VAT and indirect tax in London
Baker McKenzie's department is jointly led by head of tax Mark Delaney, head of VAT Mark Agnew and David Jamieson, who leads on contentious VAT. The group is able to provide VAT advice and planning strategies, along with a strong disputes practice, assisting clients with preparations for Brexit and representing them in complex investigations and disputes with HMRC. The firm's international office network also enables the team to provide cross-border advice to clients across the EMEA region; an area enhanced by customs and excise specialists Ross Denton and Jenny Revis.
Mark Delaney; Mark Agnew; David Jamieson
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP's main areas of expertise are VAT and stamp duty advice. The group often supports the wider firm's transactional departments, although it also handles a wide variety of standalone advisory and contentious indirect tax work, including in relation to the aggregates levy, landfill tax and tonnage tax. Isaac Zailer leads the group. Nick Clayton and senior associate Michael Hunt are other names to note.
Other key lawyers:
Heather Gething; Neil Warriner
The group at Pinsent Masons LLP excels in matters relating to VAT disputes and VAT fraud, as well as having an outstanding customs and excise practice, which is instructed by major international corporates on a wide variety of excise duty matters. Practice head Stuart Walsh is acting for RBS in two VAT disputes arising from missing traders in its supply chain, with a total exposure of £300m. Clara Boyd, who was promoted to partner in March 2019, specialises in VAT and excise duty disputes with HMRC. Legal director Jake Landman has experience advising corporates on supply-chain tax issues.
Smith & Williamson LLP (managing claims for Lowcost Holidays & Lowcostbeds.com and Alpha International Accommodation)
- Acting for RBS in two major VAT disputes arising from missing traders in its supply chains, including Bilta v RBS  EWHC 3535 (Ch), an important decision in relation to legal privilege and tax disputes.
- Acting for Avon Cosmetics Limited in the CJEU in a case concerning the VAT regime for direct-selling companies.
- Acting for Cantor Fitzgerald in relation to a VAT dispute concerning certain purchases of emissions allowances.
- Successfully representing the UK’s leading dental payment plan provider, Denplan Limited (a subsidiary company of Simplyhealth), in a multimillion-pound dispute with HMRC before the First-tier Tax Tribunal regarding the VAT status of various payments made by Denplan to certain of its customers.
Simmons & Simmons has a truly full-service VAT and indirect tax offering, which covers transactional, advisory and contentious matters, predominantly for asset managers and funds; a capability boosted by the arrival of Jo Crookshank and Bryn Reynolds from Ernst & Young Global Limited in 2018. The group is also noted for its expertise in issues traditionally handled by accountancy firms, such as VAT partial exemptions and capital goods scheme accounting. Other areas of expertise include minimising VAT costs in outsourcing transactions, stamp duty issues relating to equity and debt capital markets and handling the variety of real estate taxes. Darren Oswick leads the team, which includes Martin Shah and Hatice Ismail, while Nick Skerrett leads on contentious matters.
‘Their VAT technical and commercial knowledge of the Financial Services sector is unmatched and they have a very strong team that ensures a mix of insight, thought leadership and delivery.‘
‘Martin Shah has a wealth of asset management experience and is adept at delivering technically difficult advice in a manner that can be understood by tax and non-tax professionals alike.‘
‘They are a very cohesive team and can provide solutions across many areas.‘
Citigroup Global Markets
Veolia ES Landfill and Veolia Cleanaway (UK)
The British Land Company plc
- Represented BPP in a substantive tax dispute before the First-tier Tribunal which held that supplies of printed educational materials supplied alongside courses of professional education (by a separate entity) were not excluded from zero rating for VAT purposes.
- Advising Citigroup Global Markets as the arranger on the tax aspects of a £2bn securitisation of UK student loans.
- Represented Veolia in appeals before the First-tier Tax Tribunal concerning the landfill tax liability of protective layers of waste that are used to line the base, sides and top of the landfill.
- Advise British Land, the FTSE 100-listed REIT, on a range of significant tax and structuring matters.
The team at Ashurst advises clients in the finance, corporate and property sectors on strategic and transactional VAT and SDLT, assisting with joint ventures, developments and on- and off-shore real estate funds, investing in both the UK and across Europe. It is also instructed in a variety of precedent-setting VAT, state aid and customs duty disputes. Practice head Simon Swann specialises in real estate tax, Alexander Cox is a veteran of the funds market and Tim Gummer, who is also a chartered tax adviser, focuses on real estate and oil and gas taxation.
‘Simon Swann is leading authority on real estate tax; Tim Gummer is a future star; Alexander Cox is technically excellent.‘
‘Impressive level of property tax expertise, quality of work received and issued tax briefings.‘
‘Strong technical knowledge, diligent, responsive and considered advice provided.‘
Invesco Real Estate
- Advising Lendlease on multiple development projects including advising on the tax structuring of their joint venture with London Borough of Haringey in respect of the redevelopment of a number of sites.
- Advising Hastings in relation to its successful appeal to the First Tier Tribunal.
- Acting for Ocean Finance in relation to proceedings brought by HMRC exploring the scope of VAT abuse and the extent to which it is limited to “wholly artificial transactions lacking economic reality.”
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP's team, led by Alan Sinyor, is most noted for its real estate VAT practice, but it also advises clients on landfill tax, excise duties and other indirect taxes, including insurance premium tax. The group also has a strong cross-border practice, assisting US firms with transactions in the UK and increasingly advising clients on transactions in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The group was bolstered by the arrival of Mukul Chawla QC, who specialises in criminal VAT issues, from Foundry Chambers in October 2018. Kate Ison has substantial experience in civil VAT disputes.
‘Alan Sinyor has a vast knowledge of VAT both in terms of law and policy. He is able to think innovatively to identify solutions for clients and to discuss highly technical matters in a way that clients can understand and engage with.‘
Homes England (formerly known as the Homes and Communities Agency)
Greater London Authority
London Legacy Development Corporation
The team at Clifford Chance LLP leads the field in real estate tax, but it also serves clients in a number of other areas, including financial services, consumer goods and retail, energy, healthcare and TMT. As well as advisory services, the department works closely with the firm's tax litigation department, enabling it to handle the spectrum of tax disputes. VAT expert David Saleh leads the team and specialises in UK and international tax structuring.
Other key lawyers:
Edward Page; Simon Corzberg
‘Excellent VAT expertise and balance of skills across the team. This combined with their breadth of experience enables them to provide value-added advice on both disputes and advisory projects.‘
‘Simon Corzberg has excellent VAT technical skills.‘
At CMS, the sector-focused group regularly assists clients with a variety of indirect tax issues, across real estate, gambling, financial services, media and entertainment, as well as outsourcing and W&I insurance. On the real estate front, the group has particular expertise in VAT and stamp duty taxes. The group is co led by Aaron Fairhurst and Stephen Hignett.
Stephen Hignett; Aaron Fairhurst
Other key lawyers:
Mark Joscelyne; Graham Chase; Nick Burt; Cliona Kirby
‘The team is proactive, personable, thorough and creative.‘
Columbia Threadneedle Investments
Delancey RE Asset Management
Heron Capital Partners
- Advising Tronox Holdings plc on the SDRT, stamp duty and other tax implications of the redomicilation of this previously Australian-headed multinational group (listed on the NYSE) into the UK by virtue of ‘top-hatting’ the group with a UK plc.
- Acting for Best of the Best in defending claims relating to historic remote gaming duty.
- Advising WTW on a variety of indirect tax issues.
- Advising Care UK on various indirect tax issues relating to the sale of a range of Care UK properties to four different purchasers.
DLA Piper's clients include financial institutions, UK and multinational corporates and property companies, which the team advises on the spectrum of VAT issues, international tax and transfer pricing. The advisory group is led by Richard Woolich, while Geoffrey Tack leads on indirect tax disputes in tandem with non-contentious colleagues . In addition to more traditional tax work, the team is regularly called upon to advise corporates on Brexit-preparations. In 2018, Clive Jones and David Smith joined from Greenberg Traurig, LLP and Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP respectively. Neville Wright left the firm for McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP.
Other key lawyers:
- Acting for Kaplan International in a VAT dispute concerning the cross-sharing group exemption, focusing on fundamental issues such as whether the exemption can apply in a cross-border context and distortion of competition.
- Advising Waypoint on a Jersey property unit trust as a commercial property income-producing fund for institutions and its status for tax, in light of new CGT rules for non-UK residents.
- Represented Midlothian Council in arguing whether sports provision was outside the scope of VAT. This potentially has major implications nationally and could give rise to very significant VAT refunds.
Hogan Lovells International LLP has a sector-based approach to VAT and indirect tax. Elliot Weston focuses on SDLT and VAT issues on real estate and investment funds transactions, while Rupert Shiers (who leads the team following the 2018 departure of Lee Squires to Grant Thronton) is instructed by clients in the tech sector. Alongside Weston and Shiers, Karen Hughes has experience in VAT and pensions and Philip Harle is an expert in VAT on securitisations.
‘They are able to call up knowledge of VAT and indirect tax in giving in-depth advice and assistance to clients and to apply it in innovative ways in the context of litigation.‘
‘Rupert Shiers is very bright and is routinely able to identify solutions to the challenges faced by taxpayers in the very complex modern tax environment.‘
‘Great depth of technical knowledge and a capacity to assimilate large amounts of information then identify the key issues.‘
- Acted for eBay UK throughout 2018 in relation to a wide range of VAT issues.
- Acted for a major tech company, analysing a sensitive issue on the tax implications of the supply of high-value services, under EU law and also the law/practice of multiple EU jurisdictions.
- Acted for Pfizer in tax tribunal litigation relating to its Thermacare range of products
- Tax tribunal litigation concerning the VAT treatment of building services provided to Eynsham Cricket Club, considering the fundamental principles of the scope of charitable VAT exemptions.
Norton Rose Fulbright's European VAT group is led by Chris Bates, and is part of the firm's broader tax team which is led by Dominic Stuttaford. In addition to supporting the transactional practice groups, it also has an active standalone practice, which includes VAT treatment disputes with HMRC. Other areas of expertise include advising on the importation of high-value assets, including private jets, yachts, commercial aircraft and supply chain inventories.
Dominic Stuttaford; Chris Bates
Other key lawyers:
Barclays Bank plc
Bibby Financial Services
Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners
Civitas Social Housing plc
Commerz Real Investmentgesellschaft mb
- Acting for BMW in respect of Upper Tribunal Tax and Court of Appeal proceedings in relation to a multimillion-pound VAT repayment dispute with MG Rover.
- Acting for HSBC in a restitution claim relating to Stamp Duty Reserve Tax.
- Providing Brexit planning advice on the VAT and customs duties implications of leaving the EU without a deal.
The team at Bark&co specialises in tax litigation, with a particular focus on VAT and excise duty cases. It is well versed in civil tax matters before the courts, including challenges to HMRC assessments, and has significant experience representing clients in HMRC investigations into VAT and missing trader intra-community fraud allegations. Founding partner Giles Bark-Jones takes the lead, supported by a team including Peter Finbow and Maria Stalbow.
Key areas of expertise for the team at Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP are investment fund taxation, international tax, real estate tax, finance tax and tax risk insurance. The group is led by Ben Jones, who has a strong tax insurance practice alongside VAT and indirect tax work. The group also includes real estate tax specialist Paul Beausang, who joined from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius UK LLP in May 2018, and principal associate Deepesh Upadhyay, who is an expert in finance-related tax. Giles Salmond is another key name, with indirect tax disputes experience. Cathryn Vanderspar retired.
Legal & General
- Advised Aviva on the tax aspects of the sale of its global indirect real estate investment business and its interest in the European commercial real estate fund, Encore+.
- Acted for Singapore-based asset management and investment institution on the tax aspects of its first UK real estate venture with the acquisition of property assets across the UK from Telereal Trillium through a managed fund.
- Advising AIG Europe on the tax aspects of the underwriting of approximately 20 W&I insurance policies in relation to M&A transactions with an aggregate value of over £4bn.
Mayer Brown International LLP is able to draw on its international tax practice to handle indirect tax matters for a variety of corporates in relation to their investments in the UK. The group has a strong cross-border practice and has particular expertise in VAT and insurance premium tax for financial services clients, as well as a strong grounding in VAT and SDLT in the real estate sector. James Hill heads the department and is supported by Ben Fryer (who has international tax experience) and Simon Rose, who joined the firm from Michelmores LLP in November 2018, and doubles as a chartered tax adviser.
The British Land Company plc
Manhattan Garments Group
- Advised British Land on the tax aspects of the acquisition of the Woolwich Arsenal Estate.
- Assisting British Land with tax issues related to development and leasing projects.
- Advised Kingswood Edge Limited on the tax aspects of its acquisition of 30 Gresham Street, London for approximately £411m.
Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP has a niche in handling parallel civil and criminal HMRC investigations in relation to VAT disputes, representing a variety of high-net-worth individuals and corporates. The group, which is led by Michael O’Kane, has a strong track record in reaching a favourable settlement with the Revenue and is regularly instructed in cases involving offshore tax structures where there are allegations of overseas tax fraud. Neil Swift is also noted for criminal tax defence matters.
Other key lawyers:
Neil Swift; Christopher Gribbin
‘Neil Swift is exceptional, very professional and gives clients a sense of security.‘
‘The team really impresses with its client service and attention to detail.‘
‘Neil Swift and Christopher Gribbin are impressive and approachable.‘
- Representing a high-profile entrepreneur, arrested in March 2015 as part of a complex HMRC/NCA tax investigation. There are parallel criminal investigations in the Isle of Man.
- Advising a football club in relation to a criminal investigation conducted by HMRC into alleged offences of cheating the public revenue, fraudulent evasion of income tax, fraudulent evasion of National Insurance contributions, fraudulent evasion of VAT, fraud by false representation and money laundering.
- Acting for an entrepreneur and director of a company in relation to an investigation into alleged VAT fraud and money laundering.
- Provide strategic advice on a high-profile businessman’s participation in HMRC’s contractual disclosure facility.
Rosetta Tax Ltd is a tax boutique that focuses entirely on business taxes, with a particular specialism in VAT. Clients include partnerships and companies, including law firms and professional advisers, financial services and insurance businesses. VAT work is led by Linda Adelson, whose practice covers consultancy, transactional advice and disputes.
Other key lawyers:
‘Rosetta Tax is a little gem of a practice. The highly experienced and technically able Linda Adelson and Charles Goddard both punch above their weight.‘
‘Extremely bright and low-cos,t high-quality team.‘
‘Linda Adelson knows her stuff, works hard for clients, and provides exceptional value-for-money.‘
- Handling a test case in the area of VAT exemption for insurance intermediaries.
- Advising on the VAT treatment of grant funding arrangements in respect of monies received from the Department for Education and the Burberry Foundation.
- Drafting and advice re VAT elements of new customer terms and conditions.
Hugo Jenney leads the department at Stephenson Harwood, which focuses on the funds, transportation and asset finance sectors, as well as having an active real estate practice. The group also handles more niche matters including share schemes and employee incentives. The team also includes Maryanna Sharrock, who has expertise in cross-border tax matters, and John Meehan, who has experience in VAT and stamp duties.
Transport for London
HSBC/HSBC Pension Fund
- Act for LXI on tax matters related to direct and indirect property acquisitions and other real estate matters as well as on equity capital markets-related work.
- Advised on the UK tax and structuring aspects of the SMBC and Equitix joint venture arrangements for the £1.2bn lease financing of new trains for the Wales and Borders rail franchise.
- Acted on the IPO of a UK pharmaceutical company on the Belgian Stock Exchange.
Michael Ridsdale leads the team at Wedlake Bell LLP, which advises large corporates and major UK universities on a variety of VAT issues, including those concerning real estate assets and new developments, where it draws on the firm's strong real estate capabilities. Martin Scammell is another key name; he has substantial experience in property VAT.
Other key lawyers:
‘Michael Ridsdale is motivated by one thing only: the right result for the client, and he will work tirelessly to achieve this.‘
‘Michael Ridsdale has an accomplished knowledge of VAT and SDLT matters relating to the university sector and is able to draw upon external resources as necessary, in particular for VAT-related issues on property.‘
‘The firm is large enough to provide assurance that they have the necessary expertise whilst having the feel of a small firm with a personal touch more often than not delivered by a partner.‘
Imperial College London
- Advising a major university on the tax aspects of the construction and development of a new campus in the London area.
- Representing a client in a VAT dispute with HMRC.