Scottish quarry firms say tax warrants breach rights

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A JUDGEMENT is expected today in an appeal brought by a group of Scottish quarry firms against the taxman in a bid to halt the seizure of millions of pounds of assets.

The firms, who have banded together as the British Aggregates Association (BAA), have been fighting a legal battle with HM Revenue & Customs over a £2 per tonne levy introduced in 2002.

Although the case is still being considered by the European commission and an appeal is under way in the English courts, a number of Scottish companies have been issued with summary warrants which allow HMRC to seize their assets if they do not pay. About £10m is thought to be owed by Scottish companies.

An appeal against the warrants began at the Court of Session in Edinburgh yesterday.

Gavin MacColl, representing the five quarry firms, said that until last year the companies had been paying the levy but making clear they did not agree with it. Because it only applies to certain kinds of aggregate they say it constitutes state aid under European rules. Since a European court decision in their favour, the firms have been accounting for the tax but not paying it as they fear it will take more legal action to get the money back even if they eventually win.

MacColl said the issuing of summary warrants had been wrong because the aggregates levy was now unlawful, and also breached the companies’ rights under the European Convention because the procedure gave no leeway for a sheriff to judge the case.

But Graham Maciver, for HMRC, argued the BAA’s appeal stood little chance of success. He added that the companies had been collecting the levy from their customers by adding it to their prices, and were not therefore entitled to hang on to the money. Judge Lord Boyd of Duncansby is expected to issue a judgement today.