Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules

(HMRC Compliance)

Comment: Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules (HMRC Compliance) ensure tax reliefs are used appropriately and not for tax avoidance.

Key Points:

  • Anti-avoidance rules ensure tax reliefs are used as intended.
  • Specific rules target particular avoidance schemes.
  • These rules apply regardless of general anti-avoidance measures.

Main Principles:

  1. Purpose: To prevent misuse of tax reliefs.
  2. Scope: Apply even if general rules cover the transaction.
  3. Enforcement: Denial of relief ensures compliance with intended use.

These principles help maintain the integrity of tax reliefs and prevent their exploitation for tax avoidance.

Sub-Sale Relief

(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Sub-sale relief prevents double taxation in property transactions by taxing only the final sale, requires genuine transactions without the use of options, and includes a motive test to ensure transactions are not primarily for tax avoidance.

Sub-sale relief is a provision in tax legislation that aims to prevent double taxation in property transactions involving sub-sales. It ensures that when property is sold from a vendor to a purchaser, who then sells it to a sub-purchaser before completing the initial purchase, only the final transaction is taxed. However, to prevent abuse of this relief, several measures are in place:

Alternative Contracts

Purpose: To ensure that sub-sale relief is applied correctly and prevent manipulation.


  • Genuine Sub-Sale Transactions: The legislation requires that the contracts reflect genuine sub-sale transactions. This means that the initial sale and the sub-sale must be real and intended to transfer ownership.
  • Contrived Arrangements: Contracts that are artificially created or manipulated to take advantage of sub-sale relief without actually transferring property ownership are prohibited. This prevents taxpayers from creating sham transactions to exploit the relief.
  • Contractual Requirements: Both the original purchase contract and the sub-sale contract must meet specific legal and commercial criteria to qualify for the relief.

No Options

Purpose: To prohibit the use of options in achieving sub-sale relief and avoid misuse.


  • Prohibition of Options: Options cannot be used to create artificial sub-sale scenarios. An option is a contractual agreement that gives one party the right, but not the obligation, to purchase property at a later date. The rule ensures that options are not employed to fabricate sub-sale transactions.
  • Avoiding Misuse: By prohibiting the use of options, the legislation prevents taxpayers from deferring or manipulating the timing of transactions to achieve unwarranted tax benefits. This ensures that sub-sale relief is only available for straightforward and legitimate sub-sales.

Motive Test

Purpose: To assess the intention behind the sub-sale and prevent tax avoidance.


  • Intention Assessment: The motive test examines the underlying purpose of the sub-sale transaction. If the primary motive is to avoid tax, the relief will not be granted.
  • Tax Avoidance Prevention: The test helps to differentiate between genuine commercial transactions and those primarily designed for tax benefits. It scrutinises the transaction’s economic substance over its legal form.
  • Objective Criteria: Factors considered in the motive test include the timing of the transactions, the relationship between the parties, and any other relevant circumstances that indicate the transaction’s true purpose.


Sub-sale relief is designed to facilitate legitimate property transactions without subjecting them to double taxation. However, stringent rules and tests are in place to prevent its abuse. These include:

  • Alternative Contracts: Ensuring contracts reflect genuine sub-sales.
  • No Options: Prohibiting the use of options to create artificial transactions.
  • Motive Test: Assessing the intention behind transactions to prevent tax avoidance.

By adhering to these measures, taxpayers can benefit from sub-sale relief while maintaining compliance with tax laws. Understanding and navigating these provisions require careful planning and a thorough understanding of the relevant legal and commercial principles.


Sale and Leaseback Relief

(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Sub-sale relief ensures only final property transactions are taxed, with strict rules against artificial setups and an assessment of transaction motives to prevent tax avoidance.

Sale and leaseback transactions are a common practice in real estate and asset management, where an entity sells an asset and simultaneously leases it back from the buyer. This allows the seller to access the capital tied up in the asset while continuing to use it. To regulate the tax implications of such transactions, Sale and Leaseback Relief can be applied. Here is a more detailed explanation:

Not Combined with Other Reliefs


The primary purpose of this provision is to prevent the combination of sale and leaseback relief with other tax reliefs. This is designed to ensure that the tax benefits from multiple reliefs are not excessively combined in a way that minimises tax liabilities beyond what is considered fair and reasonable by tax authorities.

Prevention of Abuse

By not allowing the combination of sale and leaseback relief with other reliefs, the legislation aims to prevent the following:

  • Double-Dipping: Without this restriction, taxpayers might use sale and leaseback relief in conjunction with other reliefs to claim deductions or exemptions multiple times on the same transaction. This would lead to a significant reduction in taxable income or taxable gain, which is not the intended purpose of the reliefs.
  • Artificial Tax Minimization: Taxpayers might structure transactions in a way that artificially inflates the benefits of tax reliefs. For example, they might sell an asset, lease it back, and then claim additional reliefs that are not aligned with the genuine economic substance of the transaction.
  • Unfair Competitive Advantage: Allowing multiple reliefs on a single transaction could give certain taxpayers an unfair competitive advantage by significantly lowering their tax liabilities compared to others who do not engage in such structuring.

Examples of Potential Combined Reliefs

  • Capital Allowances: If sale and leaseback relief were combined with capital allowances, a taxpayer might claim relief on both the sale and the leaseback aspects of the transaction. This could result in a situation where the same asset generates tax relief multiple times.
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) Relief: Similarly, combining sale and leaseback relief with SDLT relief could lead to a reduction in transaction taxes that would otherwise be payable. This could be particularly significant in high-value real estate transactions.

Regulatory Measures

To enforce this restriction, tax authorities may:

  • Specify Conditions: Clearly outline conditions under which sale and leaseback relief can be applied, ensuring it is used appropriately and not in conjunction with other specific reliefs.
  • Audit and Oversight: Conduct audits and reviews of transactions claiming sale and leaseback relief to ensure compliance with the rules and identify any instances of abuse.
  • Penalties for Non-Compliance: Impose penalties for taxpayers who attempt to combine reliefs in violation of the regulations. This could include financial penalties, interest on unpaid taxes, and potential legal action.


The restriction on combining sale and leaseback relief with other tax reliefs is an important measure to maintain the integrity of the tax system. It ensures that tax benefits are applied fairly and prevents the excessive minimization of tax liabilities through the exploitation of multiple reliefs. By adhering to these regulations, taxpayers can ensure compliance and contribute to a fair tax environment.

Group, Reconstruction, and Acquisition Reliefs

(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Group, reconstruction, and acquisition reliefs help restructure businesses without immediate tax, but strict tests ensure transactions are genuine and not primarily for tax avoidance.

Group, reconstruction, and acquisition reliefs are designed to facilitate the restructuring and consolidation of businesses without incurring immediate tax liabilities. However, specific tests and rules are in place to ensure these reliefs are not misused for tax avoidance purposes.

Motive Test

The motive test is crucial in transactions within groups, reconstructions, and acquisitions. This test ensures that the primary purpose of the transaction is not to avoid tax. Key points include:

  • Purpose Assessment: The main purpose of the transaction is scrutinised. If tax avoidance is determined to be the primary motive, the relief will be denied.
  • Documentation and Justification: Businesses must be able to demonstrate a valid commercial purpose for the transaction beyond tax benefits. Proper documentation and a clear rationale can help in passing the motive test.


Specific rules govern the structure of transactions to prevent complex arrangements designed to exploit tax reliefs. These rules include:

  • Anti-Avoidance Measures: Detailed regulations are in place to identify and counteract arrangements that have been structured primarily to gain tax reliefs.
  • Transaction Transparency: The structure of transactions must be transparent and justifiable. Overly complex arrangements that lack a genuine commercial rationale are likely to be challenged.

Clawback on Leaving Group

To prevent abuse of group reliefs, clawback provisions apply when a company leaves the group:

  • Temporary Membership Prevention: This rule ensures companies cannot join a group temporarily just to benefit from tax reliefs and then leave.
  • Relief Reversal: If a company exits the group within a specified period after receiving relief, the relief granted is clawed back, meaning the company has to repay the tax benefits it received.

Clawback on Change of Control

Clawback provisions also apply when there is a change of control of a company:

  • Misuse Prevention: These rules prevent the misuse of reliefs by changing the control of a company. This ensures that companies do not exploit tax reliefs during acquisition phases and then change control to benefit unduly.
  • Withdrawal of Reliefs: When control of a company changes, previously granted reliefs may be withdrawn if the change of control undermines the conditions under which the reliefs were granted.


Understanding and complying with the rules governing group, reconstruction, and acquisition reliefs is essential for businesses. These reliefs are intended to support legitimate business restructurings, but they come with stringent conditions to prevent tax avoidance. Key considerations include:

  • Commercial Justification: Ensure that the primary motive for the transaction is commercial rather than tax-driven.
  • Documentation: Maintain thorough documentation to justify the transaction’s purpose and structure.
  • Awareness of Clawback Provisions: Be aware of the conditions under which reliefs can be clawed back, particularly concerning group membership and changes in control.
  • Transparent Structuring: Avoid overly complex transaction structures that could be perceived as primarily designed for tax avoidance.

By adhering to these principles, businesses can effectively utilise group, reconstruction, and acquisition reliefs while remaining compliant with tax regulations.

Alternative Finance Reliefs

(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Alternative finance reliefs cannot be combined with group or sub-sale reliefs, and strict rules define financial institutions and regulate changes in control to prevent tax avoidance.

Not Combined with Group or Sub-Sale Relief

  • Purpose: The prohibition against combining alternative finance reliefs with group or sub-sale reliefs is designed to prevent entities from exploiting multiple tax reliefs for the same transaction. This ensures the integrity of the tax system by avoiding scenarios where multiple benefits are applied to a single transaction, which could significantly reduce the tax liability more than intended by law.
  • Example: If a company involved in an alternative finance arrangement, such as an Islamic finance structure, also qualifies for group relief or sub-sale relief, it cannot claim both reliefs simultaneously. This rule ensures that the transaction does not receive an undue tax advantage.
  • Impact: This measure ensures fairness and consistency in the application of tax reliefs. It also prevents complex structuring solely aimed at minimising tax liabilities beyond what is reasonable under the law.

Definition of Financial Institution and Arrangements for Change of Control

  • Definition of Financial Institution: The legislation provides a clear definition of what constitutes a financial institution. This includes banks, building societies, and other entities engaged in financial activities. The clarity in definition ensures that only genuine financial institutions can access certain tax reliefs intended for such entities.
    • Criteria: Financial institutions are typically defined based on their regulatory status, the nature of their business activities, and their licensing by relevant authorities.
    • Examples: Entities such as commercial banks, investment banks, and certain types of insurance companies might fall under this definition.
  • Arrangements for Change of Control: Specific rules govern how changes in control of financial institutions are handled to prevent tax avoidance through reclassification or restructuring.
    • Change of Control: This occurs when there is a significant shift in the ownership or management of a financial institution, potentially altering its tax obligations.
    • Regulations: The rules ensure that a change in control does not lead to an unintended tax advantage. For instance, if a financial institution is acquired by another company, the reliefs and obligations it enjoyed prior to the acquisition should continue to apply appropriately.
    • Avoidance Prevention: These arrangements prevent entities from exploiting changes in control to reclassify themselves in a way that would allow them to avoid taxes or gain unintended reliefs.
  • Impact on Transactions: By defining financial institutions and regulating changes in control, the legislation maintains the integrity of the tax system and ensures that reliefs are applied consistently and fairly. This prevents companies from using complex restructurings or reclassifications to exploit tax reliefs improperly.


The rules governing alternative finance reliefs, and their interaction with group and sub-sale reliefs, are critical for maintaining a fair and consistent tax system. By:

  • Preventing the combination of multiple reliefs for the same transaction
  • Clearly defining financial institutions
  • Regulating changes in control to prevent avoidance

These measures ensure that the tax reliefs serve their intended purpose without being exploited. This results in a balanced approach to tax reliefs, providing benefits where appropriate while preventing undue tax advantages through complex structuring or reclassification. Understanding and adhering to these rules is essential for compliance and for avoiding potential penalties or disputes with HMRC.


Charities Relief

(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Charities Relief reduces Stamp Duty Land Tax for properties used for charitable purposes, but relief can be withdrawn if the property is no longer used for charity, ensuring the relief is used appropriately.

Charities Relief is a tax relief provided to registered charities when they acquire property or land. This relief can significantly reduce the amount of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) that the charity has to pay. However, this relief comes with certain conditions to ensure that it is not misused. One of these conditions concerns the change of use from charitable purposes.

Change of Use from Charitable Purposes

The provision for Charities Relief includes strict rules to ensure that the relief is only applied when the property is used for charitable purposes. Here’s a detailed explanation of how the change of use condition works:

Initial Grant of Relief

  • Eligibility: To qualify for Charities Relief, the property must be intended for use in the furtherance of the charity’s objectives. This means it should be used directly for charitable purposes, such as operating a school, providing housing, running a community centre, or other activities aligned with the charity’s mission.
  • Application: When a charity acquires property, they can apply for SDLT relief at the time of purchase. This involves declaring that the property will be used for charitable purposes.

Conditions for Maintaining Relief

  • Continued Charitable Use: After the acquisition, the property must continue to be used for the declared charitable purposes. This is to prevent the misuse of the relief by ensuring that the benefit is strictly for charitable activities.
  • Monitoring: HMRC may monitor the use of the property to ensure compliance. The charity might be required to provide evidence that the property is being used as intended.

Withdrawal of Relief

  • Change of Use: If the property ceases to be used for charitable purposes, the relief can be withdrawn. This ensures that the tax benefit is only available as long as the property serves a charitable function.
  • Triggers for Withdrawal: Several scenarios can trigger the withdrawal of relief, such as:
    • The property is sold or leased to a non-charitable entity.
    • The charity repurposes the property for non-charitable activities, such as commercial ventures not aligned with their charitable mission.
    • The charity changes its objectives, and the new objectives do not qualify for the same relief.
  • Notification and Repayment: The charity must notify HMRC if the use of the property changes. Following this notification, the charity may be required to repay the SDLT that was initially relieved. The amount repayable would depend on how long the property was used for charitable purposes and the extent of the change in use.

Ensuring Compliance

To ensure compliance and avoid the withdrawal of relief, charities should:

  • Keep Accurate Records: Maintain detailed records of how the property is used, including any changes in use. This documentation can be crucial if HMRC requests evidence of continued charitable use.
  • Notify HMRC Promptly: Inform HMRC immediately if there is any change in the use of the property. This includes changes in the charity’s activities or objectives that might affect the eligibility for relief.
  • Seek Advice: Regularly consult with tax advisors or legal professionals specialising in charity law to ensure that all conditions for maintaining Charities Relief are met.


Charities Relief offers significant financial benefits to charities acquiring property for charitable purposes. However, it is accompanied by stringent conditions to ensure the relief is used appropriately. The provision regarding the change of use from charitable purposes is a key aspect, designed to prevent misuse and ensure that the tax relief is aligned with genuine charitable activities. Charities must be diligent in maintaining compliance to retain the benefits of this relief.



(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Partnership transactions must have a genuine business purpose and be properly documented to avoid penalties for tax avoidance.

Partnerships often engage in complex transactions, and specific arrangements can be scrutinised to prevent tax avoidance. The legislation aims to ensure that these transactions are genuine and not designed solely to achieve tax benefits.

Arrangements to Transfer

The rules governing partnerships include specific provisions to address arrangements that might be used to transfer property or other assets within the partnership in a tax-advantageous manner. Key aspects include:

  • Scrutiny of Transfers: Any transfer of assets within the partnership is carefully examined to ensure that it is not primarily motivated by the desire to avoid taxes. This scrutiny applies to a variety of transactions, including the transfer of land or interests in land.
  • Genuine Business Purpose: For a transfer within a partnership to be acceptable, it must have a genuine business purpose beyond merely reducing the tax liability. This includes considerations such as operational efficiency, business expansion, or strategic realignment.
  • Documentation and Intent: Proper documentation and clear intent are crucial. The partnership must be able to demonstrate that the transaction was undertaken for valid business reasons. The absence of such evidence might lead to the conclusion that the transaction was designed to avoid tax.

Withdrawal of Value After Land Transfer

Another critical area of focus is the withdrawal of value from the partnership after a land transfer. This is to prevent partners from extracting value in ways that minimise or avoid tax liabilities.

  • Examination of Withdrawals: Any withdrawal of value by partners after a land transfer is subject to examination. This includes both direct and indirect methods of extracting value, such as cash distributions, asset transfers, or other forms of compensation.
  • Preventing Tax Avoidance: The rules aim to prevent partners from structuring transactions in a way that allows them to benefit from the land transfer while avoiding the corresponding tax obligations. This might involve creating artificial arrangements that disguise the true nature of the withdrawal.
  • Economic Substance Over Form: The focus is on the economic substance of the transactions rather than their legal form. This means that even if the transactions are legally compliant, they might still be challenged if their primary purpose is to avoid tax.

Detailed Examples

To illustrate these points, consider the following scenarios within a partnership context:

Example 1: Transfer of Property Within a Partnership

  • Scenario: A partnership owns a piece of land that it transfers to one of its partners.
  • Examination: HMRC would scrutinise this transfer to ensure it serves a legitimate business purpose, such as reallocating assets for business efficiency or preparing for a development project.
  • Tax Implications: If the transfer is deemed to be primarily for tax avoidance, it could be recharacterized, and the appropriate tax liabilities would be imposed.

Example 2: Withdrawal of Value Post-Transfer

  • Scenario: After transferring a valuable piece of land within the partnership, one partner withdraws a significant sum of money from the partnership.
  • Examination: HMRC would examine the withdrawal to ensure it is not a disguised attempt to extract value from the land transfer without paying the corresponding taxes.
  • Preventive Measures: The partnership must document the business reasons for the withdrawal and ensure it aligns with the ongoing business activities and financial structure of the partnership.


Understanding and complying with the rules on partnerships is essential to prevent tax avoidance. Key considerations include:

  • Ensuring all transfers within the partnership have genuine business purposes beyond tax benefits.
  • Properly documenting transactions to provide clear evidence of intent and business rationale.
  • Being mindful of the economic substance of transactions and not just their legal form.

By adhering to these principles, partnerships can navigate the complexities of tax legislation, ensure compliance, and avoid potential penalties for tax avoidance.


(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Trust transactions, such as granting leases to bare trustees, must be genuine, well-documented, and not designed for tax avoidance to avoid penalties and additional taxes.

In the context of trusts, specific rules govern various transactions to ensure that they are legitimate and not designed for tax avoidance. One such transaction is the grant of a lease to a bare trustee.

Grant of Lease to Bare Trustee

Definition of a Bare Trustee: A bare trustee holds property on behalf of a beneficiary and has no discretion over the trust property. The trustee’s role is purely administrative, acting solely on the instructions of the beneficiary. This means that the trustee has no active management duties or decision-making powers regarding the trust property.

Purpose of Rules: The rules governing the grant of leases to bare trustees aim to prevent the misuse of this arrangement for tax avoidance purposes. These rules are designed to ensure that such transactions are conducted for legitimate reasons and not merely to reduce tax liabilities.

Mechanism of the Grant: When a lease is granted to a bare trustee, it means that the legal title of the property (the lease) is in the name of the trustee, but the beneficial ownership belongs to the beneficiary. The transaction must reflect the true intention and economic reality of the arrangement.

Key Provisions: The legislation includes several key provisions to regulate these transactions:

  • Substance Over Form: The focus is on the substance of the transaction rather than its form. This means that if the arrangement is merely a facade to avoid tax, it will not be recognized for tax purposes.
  • Legitimacy of Purpose: The lease must be granted for a genuine reason, such as estate planning or asset protection, rather than primarily for tax avoidance.
  • Documentation and Transparency: Proper documentation must be maintained to demonstrate the legitimacy of the transaction. This includes clear records of the trustee’s role and the beneficiary’s interest.
  • Compliance with Tax Laws: The transaction must comply with all relevant tax laws and regulations. Any attempt to manipulate the arrangement for tax benefits could lead to penalties and additional tax liabilities.

Preventing Misuse: To prevent misuse, the rules ensure that:

  • Economic Benefit: The economic benefit of the property remains with the beneficiary, not the trustee.
  • Control and Management: The beneficiary retains control over the property, and the trustee acts only as a nominal holder.
  • Market Value: The lease must be granted at a market value rate, ensuring that there is no artificial reduction in tax liability.

Consequences of Non-Compliance: If a lease to a bare trustee is found to be a scheme for tax avoidance, several consequences can ensue:

  • Penalties: The parties involved may face significant penalties.
  • Additional Taxes: HMRC may assess additional taxes based on the true nature of the transaction.
  • Legal Actions: There could be legal actions to recover unpaid taxes and enforce compliance.


The grant of leases to bare trustees is closely regulated to ensure that these transactions are legitimate and not used as a means of tax avoidance. By adhering to these rules, individuals and entities can engage in trust arrangements that are both effective and compliant with tax laws. Understanding these regulations helps in structuring transactions correctly and avoiding potential legal and financial repercussions.


Building Contracts: Separation of Building and Land Contracts

(HMRC Compliance>Specific Anti-Avoidance Rules)

➤ Tax authorities scrutinise the separation of building and land contracts to prevent artificial tax reduction, treating interconnected contracts as a single transaction for tax purposes.


In tax law, particularly concerning property transactions, the separation of building and land contracts can be a significant issue. This practice involves creating separate contracts for the purchase of land and the construction of buildings on that land. The purpose of this separation is often to minimise tax liabilities. However, tax authorities, guided by legal precedents such as the Prudential Assurance v CIR case, scrutinise this practice to ensure that it does not result in artificial reduction of taxes.

The Prudential Assurance v CIR Case

The case of Prudential Assurance v CIR serves as a landmark decision that addresses the separation of building and land contracts. The ruling in this case provides important principles for understanding how tax authorities view such arrangements.

  • Background of the Case: Prudential Assurance involved a transaction where the purchase of land and the construction of a building were structured through separate contracts. The intent was to reduce the tax liability associated with the property transaction.
  • Ruling and Principles: The court ruled that separating the contracts for land and buildings could not be used to artificially reduce tax liabilities. The decision emphasised that such contracts should be treated as parts of a single scheme if they are essentially linked.

Key Aspects of Separation

  1. Artificial Separation: The separation of building and land contracts is considered artificial when the two contracts are fundamentally connected. For instance, if the purchase of land is conditional upon the construction contract or vice versa, tax authorities may view them as a single transaction.
  2. Economic Substance Over Legal Form: The ruling in Prudential Assurance highlights the importance of the economic substance of the transactions over their legal form. If the economic reality indicates that the contracts are interconnected and part of a single scheme, they should be taxed as such.
  3. Tax Avoidance Schemes: The primary concern of tax authorities is that separate contracts may be used as a tax avoidance scheme. By treating them as independent transactions, taxpayers might attempt to lower their overall tax burden unfairly.

Implications for Taxpayers

Taxpayers must be cautious when structuring property transactions involving both land and buildings. The following points should be considered:

  • Integration of Contracts: If contracts for the purchase of land and the construction of buildings are closely integrated, they may be treated as a single transaction for tax purposes. This could negate any perceived tax advantages of separating them.
  • Documentation and Intent: Clear documentation and genuine business purposes should support the separation of contracts. The intent behind the separation should not be primarily to avoid tax but to reflect the true nature of the transaction.
  • Compliance with Tax Laws: Understanding and complying with relevant tax laws and precedents is crucial. Taxpayers should seek professional advice to ensure that their transaction structures are compliant and do not inadvertently trigger anti-avoidance provisions.


The separation of building and land contracts, as addressed in the Prudential Assurance v CIR case, is a critical issue in property transactions and tax law. Tax authorities aim to prevent the artificial reduction of tax liabilities through such separations by focusing on the economic substance of the transactions. Taxpayers should ensure that their transactions reflect genuine business purposes and are structured in compliance with tax regulations to avoid potential legal and financial repercussions.

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This Article Written By Nick Garner
Founder Stamp Duty Advice Bureau
Author of Stamp Duty Land Tax Guide
For Property Investors.