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Could you be caught in a crypto trap?

  • 12th January 2023

It feels like every other person you speak to now has something to say about cryptoassets. Be it good or bad, plenty of people are taking the plunge and investing money into it. In fact, a recent survey by HMRC shows that 10% of the population has invested in cryptoassets.

Despite the poor performance seen in 2022, investing in cryptoassets remains an attractive alternative to traditional finance and we are seeing it become more mainstream.

So what are the tax consequences?

The first thing you need to understand is that although cryptoassets are often referred to as cryptocurrency, they are not classed as currency by the Treasury or HM Revenue & Customs. They are instead regarded as assets, similar to shares.

This means that when cryptoassets are purchased or sold, there are tax consequences that need to be considered. Cryptoassets are usually taxed under the capital gains tax regime, and therefore a disposal of cryptoassets will result in a taxable event. In very rare circumstances the individual could be classed as ‘trading’ and instead be liable to income tax, but this is uncommon.

Gains will be calculated by taking the proceeds from the sale and deducting the original cost of the asset being sold. This gives the taxable gain that needs to be reported on a tax return.

There are some special rules that are applied to the costs to ensure the correct cost is being attributed to the correct sale. This is necessary due to cryptoassets being fungible. Fungible means that you cannot tell one cryptoasset token apart from another.

The costs are matched as follows:

  1. All cryptoassets acquired on the same day
  2. All cryptoassets acquired in the following 30 days
  3. The average cost of all cryptoassets tokens of the same type (known as the pool)

Each taxpayer is currently given an annual exemption of £12,300 (2022/23), which means that the first £12,300 of gains is not taxable. However, from 6 April 2023 this will be reduced to £6,000, with a further reduction to £3,000 from 6 April 2024.

All taxable gains exceeding the annual exemption will be taxed at either 10% or 20%. The rate applied will depend on the level of gains and the level of other personal income the taxpayer has during the year. If the gains and income do not exceed the basic rate band (currently £50,270), the 10% rate will be applied. Where income and gains exceed the basic rate band, the 20% rate will be applied.

The cryptoassets landscape is constantly evolving and HMRC rules are not built to deal with something like this. This means that while the general principles above are quite straightforward to follow, care needs to be taken to ensure that the correct treatment is being applied to your transactions.

So why should you care?

The whole point of the crypto framework is that is it untraceable and secure so how would HMRC know that you need to file a tax return?

HMRC has sent information requests to UK-based crypto exchanges to ensure tax compliance. What they are hoping to achieve from this is a list of consumers that they can then target to ensure they are reporting their crypto gains correctly.

Additionally, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched a consultation with the aim of setting up a new global tax transparency framework for the exchange of information on cryptoassets. A similar framework has been successfully set up for income sharing for globally mobile taxpayers which suggests this attempt will be successful.

Gary Ashford, chair of the joint Chartered Institute Of Tax/Association Tax Technicians Crypto Assets Working Group, said:

“Crypto asset investors need to check carefully this month to make sure they are tax compliant. Not only can cryptocurrency investments trigger capital gains tax liabilities that are not obvious to the investor, but tax can be payable even where the investor does not think his or her crypto investments have been profitable.”

At Forrester Boyd, we have noticed that there is a common misconception that if you haven’t taken any physical money out such as GBP or USD, there can’t be any gains. Unfortunately, this is not true and gains can arise even when you think you have made losses overall.

For example:

You bought one Bitcoin for £80 in 2013

You swap this Bitcoin for 60 ETH worth £6,000 in 2020

A gain of £5,920 has been crystallised

You swap these ETH for 5,526 LUNA worth £210,000 in 2021

A gain of £204,000 has been crystallised

LUNA crashes down to 0.000135 per token in 2022

All has been lost, however, the gains have still been crystallised.

Whilst the losses sustained will reduce the gains payable, they do not remove the need for the gains and losses to be reported to HMRC via a tax return.

Losses are only crystallised when the asset that has sustained the loss is sold so that the loss can be evidenced. The reason for the matching rules above is so that taxpayers cannot sell the tokens, crystallise the loss, then purchase the same amount again whilst they still have a low value. Due to the matching rules, the proceeds of the sale would be allocated against the cost of the most recent purchase – effectively making that transaction nil with no gain or loss. The original tokens would still be sat with the original cost allocated to them.

In rare cases where the token has completely crashed and there is almost no prospect of it recovering, taxpayers can make a negligible value claim where the loss is crystallised without the tokens needing to be sold. This would be the case with LUNA where most exchanges suspended trading.

It is also important to remember that losses are not recognised by HMRC unless they are reported to HMRC. Therefore, taxpayers that only have losses should still report them to ensure they can be carried forward to be used against future gains.

At Forrester Boyd, we have cryptoasset specialists who can guide you step by step to report your cryptoassets gains and losses to HMRC and prepare your tax returns. Get in touch today if you would like to discuss this with one of our specialist advisors.

Any news or resources within this section should not be relied upon with regards to figures or data referred to as legislative and policy changes may have occurred.