In recent years there has been a buzz around cryptocurrency which has become impossible to ignore. From initially being regarded as a niche product and high risk, crypto has gradually edged its way onto centre stage and is increasingly now seen as a viable alternative to mainstream finance.
Part of the attraction for some is undoubtedly its decentralised status which removes it from the conventional system of reporting and control. But does this mean that you are completely exempt from your usual responsibilities, specifically taxation?
We take a closer look at the taxation of cryptocurrencies in the UK and run through exactly what every crypto owner needs to know.
Is Cryptocurrency Taxable in the UK?
Although cryptocurrency is a decentralised digital currency that is processed outside the main UK banking system, it is still subject to similar rules to fiat currency.
This means that if your crypto meets certain requirements, taxation will apply despite the decentralised status. However, there is no specific crypto tax that applies. Instead, your cryptocurrencies will be subject to the usual taxation rules.
HMRC uses the generic term “tokens” to describe all units of cryptocurrency. What you do with your tokens and how you manage them determines what types of taxes apply. If HMRC considers that you are making a genuine income from crypto, Income Tax will apply. If you’re seen to be making a profit from the sale and purchase of crypto, Capital Gains Tax will apply.
There are nil rate bands that apply to both Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax, so depending on your financial circumstances you might not have any liability in real terms.
Do I Have to Declare Crypto to HMRC?
As crypto is potentially subject to tax in the UK, your crypto should be reported to HMRC. There is a very strong chance that HMRC will eventually track down your crypto accounts even if you don’t report them, and this could lead to interest and/or penalties being added to the amount you owe.
There are some circumstances that mean that tax won’t apply to your cryptocurrency. For example, if it’s classed as a capital gain and you are below your annual threshold, then there’s no need to report it to HMRC (unless you usually do a self-assessment return anyway).
The difficulty is that it’s not always clear how HMRC will treat your crypto account, especially if you’re on the border between private/hobby investing and making a real income from it.
If there’s any doubt about what category you fall into, or if you know you will be liable to tax, it’s better to declare your crypto to HMRC sooner rather than later.
Will HMRC Find Out About Crypto?
For many people, the fact that crypto isn’t part of the centralised system was a large part of the attraction, presenting an opportunity to escape from the constant scrutiny of the state.
However, as crypto has become more popular, governments and regulators have paid it more attention – and that includes HMRC.
HMRC is already working with some of the crypto exchanges and has received information about the transactions which have taken place dating back to 2014. With more data exchanges scheduled to occur, and with experts predicting that even more information will be handed over in the future, there seems little prospect of escaping detection from HMRC.
What Tax Do You Pay on CryptoCurrency?
HMRC considers crypto to be an asset that has the potential to be liable for either Capital Gains Tax or Income Tax. The type of activities you carry out typically determines which tax will apply.
If you trade, spend, sell or swap crypto and make a profit as a result, Capital Gains Tax will apply. Only the amount of profit will be subject to tax, not the full amount.
You can’t avoid Capital Gains Tax by swapping crypto for fiat currency, investing in a new type of cryptocurrency or purchasing real-life items with your crypto funds. All of these transactions count as realising your assets and mean that a Capital Gains Tax liability will arise.
Everyone has a Capital Gains Tax allowance every year; for 2021/2022 this was £12,300. If your profit on crypto was less than your Capital Gains Tax allowance, you won’t have to pay any tax. If it’s above your allowance, you’ll pay either 10% or 20% depending on whether you’re a basic or higher rate taxpayer.
If you are receiving income paid in cryptocurrency (such as your salary), or you are mining or staking, HMRC will treat your crypto as income. This means it will be subject to Income Tax, not Capital Gains Tax.
Like Capital Gains Tax, Income Tax has a nil rate band; for 2021/2022 this was set at £12,570. Below this figure, no Income Tax will be payable. Above this figure and either 10% or 20% will be payable depending on whether you are a basic or higher rate taxpayer.
Do I Pay Taxes on Crypto If I Don’t Sell?
There are many different ways to deal with crypto, and for many people, this means selling at a profit or disposing of the asset to purchase something tangible, such as a house or a car.
But that’s not the case for everyone; some investors have a long-term strategy. In other words, they are content to purchase crypto and hang onto it, rather than trading it in for a profit.
Even if the cryptocurrency has risen in value, no taxable event will have occurred. This is because capital gains tax is due upon disposal, so while the crypto is being held, no tax is payable.
The strategy for holding crypto long term is known as HODL, and HMRC has confirmed that this will not attract a tax liability.
Do Coinbase Report to HMRC?
In 2020, there was a lot of publicity around Coinbase providing information to HMRC about crypto transactions. This wasn’t scaremongering; Coinbase confirmed that they gave HMRC information on all UK customers who carried out transactions worth more than £5000 between 2017 and 2019.
This data transfer was just the first of what is likely to be a series of reports provided to HMRC by Coinbase. In January 2022, Coinbase confirmed that further information would be passed to HMRC about any crypto assets worth more than £3000 for the period April-December 2020.
It’s worth remembering that although there have been many reports about Coinbase passing information to HMRC, they won’t be the only digital agency to do so. In short, it will be very difficult to keep your crypto assets and transactions hidden from HMRC indefinitely.
What Happens If You Don’t Report Cryptocurrency on Taxes UK?
If you don’t report your cryptocurrency to HMRC and they subsequently assess you as having a tax liability, you could be hit hard with penalties.
In addition to paying the tax owing, you could also be told to pay interest plus penalties which could be anything up to 200% of the tax due.
Depending on the extent and nature of your crypto transactions, it is technically possible to be slapped with criminal charges and face a jail sentence too. It’s worth mentioning that this is far less common, and a punishment usually reserved for extensive and fraudulent transactions, rather than those deemed to be simply careless or negligent.
With the potential penalties, and HMRC’s ability to gain access to information held on the crypto exchange, the risk of withholding your personal crypto data simply isn’t worth it.
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