What does the Budget mean for the rich?

For all the swipes at the non doms and high end property owners, George Osborne seems to have taken a break and made a few thin concessions.

As from 6th April 2016 capital gains tax will go down from 28% to 20% for higher rate tax payers and from 18% to 10% for basic rate taxpayers.

This is of course welcome – but the extraordinary thing is that from our studies capital gains tax at 28% was the tax that most UHNW individuals did not mind paying. The taxes they really resent are the tax on the remittance basis for the non doms, Stamp Duty Land Tax on the purchase or their homes in the UK and most disliked of all is 40% inheritance tax.

If the government showed just a glimmer of understanding of the Laffer curve, it would understand that to cut capital gains tax – a tax which is of least concern to the wealthy and therefore less likely to try to avoid it will just result in less tax in the Government’s coffers. If, however, they were to reduce the tax rate of what the UHNW individuals most dislike and are at pains to avoid, such as inheritance tax at 40% or stamp duty at 15% they would be more likely to increase the tax take for the Government.

As I have said in previous notes the tax taken on stamp duty for Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea has fallen since 2013 by about one half since the stamp duty went up. How do people avoid this tax? Simple – the market has dried up for residential properties above £4 million. In 2013 the tax take from stamp duty from these boroughs alone accounted for more than the total tax taken from Northern England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales put together. If the Government was really serious about raising money for the Treasury it would do some serious research into what taxes are disliked to the point at which people will change their behaviour to avoid them and which taxes are tolerated. It would then reduce the rates of those which taxpayers want to avoid and up the taxes taxpayers were happy to pay. The Government needs to find the rate at which the maximum return can be made for the Government. Sadly the Government would appear to be keener on clinging on to power than raising revenue.

The other measure we tend to gloss over – but at our peril is the continued drive to crack down on ‘all forms of tax evasion and avoidance, and aggressive tax planning and non-compliance’. The Government press policy statement goes on ‘There should be a level playing field for the majority who pay their tax, and everyone should make their contribution.’

These are sentiments with which everyone can agree. However for those running businesses or who have more money than they need to maintain their lifestyle paying the right amount of tax is not always so straightforward.

The UK has more tax legislation than any other country in the world other than India and every tax payer is expected to know and understand every word. Most professionals do not know every nook and cranny and even if they did may have misinterpreted the legal nature of the facts and come up with the wrong assumptions with the result that the taxpayer does not declare what he should or puts in the wrong amount in his tax return.

To give an example, Roger owns his house in the UK through an offshore company and trust structure. He took advice from Blink and Co in 2014 which said that based on the facts before them the company owned the property as a nominee for the children and therefore the Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings did not apply (furthermore Blink and Co advised, the ATED payment in 2013 was incorrect and should be recovered). Furthermore they advised, the property was not a trust asset and therefore not subject to the 10 yearly inheritance tax charges.

Blink and Co relied on the facts provided by Roger, but Roger does not fully understand the legal difference between whether a property is held on trust for the children or for them as a nominee. Blink and Co did not verify the facts with the trustee ABC Trust Co; they simply relied on what Roger told them.

If they had asked ABC and Co to verify the facts, they would have discovered not only that the property was owned by the company beneficially but also that the company was owned as an asset of the trust which was used as security to a bank for borrowings. They would also have discovered that ABC Trust Co was very concerned as to the lack of payment of ATED on the property and were refusing to continue as Trustees unless and until ATED was paid.

It is therefore only a matter of time before HMRC finds out that ATED was not paid for a few years and at that time it is likely that the advice given by Blink and Co based on the facts provided by Roger will become known. With the funding from the Government and a clear endorsement to pursue non tax payers, it is more than likely that Roger will then face a full tax investigation together with fines for assisting to evade tax which will then extend to Blink and Co.

In 2014 when Roger took advice neither he nor Blink and Co thought that their actions were evasion of tax – it would have then been considered tax avoidance – not now.

If you would like to comment on this or book an appointment with Caroline please contact svetlana@garnhamfos.com or phone 020 3740 7423.