Once upon a time the UK was seen as the best place in the world for wealthy families to live. They could come to the UK and not pay any tax, other than what they brought into the UK to live on, and even this could be reduced by some clever tax planning.
However, over the years the special reliefs available to non-dom were seen as unfair and so have been eroded. But has much thought been given to the bigger picture?
Is it not sheer madness to give non-doms tax incentives to come to the UK but, to leave their wealth offshore?
Taxing rich people should be much more than raising revenue or being ‘fair’. It should be about incentivising rich families to live in the UK, invest in the UK, use the UK’s financial centres, create work for people living here and to bring businesses to the UK.
The ‘remittance basis of taxation’ which is at the heart of the exemption of income tax and capital gains tax for non-doms, was not invented by some wizard tax brain, it came about because tax could not be paid on offshore trading income until the monies were received in the UK.
However, in 1914 it was decided that this approach was outdated, and that income should be taxed as it arose, with an exception introduced at committee stage, that this should not apply to people who were UK resident but, non-UK domiciled. The law was further modified to raise taxes in 1940 to pay for the war.
As governments came and went we have seen changes made, but no real thought as to the bigger picture and what we have now is a dog’s breakfast.
A non-dom can come to live in the UK and not pay tax on the income or gains he/she does not bring into the UK such as into a UK bank account. If he or she wants to live for more than seven years of the previous nine and continue not to be taxed on the offshore income and gains, they need to pay a remittance charge for the privilege which is £30,000 per annum. This rises to £60,000 per annum if they continue to live in the UK for twelve out of the previous fourteen years.
Surely this tax arrangement conveys to the world’s wealthiest families ‘come to the UK, leave your money offshore, but do not stay too long!’ Surely, this is back to front? We should be incentivising them to come here, spend in our shops and restaurants, bring their investments and businesses here and to stay as long as possible?
There was some attempt to introduce an investment relief in April 2012 to encourage non-doms to bring their offshore wealth into the UK provided it was invested as loans or shares in a UK trading company. This was called Business Investment Relief but, was riddled with fiddly reliefs which if you got them wrong would mean paying tax on the income and gain remitted. For example; the money had to be invested within 45 days of coming into the UK and if the investment was sold, the proceeds had to be taken offshore within 45 days or re-invested in this time frame you were taxed. Furthermore, you were not allowed to benefit from the investment!
Since inception this relief has encouraged investment of a mere £1.5 billion, and to my mind has not been a great success; it is too narrow and only applies to those who are still subject to the remittance basis of taxation.
Added to this is the complication introduced by the automatic exchange of information which brings even more madness into the system.
If you are a non-dom, and have left your money offshore, the financial institution in which you have invested your money will disclose to HMRC how much you have offshore and in what it is invested. If, however you had your money onshore the automatic exchange of information or Common Reporting Standard would not apply but, you would then pay tax on all your income and gains. Where is the joined up thinking in this muddle?
I would like to suggest a complete overhaul of the relief and exemptions by introducing the concept of a Ring Fence.
I would like to propose that a non-dom should be able to apply for an exemption from the remittance charge (£30,000/£60,000) if he brings into the UK a ‘ring-fenced’ amount. This would be calculated as being sufficient to compensate HMRC for the loss of the remittance charge. This sum would need to be placed with UK custodians, UK investment managers and UK trustees. Such sum as the non-dom used for their own benefit would be taxed as income, and to the extent that the amount falls below the required sum, would need to be topped up. This sum could be invested in whatever the non-dom wanted or held in cash and would not be restricted as in the Business Investment Relief provided it was managed and physically present in the UK. Once a non-dom had lived in the UK for more than twelve of the previous fourteen years, the amount to be brought into the UK would need to be increased accordingly.
Furthermore, I suggest that the rules as to residence of a trust are amended so that a UK trust set up with Ring Fenced monies is given the same tax treatment as an offshore trust. The UK invented the trust and yet trusts are largely set up and kept offshore – surely this also is madness. There should be an incentive to encourage UK fiduciary businesses to thrive, not to drive this business offshore.
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