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Tax implications for Cryptoassets


When the first decentralised cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was launched in 2009, the concept of cryptoassets and the underlying technology were not familiar to many people. Fast forward 11 years and, based on their research published in June 2021, the Financial Conduct Authority estimated that 1.9m adults in the UK currently owned cryptocurrencies and that 2.6m had held cryptocurrencies at some time in the year, representing 5.35% of the adult population (an increase from 3% the previous year). Therefore, increasingly likely that practitioners will need to deal with crypotasset transactions in the course of their work.


Currently, there is no tax legislation that specifically addresses the treatment of cryptoassets. In order to address this, on 30 March 2021, HMRC published its internal guidance manual on cryptoassets setting out its view of the tax implications of transactions involving cryptoassets. As HMRC stated, it is the tax authority’s interpretation of the law as it relates to cryptoassets. Nevertheless, it is a very useful starting point.


HMRC recognises (as is borne out by the FCA research) that the vast majority of individuals hold cryptoassets as a personal investment, mostly for capital appreciation but also in order to use them to make purchases. This article focuses on the tax treatment of those individuals, not on the relatively unusual situation where an individual runs a business that carries on financial trade in cryptoassets.


HMRC’s general approach


HMRC’s view is that the tax treatment of the different types of cryptoasset tokens (that they broadly divide into exchange tokens, utility tokens, security tokens and stablecoins) depends on the nature and use of the token. Most of the guidance relates to exchange tokens (tokens that can be used as a means of payment as well as held as an investment, the most well-known being Bitcoin), since these are the type of token most commonly acquired for personal investment.


The general approach is based on two main principles. First, even though cryptoassets are more commonly referred to as cryptocurrencies, HMRC does not regard them as either currency or money but as an intangible asset.


This is based on the conclusion in the Cryptoasset Taskforce report that was published jointly by the Treasury, the FCA and the Bank of England that they are not currency because they are too volatile to be used as a good store of value, they are not widely accepted as a means of exchange and they are not used as a unit of account.


For capital gains tax (CGT) purposes, the distinction is of less significance, given that both intangible assets and currency other than sterling are assets for CGT purposes. Second, HMRC does not regard buying and selling cryptoassets as gambling, although in its view, this is essentially a question of fact. Again, this is of less significance for CGT purposes, as the CGT exemption for winnings from betting or lotteries or games with prizes is unlikely to encompass buying and selling of cryptoassets.


Acquisitions of cryptoassets




The FCA research referred to above showed that over three quarters of individuals surveyed had acquired their cryptocurrencies via a cryptoasset exchange. In this case, the only occasion of potential tax charge will be on disposal.

Nevertheless, it is worth exploring other possible methods of acquisition, as these may themselves give rise to a tax charge.


If cryptoassets are received in exchange for mining activities (that do not amount to a trade), the sterling value of the cryptoassets received will be taxable as miscellaneous income, subject to reduction for any appropriate expense. (See below for commentary on valuing cryptoassets). Crypoassets received as a result of staking (where new tokens are awarded based on the number of tokens already held) are dealt with in the same way.


Cryptoassets received as employment income are regarded as money’s worth and therefore within the definition of earnings so that the value of the cryptoassets received is subject to income tax and national insurance contributions. Exchange tokens such as bitcoin that can be traded on exchanges are also regarded by HMRC as readily convertible assets.


Cryptoassets received in an airdrop (where an allocation of tokens is received, for example, as part of an advertising or marketing campaign) may not be taxable if received in a personal capacity and not as recompense for services or goods.


Disposal of cryptoassets


Where cryptoassets are acquired other than for trading purposes, subsequent disposal will give rise to a chargeable gain or allowable loss. (Note that the chattels exemption will not apply because cryptoassets are an intangible). A disposal will also include the use of one cryptoasset (such as bitcoin) to acquire another asset (not necessarily another cryptoasset; increasingly, cryptocurrencies can be used to acquire items such as luxury cars or private jets).


As well as the cost of acquiring the asset, incidental costs of disposal and acquisition are allowable in the usual way. In the case of cryptoassets acquired via an exchange, it will be necessary to determine whether the fees charged by the exchange are allowable as incidental costs. As a general rule, the costs of depositing or withdrawing sterling from an exchange are not allowable (because sterling is not an asset for CGT purposes), nor are the costs of depositing or withdrawing any other currency (because there has been no change in beneficial ownership).


The majority of cryptoasset tokens are likely to be fungible (able to be dealt in without identifying the particular tokens disposed of or acquired) and therefore tokens of the same type will be pooled, as for shares and securities. This means that the matching rules in TCGA 1992, s. 105 will also apply (for same day acquisitions and acquisitions within the next 30 days).


Where cryptoasset tokens of one description are used to acquire cryptoassets of another description (a ‘crypto-to-crypto’ exchange), the no disposal rule applicable to share exchanges will not normally apply. Instead there will be a disposal of the original assets and acquisition of new cryptoassets and two ‘pools’ will be affected. If cryptoassets of the same description as the new assets are already held, the new assets will be added to that pool; otherwise a new pool will be created. Transaction costs will need to be apportioned between the disposal and the acquisition on a just and reasonable basis (HMRC will accept a 50/50 split).


In the case of an exchange token, the share-for-share exchange rules in TCGA 1992, s. 127 onwards would be of no application. However, the guidance does not cover the situation where the cryptoassets concerned are security tokens that provide particular rights or interests in a company. In this case, it may be necessary to examine the terms of the particular token to determine whether it could constitute a ‘security’ for the purposes of TCGA 1992, s. 132 and hence whether there has been a conversion of securities.


Conclusion


Although HMRC’s guidance is to be welcomed, there remain a number of areas of difficulty (to an extent this is recognised by HMRC, as the guidance states that ‘our views may evolve further as the sector develops and HMRC may publish amended or supplementary guidance accordingly’).


In particular, the current focus appears to be on exchange tokens, yet guidance on the approach to valuation of all of the different types of cryptoasset would be welcome, as would an analysis of the possible different tax treatments, particularly as the cryptoasset sector is fast evolving. For example, the use of ‘initial coin offerings’ to raise finance for start-up companies, usually by issuing some form of security token, is currently only a small proportion of the UK market but is larger elsewhere and therefore likely to be a growth area.


Source: AccountancyDaily (Stephanie Webber)