VAT and indirect tax in London
At Baker McKenzie, Mark Agnew (who 'brings intellectual rigour to his analysis') leads the VAT group, while 'tenacious' David Jamieson heads up the contentious VAT practice. The firm focuses on high-value transactions and contentious VAT investigations and disputes, as well as advising on VAT structuring. Reflective of key trends in the market, the group has developed a strong practice preparing businesses for Brexit, particularly in relation to the financial services industry. Adam Peacock specialises in all aspects of VAT and indirect taxation, and is knowledgeable about matters arising from international services, real estate and finance. Kathryn Sewell is an expert in VAT related to planning and structuring and reorganisations, and has experience of tax authority audits and HMRC dispute resolution. The group sits within the broader London tax department which is led by former head of VAT and indirect tax, Mark Delaney.
‘Great availability, willingness to take the extra step and think along with the client.’
‘Impressive breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in nailing contentious tax matters.‘
‘The team combine a very strong technical understanding of the law with a commercial, client-focused perspective. They excel in dealing with complex and sensitive matters, particularly in developing innovative solutions and thinking about problems from different angles.’
‘David Jamieson is tenacious and hard-working, Mark Delaney is calm under pressure.’
‘Mark Agnew is the lead indirect tax partner that I work with. Mark brings intellectual rigour to his analysis and challenges thinking which without a proper legal basis. He always provides me with an honest appraisal of a situation and is not afraid to deliver difficult messages.’
Belron UK Limited t/a Autoglass®
Hutchison 3G Limited
- Represented Three UK on one of the largest VAT cases heard in the UK courts. The case concerned the VAT treatment of mobile roaming services and in particular, whether VAT was due on unused credit which can be used both in the UK and internationally. Acted for the client throughout the litigation process through to a successful conclusion with HMRC prior to the Upper Tribunal hearing.
The 'pragmatic' team at Clifford Chance LLP primarily focuses on VAT and SDLT, and has strong expertise in real estate, e-commerce, funds and finance taxation. The group is led by David Saleh, who clients praise for 'experience across transactions, HMRC interactions and tax litigation really does stand out on the most complex issues'. Director Simon Corzberg has built a VAT practice spanning all industries and sectors, while Edward Page is noted for supporting Saleh on real estate transactions.
‘The team have brought the various areas of expertise required, across multiple jurisdictions, together and made it (almost) painless for us as clients. They have been pragmatic in their approach to problem-solving but also technically strong. They try hard to work well with other law firms who are acting “on the other side”‘
‘Strength in-depth, quality insightful and commercially relevant advice first time.’
‘They have been very proactive, communicated well with us and were keen to also take on board ideas we might have. We have built up a high degree of trust with the individuals.’
‘David Saleh’s experience across transactions, HMRC interactions and tax litigation really does stand out on the most complex issues.’
Legal & General
Canada Pension Plan Investment Board
Employees Provident Fund of Malaysia and CBRE Global Investors
Hillwood Investment Properties
Mitsui Fudosan (UK) Limited
Bank of Scotland
Union National Bank
- Acted for Canada Pension Plan Investment Board on the sale of: (i) Liberty Living Group Plc (other than Liberty Living’s Cardiff and European assets) to The Unite Group plc (“Unite”) and (ii) Liberty Living’s Cardiff properties to the Unite UK Student Accommodation Fund for total consideration of approximately £1.4 billion
- Acted for PATRIZIA AG (“Patrizia”), the global partner for pan-European real estate investment, on the proposed acquisition of a pan-European portfolio of 42 logistics assets from BentallGreenOak for approximately €1.2bn.
- Acted for Union National Bank on its merger with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) and the subsequent acquisition of Al Hilal Bank.
Pinsent Masons LLP
The practice at Pinsent Masons LLP is weighted towards indirect tax dispute resolution, where the team continues to advise corporates on complex investigations into allegations of fraud, as well as tax litigation before the authorities. An area of focus for the group is the financial services sector, where it draws on its ability to investigate and defend tax fraud allegations. The group is co-led by contentious tax expert Jason Collins and the 'extremely knowledgeable' Stuart Walsh. Clara Boyd made partner in May 2019. Jake Landman has significant experience of advising on supply chain risks.
‘A market leading contentious VAT practice.’
‘Jake Landman and Jason Collins are both strong tax lawyers and easy to work with.’
‘Stuart Walsh is extremely knowledgeable, charming and effective – he knows how to win cases, Jake Landman is very bright and full of beans – goes the extra mile for clients.‘
‘Clara Boyd is a brilliant lawyer and has a steely determination. Recently made a partner she is staggeringly hard working.’
Darty Limited, part of Groupe Darty FNAC
- Acting for RBS in two disputes arising from missing traders in its carbon credit supply chains defaulting on VAT due to HMRC: (1) an £86 million VAT dispute, with the potential for a further penalty up to 100% of the VAT, which is currently before the First-tier Tribunal (Tax); and (2) a related dishonest assistance and fraudulent trading claim made against the client in the High Court by a number of liquidated companies that were the defaulting parties in the client’s supply chains. The principal creditor in the second claim is HMRC – the original value of this claim was £140 million.
- Acting for Cantor Fitzgerald (BGC Partners and Tower Bridge International Services) in a dispute with HMRC relating to VAT on certain purchases of emissions allowances (“carbon credits”) issued under the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.
- Acting for a UK retailer, part of a European leader in the retail of entertainment and leisure products, consumer electronics and household appliances to assist them with a HMRC challenge to their entitlement to recover costs associated with the management of their historical pension scheme (relating to former employees of the former UK company Comet)
Simmons & Simmons
At Simmons & Simmons, the team is equipped to advise on the transactional and advisory aspects of indirect tax, in addition to contentious matters. It has specialisms in VAT partial exemptions and capital goods scheme accounting, complementing its work for financial institutions and asset managers. On the indirect tax consultancy side, the group advises on VAT, stamp taxes, and niche areas such as environmental tax. Darren Oswick leads the group, which includes contentious tax expert Nick Skerrett and TMT sector VAT expert Jo Crookshank. Martin Shah takes the lead on financial services tax matters. Managing associate Mark Watterson is building a strong VAT and SDLT practice.
‘Led by Nick Skerrett, the team does a range of Tax disputes with particular expertise in environmental taxes. It also does international tax disputes.
Nick Skerrett drives litigation he runs, is very commercial, and is creative in his approach to cases.’
‘The key strengths of the team are their ability to think through alternate ways of describing and challenging the scenario in which we are involved plus their experience and history that can be drawn upon to help understand the tax authorities position and approach.’
‘Great industry and subject knowledge and specific willingness to come up with alternative strategies to ensure matters reach a positive conclusion for clients.’
‘Nick Skerrett. I think he is an excellent tactician and strategist, and generally a shrewd operator. He knows how to push cases and how to get results for his clients.’
‘Simmons & Simmons LLP are the premier practice for VAT litigation – especially in the financial services sector. I have consulted with Simmons & Simmons on numerous matters, and the mix of VAT technical, commercial and litigation knowledge is unparalleled.
Nick Skerrett (Partner) is the preeminent VAT litigation lawyer in the financial services sector. He combines exceptional VAT technical knowledge with great commercial understanding and thorough litigation judgment.’
BPP Holdings Limited
Citigroup Global Markets Limited
Veolia ES Landfill Limited and Veolia Cleanaway (UK) Limited
The British Land Company PLC
BlueBay Asset Management LLP
- 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 the arranger on 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.
Ashurst is known for advising public sector entities, corporates and financial institutions on strategic and transactional VAT and SDLT issues, with a strong onshore and offshore real estate funds practice. Simon Swann, who leads the group, is an expert in SDLT. Alexander Cox has experience of a wide range of tax issues relating to funds, as does Nicholas Gardner. Tim Gummer specialises in real estate and oil and gas taxation, in addition to VAT and business rates.
‘We have worked with Alex Cox for over 10 years on a wide range of projects and issues. We rate him extremely highly. His technical knowledge across all taxes is excellent, he understands our industry and commercial objectives. His advice is always focused and pragmatic where appropriate.‘
- Advising Hotels 4 U on its defence of HMRC’s appeal against the First-Tier Tribunal’s decision not to treat Hotels 4 U as an intermediary for the VAT Tour Operators Margin Scheme. HMRC is seeking to distinguish this decision or a recent Supreme Court judgment (Secret Hotels 2) and to obtain a reference to the CJEU. This raises complex legal issues and some very topical questions about the ability of UK courts to refer decisions to the CJEU following Brexit.
- Advised Samsung Securities on the indirect acquisition of the largest Amazon logistics warehouse in the Czech Republic.
- Advised Hastings on its successful appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (the “FTT”). The FTT found in Hastings favour that Advantage did not have a Fixed Establishment (“FE”) in the UK as a result of Hastings’ supply of various insurance services (including underwriting services) to Advantage. HMRC withdrew its appeal in August 2019 and the firm is now advising Hastings in relation to costs recovery.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP has a solid real estate focus, with its team advising on domestic and international VAT and SDLT issues. In addition, the group has expertise in VAT and indirect tax issues arising from M&A, financial services and insurance. The group is led by Alan Sinyor, who has 'an encyclopaedic knowledge of VAT', and has substantial tax tribunal experience. Global head of tax Elizabeth Bradley is regularly instructed in matters involving multijurisdictional issues. Tax barrister Mukul Chawla QC regularly handles VAT cases.
Other key lawyers:
‘Unparalleled breadth and depth of knowledge.‘
‘Highly innovative and knowledgeable about VAT.’
‘Partner Alan Sinyor is confident in his opinions and not afraid to take unorthodox positions. It’s rare to find solicitors willing to take strong positions nowadays.‘
‘Alan has an encyclopaedic knowledge of VAT and is able to provide innovative and effective solutions for clients.’
Homes England (formerly known as the Homes and Communities Agency)
Greater London Authority
London Legacy Development Corporation
- Advised TfL on the structuring of a joint venture with Grainger Plc in the build to rent sector
- Advised listed Belgian healthcare investor Aedifica on the acquisition of a portfolio of 93 care home properties across England for approximately £450m from Lonestar. This marks Aedifica’s entry into the UK market, making it the fourth country in its portfolio.
- Advised Tesco on VAT and SDLT with respect to numerous complex property transactions.
At CMS, the indirect tax offering is integrated into the wider sector-focused tax group. Areas of particular specialism include real estate, TMT, gambling and financial services, as well as insurance issues. The group is jointly led by Stephen Hignett and Aaron Fairhurst. Graham Chase has a strong reputation for real estate taxation.
DTZ Investment Management
Willis Towers Watson
Principal Real Estate
AXA IM Real Assets
- Advised DTZ on the structuring and closing of a fund launched by DTZ and The Collective to develop and hold co-living assets, a relatively new asset class and a sub-set of the private rental sector. The fund is targeting a gross asset value of £1bn to be achieved over the ten year life of the fund.
- Advised the group holding company of global mining and inorganic chemicals business Tronox on a series of transactions, including on re-domiciling the group to the United Kingdom from Australia; the repurchase of shares from Exxaro for approx. $200m; and the $100m share repurchase programme announced by Tronox Holdings plc.
- Acts as UK tax counsel to Willis Towers Watson and has advised the client on a large number of projects, investments and transactions including on the ever-evolving topic of VAT treatment of pension fund management services.
'Very knowledgeable and commercial' partner Richard Woolich (who is a chartered tax adviser) leads the team at DLA Piper, which handles indirect tax matters across the real estate, financial services, education, gambling and IP sectors. The London team draws on a global office network to provide multijurisdictional tax advice. It also regularly appears before tax authorities in a variety of disputes. In October 2019, associate Jamie Kim joined from HMRC.
‘Ricahrd Woolich and his team at DLA Piper UK are exceptional. We have worked many years with them and very much feel that are part of our team too. They are extremely capable, hardworking , friendly and always go the extra mile. They consider our business interests and provide a great fee setup which allows us to ask for their assistance at all times.’
‘Richard Woolich is very knowledgeable and commercial too also in his advice considering always the needs of our business. He truly cares for our business and we feel it.’
‘The team consisting of Jamie Kim, Maud Murcia and Helena Monaghan are wonderful to work with and excellent at what they do.’
Bet365 Group Limited
- Advising Kaplan International on 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.
- Representing Westland Horticultural in a VAT dispute on tax treatment of grass seed – tribunal case. An application to appeal has been submitted to the Upper Tier Tribunal because the First Tier Tribunal decision ran contrary to official HMRC policy.
- Acting for Magherafelt District Council in Northern Ireland, and other councils in Northern Ireland, in the important VAT case on whether the provision of sports and leisure facilities by the council for the local community is a taxable activity for VAT.
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP
The group at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP handles VAT and stamp duty issues for clients, where it works with the firm's transactional departments. It is particularly noted for contentious indirect tax, and lawyers often appear before the tax tribunals, as well as advising on investigations. Isaac Zailer heads up the team, which includes tax disputes expert Isaac Zailer and Nick Clayton.
The group at Hogan Lovells International LLP takes a sectoral approach to indirect tax. It advises on VAT and stamp duty issues arising from real estate, funds and finance transactions. In addition, the group assists clients with minimising VAT following the settlement of litigation and provides standalone consultancy advice. Indirect tax disputes are another bedrock of the practice. Rupert Shiers heads up the team, which includes biotech sector and pension funds specialist Karen Hughes.
- Represented Eynsham Cricket Club in an appeal on the VAT treatment of building services provided to a Community Amateur Sports Club.
- Acted for a major tech company, analysing a sensitive issue on the place of supply of high-value services, under EU law and also the law/practice of multiple EU jurisdictions.
At Norton Rose Fulbright, the team assists with indirect tax issues arising from corporate and finance transactions, in addition to handling standalone work such as VAT recovery, and contentious issues. Drawing on the firm's wider specialisms, the group is particularly well-versed in insurance premium tax issues, as well as real estate matters. Dominic Stuttaford is the overall head of the tax practice, with Chris Bates leading the European VAT group. Matthew Hodkin is noted for his niche expertise in VAT relating to the energy generation, supply and transport sectors. In April 2019, Michael Alliston joined from Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.
Barclays Bank Plc
Bibby Financial Services
Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners
Civitas Social Housing PLC
Commerz Real Investmentgesellschaft mb
Lloyds Banking Group
London Gateway Port Limited
Mubadala Investment Company PJSC
Welput (the West End of London Property Unit Trust – operated by Schroders plc)
Al Rayan Bank PLC
- Acting for BMW in a significant case concerning the working of the VAT rules relating to VAT grouping and which entity is entitled to claim a refund of VAT where there have been changes to the composition of a VAT group over time. Successfully defended an appeal to the Court of Appeal which was heard in January 2019 and leave to appeal that decision has been refused.
- Acting for HSBC in its restitution claim in the Stamp Taxes Group Litigation Order relating to Stamp Duty Reserve Tax (SDRT).
- Advised a range of transport sector clients on the potential indirect tax consequences of a No Deal Brexit on their businesses.
PwC LLP fields 'a highly effective team of solicitors, in-house barristers and accountants'. Its practice is centred on indirect tax disputes, and advice to a wide range of high-profile corporates on their dealings with HMRC, as well as litigation. The department is led by David Anderson, who has significant experience of obtaining VAT refunds and reimbursements. Jayne Harrold leads on environment tax matters for clients such as utilities companies, renewable energy generators, landfill site operators and other industrial sector companies.
‘A highly effective team of solicitors, in house barristers and accountants with unrivalled specialist knowledge of this sector. Involved in many of the cutting edge pieces of litigation challenging HMRC decisions. They bring real tactical acumen to any case. Also proven track record of negotiating successful outcomes before litigation develops.’
‘The people I have dealt with are highly knowledgeable, professional and engaged. Also excellent at helping non-legal people understand the implications and nuances of dealing with legislation and HMRC.’
‘David Anderson has deep knowledge of VAT law and is pragmatic.’
United Biscuits (Pension Trustees) Limited (the “Trustees”)
Standard Chartered Bank
St George’s University Limited (“SGU”)
Target Group Limited
Fife Council and Fife Resource Solutions LLP
Phoenix Life Holdings Limited
The Wellcome Trust Limited
Rank Group plc
Worldpay (UK) Ltd
Taylor Wimpey plc
Marks and Spencer Group plc
Dollar Financial UK Limited
- Advising the EU Commission on the implementation and application of VAT refund and reimbursement legislation and procedures across the 28 EU Member States. The advice will form the basis of future infraction and enforcement action by the Commission and shape taxpayer rights across the EU-28. The report has been published online by the EU Commission.
- Acting on a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union made by the Court of Appeal in respect of a case concerning the scope of the VAT exemption for insurance transactions as a matter of EU law. The case also concerns how the Pension Trustees obtain a remedy of the full value of tax paid in breach of EU law. The case was heard by the CJEU in February 2020.
- Advising multiple landfill site operators on wide-ranging HMRC investigations into historic landfill tax reporting. PwC’s work involves a broad range of technical issues fundamental to the application of the LFT regime, including novel points of law and challenges to the rationality and proportionality of HMRC policy and practice.
Bark&co is a fraud and business crime boutique that has developed a strong civil litigation and investigations practice centred on VAT. Team members have experience of appeals before the tax tribunals and courts (via judicial review), as well as HMRC interventions, investigations and inquiries. Giles Bark-Jones, who heads up the team, has substantial expertise in VAT fraud cases. Peter Finbow is experienced in investigations.
‘Great in-depth knowledge of the market. Small team focused on client care‘
‘Bark and Co is a firm which is able to give its clients the highest quality of service. The firm gives each and every case individual attention and is able to deal with every eventuality in preparation of the case.
There are a number of solicitors and associates with an array of expertise, thus ensuring that the various types of fraud and serious crime offences can be expertly managed at all times.
Giles Bark-Jones is a formidable opponent in litigation. His attention to detail is always visible. He is able to strategically manage a case from the outset considering all arguments which can be levied from the opposition.
Giles’ client care is apparent in all cases. He has the ability to adapt depending on the needs of the client and the case at hand‘
- Acting for a client in investigations by the National Crime Agency and SKAT (the Danish tax authority) into fraud and money-laundering activities worth over £1.5bn committed against the tax authorities in a number of countries, predominantly the UK, Denmark, the US and Belgium.
- Acting in a substantial MTIC fraud case, in which an Organised Crime Group was alleged to be accountable for significant losses to the UK Exchequer through associated large-scale VAT and Excise duty frauds.
- Acting for one of nine individuals accused of facilitating a complex multimillion pound money laundering operation with elements of VAT fraud.
Mayer Brown International LLP's team focuses on tax planning and structuring advice. It assists clients with VAT and SDLT issues arising from real estate transactions, cross-border VAT issues connected with financial services transactions and insurance premium tax issues. James Hill leads the group, which includes funds expert Simon Rose.
The British Land Company Plc
Chelsfield Properties Limited
First Base Limited
Manhattan Garments Group
Xinyuan Real Estate Co., Ltd.
- Advising British Land on the tax aspects of several high profile schemes and projects, including Clarges, Mayfair, the Paddington Central Campus and the redevelopment of Blossom Street, Shoreditch.
- Advised Wing Tai on the tax aspects of its acquisition and financing of 8 Salisbury Square, London.
- Advising the arrangers on a $3bn cross-border securitisation of trade receivables originated by subsidiaries of a global technology group.
Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP is a firm with a specialism in business crime matters. Its team has substantial experience of parallel civil and criminal tax investigations, particularly in relation to VAT and offshore tax structures. White-collar lawyer Michael O’Kane heads up the group, which includes seasoned criminal tax expert Neil Swift and investigations specialist Maria Cronin .
- Acting for a high-profile entrepreneur, based in the Isle of Man, who maintains a wide range of business interests throughout the UK and the Isle of Man (including online gambling, payroll services, and various property investments). He was arrested in March 2015 as part of a joint HMRC and NCA investigation on suspicion of evading tax. The firm is also advising on issues arising from a restraint order obtained by HMRC against £50m of the client’s assets and ongoing cash forfeiture proceedings in respect of circa £500,000.
Rosetta Tax Ltd
Tax boutique Rosetta Tax Ltd has a particularly strong VAT offering, assisting with advisory work in relation to the financial services and insurance industries. The key contact is Linda Adelson, who has experience of VAT litigation.
‘A small plucky team who punch above their weight. Full of tax geeks who really know their subject inside out.’
‘Rosetta Tax is specialised in taxation matters and as a result are extremely knowledgeable in their field and able to direct you to the appropriate partner depending on the matter in order to assist you with swiftly.’
‘Linda Adelson is exceptional. a deep thinker who keeps digging until she finds the right answer. she drafts exceptionally good instructions to counsel.’
Accomplish Financial Ltd
AF Payments Ltd
Claims Advisory Group Ltd
- Provided VAT advice to a client on product launch of solid gold payment card.
- Acting for Claims Advisory Group in relation to VAT generally, including on a test case on the scope of the intermediaries’ VAT exemption for insurance. This is about to progress to a hearing before the Upper Tribunal. The findings of the First Tier Tribunal have the potential to significantly narrow the exemption for the insurance brokerage industry as a whole so this is an important case.
Stephenson Harwood's group handles transactional, structuring and advisory work in relation to indirect tax, with a focus on the real estate and investment funds sectors. Head of tax Hugo Jenney has significant expertise in transportation, real estate and asset finance. Business tax specialist Maryanna Sharrock is well-versed in tax issues with a cross-border dimension.
Transport for London
HSBC/HSBC Pension Fund
Schroder Real Estate Investment Trust/Schroder Real Estate Fund
Covanta Holdings Limited
Arthur J Gallagher
- Advised Reef Estates Limited on a number of transactions for the acquisition, forward funding and development and letting of properties including the schemes in Stevenage and Gravesend. These transactions involve a funder, commonly a large pension fund (in this case Aviva), and a letting with a secure income stream from a council.
- Advised SMBC and Equitix on the UK tax and structuring aspects of the SMBC and Equitix joint venture for a £1.2bn lease financing of new trains for the Wales and Borders rail franchise.
- Acted for Schroder UK Real Estate Fund on the sale of Kings Mall Shopping Centre in Hammersmith to IKEA.
'Renowned throughout the tax profession', Michael Ridsdale leads on VAT and SDLT matters at Wedlake Bell LLP. Working with Martin Scammell, he advises on the VAT and indirect tax aspects of transactions, HMRC disputes and fraud cases.
Other key lawyers:
‘Access to top class experience in the property sector ensuring that nothing is overlooked and often resulting in innovative solutions.’
‘Mike Ridsdale is extremely professional and always available at short notice – useful in property matters – and particularly adept at handling head-strong investment managers who don’t always see the detail that is required in tax matters.‘
‘Mike is renowned throughout the tax profession for his expertise in VAT and SDLT. As a result of his well-deserved reputation, Mike attracts a quality of work to Wedlake Bell that is unrivalled in a firm of this size. He is an absolute pleasure to work with.’
Imperial College London
- Advising a major university on the construction and development of a new campus in the London area. Continuing to provide advice concerning the construction and development of a new campus at White City, London.