realistic view of the payments made, by reference to their substance and not their form. The existence of the Image Rights Agreement is not conclusive evidence that payments said to be made pursuant to that agreement are consideration for the acquisition of Geovanni’s overseas image rights. The burden is on the appellant to show that viewed realistically, in substance the payments were made to acquire Geovanni’s image rights and not earnings of Geovanni.

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[129] These are all facts which, viewed realistically, tend to suggest that the sums payable by the Club to Joniere were actually paid to secure Geovanni’s services as a footballer and not to obtain the right to commercially exploit his overseas image.

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[132] I am not making a finding that the Image Rights Agreement was a sham. The Image Rights Agreement did as a matter of contract grant rights to the Club to exploit Geovanni’s overseas image rights. I do not accept that those rights had any commercial value. I am satisfied that the Club viewed the sums payable under the Playing Contract and the Image Rights Agreement as an overall package which Geovanni required and the Club was willing to pay for him to sign for the Club. In reality payments to Joniere were a reward for Geovanni’s services as a footballer and formed part of his earnings." (Hull City AFC (Tigers) Limited v. HMRC [2019] UKFTT 227 (TC), Judge Cannan)

Substance over form

- Relevant to consider alternative arrangements in determining substance

 

"[113] While we accept that the correct tax treatment must depend on the arrangements actually entered into rather than alternative arrangements that might have been entered into, it is relevant in undertaking a realistic appraisal to recognise that the substantive effect of the mechanism was really no different to the LLP retaining the Capital Amount, using it to support its borrowing by placing it on deposit in an account with the Co-op and agreeing that in certain circumstances it would pay deferred consideration to OVL. The LLP's case amounts to saying that it makes all the difference that the deposit was in the name of OVL rather than the LLP, and that that is so despite the fact that, at least for the first three years, it was the LLP (or its lender) and not OVL that could benefit from the funds." (London Luton Hotel BPRA Property Fund LLP v. HMRC [2023] EWCA Civ 362, Whipple, Falk, Lewison LJJJ)

- Relevant to consider alternative arrangements in determining substance

- Not bound by parties' labels/characterisation of transaction

"[128] In reaching the above conclusion, we are reminded of the words of Arden LJ in Bankway Properties Limited v Pensfold-Dunsford [2001] 1 WLR 1369 (“Bankway”) in a different context, which were set out in Audley at paragraph [63], to the effect that the question in each case is “what was the substance and reality of the transaction entered into by the parties? The court is not bound by the language which the parties have used.  It may for instance conclude, when it examines the substance of the transaction, that what the parties have in their agreement called a sale and repurchase of book debts is in truth a registerable charge over them” (see Bankway at paragraph [43], quoting Lord Ackner in Antoniades v Villiers [1990] 1 AC 417 at 466). In this case, the Appellant and the companies may have said in the document effecting the subscription that the entire £750,000 was being paid in respect of the issue of the Loan Notes but, viewed realistically in the light of the relevant legislation construed purposively, £694,684 of that amount was capital contributions to the companies and only £55,316 was attributable to the issue of the Loan Notes.

[129] In Tower, in the High Court (Tower MCashback LLP 1 and another v The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs [2008] STC 3366 (“Tower HC”)), Henderson J (as he then was) stated that “[in] order to say that the wrong label has been attached to a transaction, it is first necessary to identify with clarity the transaction which is said to have been misdescribed” (see Tower at paragraph [82] and Audley at paragraph [88]).  In this case, as in Audley, we consider that to be straightforward – in reality, the transaction involved aggregate capital contributions to the companies of £694,684 and the payment of £55,316 in respect of the issue of the Loan Notes..." (Pitt v. HMRC [2022] UKFTT 222 (TC), Judge Beare)

- Not bound by parties' labels/characterisation of transaction

Not to fix taxpayer with contract to which they did not agree

 

"[78] There are limits to the application of the Ramsay doctrine. As Patten LJ stated in Brain Disorders Research Limited Partnership v. HMRC [2018] STC 2382 at [32]: “Although the Ramsay approach to construction has undoubtedly involved the courts in looking at the commercial realities of the transaction and ignoring financial components of a scheme which are circular or have no purpose other than to produce a tax loss in order to identify whether and, if so, which parts of the transaction engage the relevant tax provisions, it does not enable the courts to fix the taxpayer with a contract which under the scheme it does not have. The actual transactions remain the same.”  

[79] We consider that to bring the PIP within the profit-sharing arrangements of the Partnership would go beyond those limits in the present case. It would be necessary to fix the taxpayer, in this case the Partnership, with a contract to which its members did not agree. In our view, the correct contractual analysis is that the individual  partner has no right to share in the profits of the Partnership at the time when allocations were made to the Corporate Partner and that the terms of the Partnership Deed which allocated those profits to the Corporate Partner must be respected. It is also our view that the contractual effect of the PIP and the way in which it was operated in practice do not change that position. When profits were allocated between the partners under the Partnership Deed, each individual partner had a legitimate expectation that his or her provisional PIP Award would be made final unless they failed to meet the eligibility conditions. Individual partners only had a right or entitlement to receive their PIP Awards once they were entitled to withdraw the Special Capital. Even adopting a purposive construction of section 850 of ITTOIA 2005, the PIP did not form part of the profit-sharing arrangements of the Partnership. We therefore dismiss Ground 1 of the PIP Appeals." (HMRC v. Bluecrest Capital Management LLP [2022] UKUT 200 (TCC), Leech J and Judge Herrington)

- Not to fix taxpayer with contract to which they did not agree

Wrong to assume that economically equivalent transactions taxed in the same way

 

"[35] However, in our judgment, the discussion of these scenarios does not establish any “special statutory context”. At most they establish that economically similar transactions might be taxed differently if the phrase “by him or on his behalf” is held to be limited to situations involving agency. However, that is not a particularly startling outcome. Economically similar transactions are not infrequently taxed in different ways. More generally, scenarios (i) to (iii) are products of the ingenuity of lawyers litigating a particular issue arising out of s38(1)(b). They do not address the more “mainstream” situation where a person owning an asset incurs expenditure either directly, or through an agent, on the improving of that asset and so are less capable of establishing a “special statutory context” that displaces the ordinary and natural meaning of the words." (Lowe v. HMRC [2022] UKUT 84 (TCC), Marcus Smith J and Judge Jonathan Richards)

"[32] The process of statutory construction will thus reveal, among other things, the relevance or otherwise of the economic effect of transactions. It is wrong, however, to assume that economically equivalent transactions should be taxed in the same way. As Lord Greene MR said in Inland Revenue Commissioners v Wesleyan and General Assurance Society (1946) 30 TC 11, 16: 9

"In dealing with income tax questions it frequently happens that there are two methods at least of achieving a particular financial result. If one of those methods is adopted, tax will be payable. If the other method is adopted, tax will not be payable.” 

[33] [The taxpayer] sought to depict Wesleyan as out of date, pointing to Viscount Simon’s endorsement in the House of Lords of Lord Greene MR’s statement by reference to Duke of Westminster v IRC 19 TC 490 and suggesting things had moved on since that case. However, as [HMRC] pointed out, Wesleyan was expressly approved by Lord Wilberforce in Ramsey and we consider that it clearly remains good law." (Khan v. HMRC [2020] UKUT 168 (TCC), Judge Raghavan and Judge Andrew Scott)

Wrong to assume that economically equivalent transactions taxed in the same way

Construe contract against relevant background

 

"[117] Both parties referred to the Upper Tribunal decision in Sjumarken v HMRC [2017] STC 239 (“Sjumarken”). Both relied on paragraph 38 where Judges Berner and Falk (as she then was), having reviewed the authorities, found that it is clear that the question of what constitutes consideration, and what consideration is given for, depends “on the correct construction of the relevant agreement”.

[118]  [The taxpayer] also relied on Sjumarken because at paragraphs 38 and 39 Aberdeen Construction Group Limited v IRC [1978] STC 127 (“ACG”) was described as the leading case and [the taxpayer] argues that it bears a close analogy with this case. Judges Berner and Falk explained that in ACG shares had been sold for £250,000 but subject to conditions. The most important of those conditions required the seller to waive a loan of £500,000. The House of Lords concluded that the shares had little value without the waiver so the price paid was for both the shares and for the waiver of the loan. That conclusion was reached by interpreting the contract “as any contract must be, against its background”. 

[119] Judges Berner and Falk went on to cite with approval Lightman J at page 136 in Spectros International plc v Madden [1997] STC 114 (“Spectros”) where he said, under the heading “Principle”, that:-

          “What is the relevant consideration may depend upon the terms and form of the transaction adopted by the parties. The parties to a proposed transaction frequently can achieve the same practical and economic result by different methods…. The law respects the freedom of the parties to a transaction to frame and formulate their agreement as they wish and to suit their own legitimate interests (taxation and otherwise) and, so long as the form adopted is genuine, and not a sham, honest, and not a fraud on someone else, and does not contravene some established principle of public policy, the court will give effect to the method adopted. But as a corollary to this freedom, where the parties have chosen one method, it is not open to them to invite the court to treat as adopted some other method because it is more advantageous to them, because it leads to the same practical and economic result and because it is the more obvious and sensible method to have adopted. If the question is raised what method has been adopted and the transaction is in writing, the answer must be found in the true construction of the document or documents read in the light of all the relevant circumstances. If the terms of the documents are clear, that is the end of the question. If however there is any doubt or ambiguity upon the language used read in its proper context, it may be possible to resolve that doubt or ambiguity by reference to the inherent probabilities of businessmen entering into the transaction in one form rather than another.”

[120] At paragraphs 41 and 42, they pointed out that that quotation had been cited with approval by Henderson J in Revenue and Customs Commissioners v Collins [2009] STC 1077 who had also referred to Lightman J’s summary of principles derived from ACG which included that:-“… any written contract must be read as a whole construed in the light of all relevant circumstances which include the value of the assets disposed of and business sense”.

[121] I have added emphasis because in his Skeleton Argument Mr Sykes had correctly pointed out that Chartbook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd [2009] 1 AC 1101 is often cited as authority for the proposition that pre-contractual negotiations should not be taken into account for the purposes of contractual construction. He relied on Lord Hoffmann at paragraph 42 where he said:-

       “42. The rule excludes evidence of what was said or done during the course of negotiating the agreement for the purpose of drawing inferences about what the contract meant. It does not exclude the use of such evidence for other purposes: for example, to establish that a fact which may be relevant as background was known to the parties, or to support a claim for rectification or estoppel. These are not exceptions to the rule. They operate outside it.”

[122] He then went on to argue about that in the context of valuation but I am not concerned with that in this decision. The point I make is that when I consider the history, the Terms, the emails, the draft SPAs and the Open Issues I am doing so in order to consider all relevant circumstances." (Moore v. HMRC [2023] UKFTT 399 (TC), Judge Scott)

However

"[33] As is made clear by the authorities, the subjective views of those who were involved about what was intended here is not relevant. The only “context” which is relevant is what was in the minds of both of the parties to the operative documents, in this case the trustees of the pension fund and the Employers.

[34] Second, as stated in Abbot “the clearer the natural meaning, the more difficult it is to justify departing from it” [18]. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the wording in these operative documents is clear and refers to a single thing; a domain name." (Morgan Lloyd Trustees Limited v. HMRC [2023] UKFTT 355 (TC), Judge Short)

Construe contract against relevant background
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