Failed Tax Avoidance 2014 – 2017
Little Rascals‘ advertise puppies for sale on their website and classified sites as “both parents are available for viewing“, so visitors naturally assume all puppies have been bred on the premises and all breeding dogs are the property of Little Rascals but nothing could be further from the truth.
In order to avoid full VAT liability on some of their ‘goods‘ (i.e. puppies), Edward Swindells and Amy Allen admitted in court that a large percentage of puppies they sell are purchased from external breeders and suppliers, and then resold by Little Rascals Pets Ltd.
Edward Swindells argued that the puppies they ‘buy in‘ from other suppliers should be classified as ‘secondhand goods‘ for the purposes of tax concessions, because those puppies have already been used.
Little Rascals Pets Ltd v HMRC
Swindells and Dickens attempted to profit from a ‘secondhand goods’ scheme for businesses which would allow them to pay less VAT on goods they purchase from non-VAT registered breeders.
To achieve this, Edward Swindells stated in court that all their puppies are regarded as ‘stock‘, and therefore all puppies bought-in from external suppliers are actually ‘secondhand‘.
HMRC did not agree, ruling that puppies cannot be classed as ‘goods‘ for the purposes of avoiding VAT, therefore Little Rascals Pets Ltd are liable for full VAT on sales of all puppies, irrespective of where they come from.
Swindells and Dickens decided to appeal HMRC‘s ruling – a strange decision for people who have traded on deception for so many years, because it was inevitable that evidence gathered by HMRC from their inspection of Little Rascals‘ accounts and premises would be publicised.
A good deal of that evidence contradicts claims often made by Swindells, Dickens, Allen and other staff at Little Rascals, and Edward Swindells made statements in court which differ from those he’s made in public. [link]
Attempts to label puppies ‘secondhand goods’
Edward Swindells and Amy Allen disgracefully tried to argue that the simple act of patting a puppy’s head should be regarded as “petting” which would then amount to “usage of the puppy as a pet” making them “secondhand“.
And, unbelievably, Swindells even argued that “admiring a puppy from afar” can be defined as “petting“, making that puppy “secondhand” (!)
Thankfully, the court disagreed—
—”We do not agree that this amounts to using the puppies as pets. A horse in a field might be admired from afar or even patted on the head by a countryside ambler. That would not mean that the ambler had used the horse as a pet.”
We conclude that the socialisation and veterinary care described by Mr Swindells was to increase the puppies’ market value. Any head patting was an incidental part of the puppies’ socialisation and preparation for onward sale, and was not usage as a pet. The puppies were bought with the intention of being sold for profit. The puppies were regarded as valuable stock and looked after accordingly but their treatment lacks the individual care and attention, and mutual relationship of trust and affection, which would normally characterise a relationship between an owner and a pet.
We conclude that the puppies are not used during the period they are owned by the Appellant, and so are not second-hand goods at the time they are sold by the Appellant to its customers.” [sections 51-53]—
Facts exposed by court documents
In spite of the Appeal Judge stating that she found all the witnesses “to be truthful“, certain claims made by Swindells and Allen were taken at face value and not tested, so it was never established how ‘truthful’ those claims were – although Edward Swindells was challenged on his statement regarding how many puppies are bred on his premises—
—Swindells stated in court that 60-70 percent of puppies are bred on the premises (home bred), with the remainder of 30-40 percent ‘bought in’ from external suppliers – but that was not accurate.
From records inspected by HMRC, the court heard that, for the period inspected, around 50 percent of puppies were bred on the premises, with the other 50 percent purchased from external suppliers ‘for onward sale’ by Little Rascals —
It’s very fortunate for Edward Swindells and Amy Allen that they weren’t actually on trial themselves.
Had they stuck to their statements, they would have perjured themselves under thorough cross-examination in any other court of law if proof had been required for some of the claims made at this tribunal.
It would be interesting to see how they deal with questions regarding their ‘KC registered dogs‘, ‘regular vet checks‘, ‘health screening’, ‘no parvovirus or kennel cough on the premises‘, ‘‘we’ve never knowingly sold a sick puppy‘, ‘both parents are available for viewing’ and numerous other claims, in a court of law.
But as the court had upheld HMRC’s ruling, no further evidence was needed and, more importantly for Edward Swindells, some of his dubious statements got past the Tribunal without requirement of proof.
‘ Truthful witnesses’
Guide Dogs — The court accepted (without proof) Edward Swindells‘ claim that “a charity which provided guide dogs for blind children might also buy a puppy“. We have communicated with every charity for the blind in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and even Derbyshire and not one single charity has a direct link with any dog breeders, and certainly not Little Rascals. In fact every single one of those charities confirmed that only Guide Dogs for the Blind provide dogs directly.
Sick Puppy — Edward Swindells told the court that “one puppy with a heart murmur, which could not be sold on, was given away to “Angie, a pet shop owner, to be rehoused”.” No proof was presented that ‘Angie‘ even existed nor that the puppy was ‘given away‘ rather than sold.
Southern Ireland Suppliers
According to court records, around the time Little Rascals were claiming all their puppies were ‘home bred‘, in reality they were importing puppies from no less than ten different suppliers (puppy farmers) in Southern Ireland, some of them already covered in this blog.
The court heard that following changes in regulations, Swindells and Dickens were unable to import puppies under 15 weeks of age from their business associates in Southern Ireland, so they allegedly switched to buying approximately “15 to 30 puppies a month” from “two suppliers in Northern Ireland“. Highly improbable.
We’ve always maintained that it’s very unlikely Swindells and Dickens have cut business ties with their close friends and business associates, the Bolands in Southern Ireland, and it’s just as unlikely they’ve parted company with some of the other ‘ten’ Irish puppy farmers such as Liam Crosby and Paddy Dooley.
Among other close friends and associates are Gerry Smyth, a puppy farmer based in Northern Ireland, and Stephen Hamilton, based in Ayrshire, Scotland. Both have obvious connections to Jonathan and David Hamilton, the large scale puppy farmers investigated in a BBC Scotland exposé (Stephen Hamilton is their brother, and Gerry Smyth is a co-associate of Canine Breeders Ireland).
It is very easy for dog breeders to pass puppies from one side of the Irish border to the other and, once in Northern Ireland or Scotland, puppies can be registered as UK-bred.
One aspect of Little Rascals‘ business dealings that didn’t come up in court (because there was no record of it) is the fact that Swindells and Dickens appear to buy dogs “off the books“. That information came to us accidentally when one of their ‘suppliers’ messaged us via our Facebook page, assuming we were Little Rascals Pets Ltd, and they went on to thank ‘us’ for buying the dogs they had delivered that day.
Normally there wouldn’t be anything unusual about that, considering Little Rascals take almost half of their puppies from outside suppliers, but we have discovered that these people are not breeders – they have no interest in dogs other than for profit, and appear to be ‘dealers’ rather than direct suppliers. It’s all we can say about them at the moment.
Following a recent online petition to have them shut down, Swindells and Dickens reacted by inviting BBC1 Look North (East Yorkshire & Lincolnshire) to conduct a carefully stage-managed interview, in which Edward Swindells stated they “have an outstanding team of fourteen staff in total that spend all day every day taking care of the dogs and puppies.”
Not quite accurate—
—The court heard that, although fourteen staff are listed, there are three company directors included in that figure plus two part-time staff who are “employed only to provide cover for other members of staff who are on leave or are unwell“.—
Bearing in mind they have at least 200 breeding dogs and several litters of puppies at all times, staffing levels are poor and could explain why Swindells and Dickens economise wherever possible, to the detriment of their ‘stock’.
If you manage to plough through the Little Rascals v HMRC court document [link], you’ll notice that, for the purposes of the appeal, the Appellants (Little Rascals Pets Ltd) are shown as trading since 2014, when actually the Swindells have been trading in puppies and dogs since 1965.
In a nutshell, the company Swindells and Dickens previously used for their dog breeding business – Swindells Livestock Ltd – was registered in 1974 and also used to trade in farm livestock, but in 2017 that company was forced into liquidation and, while it was being wound up, the insolvency company dealing with the matter then took over as a ‘creditor’ and renamed the company ‘Key Lime Tree Limited‘ – confusing, but it’s all based on legal sharp practice and damage limitation.
Older links to the Swindells Livestock company show that no accounts had been submitted since 2014 but, oddly, this new company, Key Lime Tree Ltd, has also failed to submit a Confirmation Statement (new name for Annual Return).
It seems that Swindells and Dickens are losing money, or just not making enough, although their average annual VAT bill quoted in court indicates declared income is closer to half a million per annum.
That isn’t a huge amount taking into account their alleged number of staff, the large number of properties to maintain, their veterinary bills and (what should be) the adequate welfare needs of their ‘stock‘.
Therefore it’s not surprising Little Rascals‘ recent claim that puppies are now fully ‘health screened‘ (the term used by responsible breeders when puppies undergo expensive, specific genetic health screening) is absolutely false.
When criticised, Bridgett Dickens describes Little Rascals as “the best” and her brother has even described themselves as “the best dog breeders in the world” – it would be nice to think they meant that the puppies and breeding dogs are the Number One priority in terms of their physical and mental welfare, receiving first class care. But as we all know, that simply isn’t true and, sadly for their ‘stock’, ‘the best‘ actually means Swindells and Dickens are experts in hypocrisy and pretence.
Whenever the proprietors and staff at Little Rascals have been asked specific questions about where their puppies are bred, they haven’t been consistent with their answers—
It’s very unlikely any dog breeding establishment occupying a large amount of land which includes several residences and has “14 full time staff” – plus up to 200 breeding dogs and multiple litters of puppies on the premises at all times – could possibly survive on their declared income, and certainly not one that would remotely be regarded as “the best“.
A business in that position would have to economise and cut corners or find income from elsewhere (or both).
The reality is that there are not “fourteen full time staff” actually working all day every day with the welfare of the dogs and puppies in mind, and so far there is absolutely no evidence that adult dogs are checked or attended to regularly by a qualified vet, nor receive the best of all round care.
In fact, if the ex-breeding dogs which are lucky enough to wind up in a local East Midlands rescue are any indication, they are neglected and treated with contempt during their time at Little Rascals.
There is also no firm evidence to show that all puppies are vet-checked regularly and thoroughly, given the number that have been ill at the point of sale, and some that have died shortly after sale.
Swindells and Dickens spend as little time, energy and money as possible on their ‘goods‘, but what they actually have in the way of income is likely to be much higher and unrecorded, for several reasons—
- Certain members of their staff also breed dogs;
- Little Rascals appear to buy puppies from unidentified sources, so it’s likely they sell the same way;
- According to the court document, suppliers receive at least part payment in cash;
- There is no evidence to show that dogs requiring euthanasia are not ‘dispatched’ on site, rather than going to the expense of veterinary euthanasia, and Little Rascals are not required in law to reveal that information;
- Several buyers have reported their own vets have given newly purchased puppies a fresh course of vaccinations owing to the ones given before sale being ‘unrecognised’ or ‘batches were out of date’;
- Lack of evidence that a qualified vet attends all the puppies in view of the amount that are sold with health problems;
- No evidence to show the breeding dogs are regularly attended to by a qualified vet