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Less Tax, More Risk: Professional Negligence Claims Against Less Tax 4 Landlords

In this article, Ruby Keeler-Williams of Elysium Law explores the tax avoidance scheme advocated by Less Tax for Landlords (LT4L), examining its implications for landlords and the potential basis for professional negligence claims

Following enquiries from individuals affected, we have commenced a review of the tax avoidance scheme being aggressively marketed to landlords by Less Tax 4 Landlords (LT4L).

The circumstances suggest that participating landlords face a perfect storm of adverse consequences – additional tax liabilities, interest, penalties, and even potential mortgage default if lenders deem the structure to breach loan terms.

In this article, we will refer to the meticulously detailed report provided by Dan Neidle at Tax Policy Associates, which serves as an invaluable and comprehensive summary of the prevailing tax position. The report can be found here (Less Tax for Landlords: the £50m landlord tax avoidance scheme that HMRC say doesn’t work, and can trigger a mortgage default)

We have also had sight of client files, in addition to correspondence between numerous tax advisors and Less Tax 4 Landlords regarding their concerns and technical observations.

In our opinion, as a firm with a proven track record of success in professional negligence claims, the assertions set out below, if substantiated, would support a strong claim against LT4L and associated entities for negligent tax advice. Their guidance appears to betray fundamental misunderstandings on key areas of tax law. The scale of the scheme, impacting potentially hundreds or thousands of taxpayers, is deeply troubling. Urgent action is required to mitigate the fallout.

Flawed Inheritance Tax Analysis

A core plank of LT4L’s promotional strategy is the claim that their structure qualifies for business property relief, eliminating inheritance tax exposure. Yet this cannot be correct.

Letting residential property is plainly not “wholly or mainly” a trading activity, but rather an investment activity, as per IHTA 1984 s.105(3). The analysis focuses on the underlying business, not the choice of wrapper. This is confirmed by HMRC guidance and cases like Graham v HMRC [2018] UKFTT 380 (TC). Unless actually operating hotels or quasi-hotels, landlords cannot obtain BPR. No actions or “box ticking” will change this, contrary to LT4L’s suggestions.

Advising that BPR is achievable for ordinary buy-to-let investors is clearly negligent advice. It suggests LT4L fundamentally misunderstands settled inheritance tax law and principles. Clients participating in the scheme likely remain fully exposed to IHT, despite paying large fees to implement LT4L’s flawed structure. This negligent advice may support substantial claims by affected landlords.

Mixed Partnership Muddle

The report highlights equally serious errors regarding the taxation of partnerships. LT4L’s structure hinges on allocation of profits from the LLP to a corporate member to access lower corporate tax rates.

However, the 2014 mixed partnership rules specifically counter contrived profit allocations made for tax reasons. This occurs automatically based on the facts – any tax avoidance purpose is irrelevant. Yet LT4L repeatedly assert the precise opposite in client materials: that tax avoidance purpose is required for the rules to apply.

This betrays a disturbing failure to comprehend a basic pillar of partnership tax law. The rules operate mechanically based on the terms of Profit allocation to a non-contributing partner is ineffective for tax purposes, “tax motivation” aside. By suggesting otherwise, LT4L potentially demonstrates negligent advice, giving rise to claims.

Mistaken Capital Gains Tax Positions

The report evidences similarly flawed advice regarding CGT. Contrary to LT4L’s claims, transferring property into the structure should not “rebase” the base cost for CGT. The landlord retains legal ownership, with the LLP holding the beneficial interest, as reflected in the capital account. Equally, allocation of profits to the corporate member should trigger an immediate CGT charge, not deferred gains.

These are fundamental errors no competent tax adviser could make. LT4L’s advice seems driven by a mistaken belief that accounting treatment dictates tax analysis. This conflation is negligent and likely to lead to significant unexpected CGT liabilities. It further supports negligence claims by participating landlords against LT4L.

Stamp Duty Land Tax: A Litigation Timebomb

Potentially most concerning is the critique of LT4L’s SDLT advice. The report persuasively argues that changes in LLP profit sharing automatically trigger SDLT charges under FA 2003, Sch 15, para 14. This is contrary to LT4L’s assurances of SDLT mitigation. Worse, their structure may incur significantly higher SDLT than normal incorporation, given the loss of reliefs.

The SDLT analysis accords with the legislation and HMRC guidance. Should it be correct, LT4L has exposed clients to major unexpected tax liabilities – plus interest and penalties – which could crystallise many years in the future. The SDLT involved could easily exceed hundreds of thousands of pounds per client. We anticipate a wave of litigation when these liabilities surface.

A Demonstrable Lack of Competence

Most disturbing is the report’s evidence of LT4L demonstrating a lack of basic understanding across multiple areas of tax law. This is perhaps most apparent in their advice regarding partnership taxation. Partners are taxed on profits as they accrue, not when physically distributed – a fundamental principle LT4L appear ignorant of.

Taken collectively, the flawed advice summarised above evidences serious negligence and incompetence regarding key pillars of the UK tax system. The scale of the scheme, potentially impacting hundreds or even thousands of taxpayers, is alarming. LT4L knew or ought to have known their interpretations were unfounded, yet continued promoting the scheme for substantial fees. In our opinion, this conduct easily meets the threshold of actionable professional negligence.

Avoiding Defaulting on Mortgages

Perhaps the most urgent priority is addressing the risk of mortgage default triggered by LT4L’s structure. Declaring a trust over mortgaged properties to transfer them to an LLP may breach the loan terms, causing default. Contrary to LT4L’s assurances, a “letter of trust” has the same effect. Landlords remain the legal owner but lose the beneficial interest the lender may require them to retain.

The potential consequences of default are severe – forfeiture of assets, immediate repayment, litigation costs. Affected clients should seek urgent advice on rectifying the position with lenders. In instances where default has occurred or is unavoidable due to LT4L’s advice, this may represent a further head of claim in negligence against them.

Avenues for Redress

Clients affected by LT4L’s negligent advice should seek urgent tax advice on their position, and strongly consider claims against LT4L and associated entities to recover resulting losses. Potential heads of claim could include:

– Negligent tax/legal advice

– Breaches of contract, failing to advise accurately on the scheme

– Breach of fiduciary duty, giving advice tainted by conflict

– Misrepresentation regarding the scheme and its consequences

– Violations of financial regulation, given links to FCA-authorised firms

Claimants may also have direct recourse against LT4L’s professional indemnity insurers under the Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Act 2010. Contrary to LT4L’s misleading suggestions, their standard insurance will likely not cover tax liabilities or interest/penalties – but should respond to successful negligence claims.

Litigation will prove challenging – professional negligence claims always are. But the strength of evidence outlined in the report provides a robust foundation. We anticipate multiple claims against LT4L by landlords facing large, unexpected tax bills thanks to LT4L’s flawed scheme and negligent advice.

Pre-Action Steps

Before commencing litigation, affected landlords should:

– Take urgent tax advice to understand their potential liabilities;

– Instruct a lawyer experienced in these claims such as Elysium Law to advise on their position;

– following your instruction, allow us to Assess the merits of your claim

– Formally put LT4L on notice regarding potential claims;

– Gather all relevant documentation;

– Review funding options including potentially CFAs.

Contact Elysium Law

Elysium has extensive experience running professional negligence group actions against negligent tax advisers. We would be happy to assist any landlord facing significant losses thanks to LT4L’s deeply flawed scheme. With hundreds or even thousands likely affected, we are looking to advance a group claim. We anticipate claims worth tens of millions against LT4L and their insurers. If you have been affected, please contact us.