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HMRC internal manual

Business Income Manual

Meaning of trade: scope of trade: approach

The scope of a trade is essentially a question of fact. What the trader is trying to do is informative, but the scope of the trade is determined by what they actually do, rather than what they say that they set out to do.

As Atkin L.J. noted in Collins v The Firth-Brearley Stainless Steel Syndicate Ltd [1925] 9TC520 (see BIM21015) at page 573:

‘The question arises as to what was the trade of that Syndicate, because that it indeed carried on a trade I think cannot be disputed. But the question is what was the scope of the trade. For that purpose I think in order to examine the facts you must look at what the company purported to do, and also what it did in fact.’

The stated intention of a person is therefore not conclusive. In CIR v The Hyndland Investment Co Ltd [1929] 14TC694, a case that concerned whether or not a property company was carrying on a trade, Lord President Clyde noted, at page 699:

‘… the question is not what business does the taxpayer profess to carry on, but what business does he actually carry on.’

However, in marginal or equivocal situations the intention of the person is a factor to consider in determining what it is that their actions amount to.

The scope of the trade may vary considerably even between traders working in the same field. It is important not to generalise and say that, for example, ‘all butchers do this’, when the facts in any individual case may be somewhat different. In other words, the ‘scope of the trade’ is concerned with what a specific butcher does, not with what butchers generally do.