Offshore Tax Avoidance
Many people, including contractors are bemused by the fact that the Government doesn’t just stop Offshore Tax Avoidance schemes completely.
“Why don’t they just shut them all down?” they ask. Why don’t they just get in touch with the people and say “You owe us a whole load of tax?”
The answer is that they can’t.
Don’t Break UK Tax Law
They don’t break UK laws. Indeed the offshore umbrella company schemes are designed to fit in with UK law. It may not be in a way that the Government intended, or wanted, but they do comply with UK tax law.
That’s why it is legal tax avoidance rather than tax evasion.
According to HMRC’s Commissioner and Director General for Enforcement and Compliance, Jennie Granger, “There is nothing illegal about an international structure, especially in a globally integrated economy and these arrangements may be particularly legitimate”.
Legal Tax Avoidance
International tax law expert, barrister Jonathan Schwartz said “All laws influence and tax laws are no different. The tax behaviour of companies is largely driven by the tax systems they engage with.
“Tax administrators must apply the law as it exists rather than what they, or anyone else, might think it ought to be”.
That’s exactly correct. Those who run offshore tax avoidance schemes design their solutions to fit in with current UK law.
Change Tax Laws Back
Of course, the Government could change the laws back to where they were before – but they don’t want to do that.
They make those laws for a purpose. They may want to bring more film companies to Britain or to support the burgeoning UK music industry. They give tax incentives for film makers or music producers to operate from the UK.
It does do that – but it also opens the door to those who want to use this for tax avoidance.
Offshore Umbrella Company Loans
Then there is the fact that, in many offshore tax avoidance schemes like offshore umbrella companies, the money is sent offshore untaxed and stays there.
The offshore company gives the contractor a loan in lieu of the money.
That loan money is never paid back so the offshore company keeps the money sent offshore in lieu of it.
So, what should the Government do about it? Make loans taxable?
Think what would happen to the banking system then or to the City of London and all the commerce that goes on there.
Upholding the UK Tax Laws
As tax expert Jonathan Schwartz said “Tax administrators must apply the law as it exists rather than what they, or anyone else, might think it ought to be”.
The courts must do that also. It’s Government that makes the laws. It’s the duty of the courts to apply those laws.
The Government may fulminate against offshore tax avoidance but it is they who create the laws that allow it.
Money Leaving UK Untaxed
One of the first things that Mrs Thatcher did when she came to power was to bring in a law that allowed money to leave the UK untaxed.
Many Tory grandees have taken advantage of this to send their money offshore untaxed. This includes David Cameron’s father Ian, his father-in-law Lord Astor and the Tory party’s main funder, Lord Ashcroft.
It also includes Chancellor, George Osborne, who has a £4.5 trust offshore. He says he will pay the appropriate tax when it comes back onshore. However, it never will. It was sent offshore in the first place to avoid UK tax.
Margaret Hodge and Stemcor Tax Avoider
The hammer of the offshore companies, and big companies who avoid UK tax, is Margaret Hodge, a Labour party MP who is in charge of the Public Accounts Committee in Westminster.
However, it was revealed that she owns part of an offshore company called Stemcor, which her brother runs, and that her stake is worth a million and saved her 50 grand in tax annually.
Of course, the Government could reverse Margaret Thatcher’s tax law and make money that leaves the UK taxable.
What would that do for British business and the City of London, and the Tory grandees, income streams?
Offshore Tax Avoidance Schemes to Continue
So, the Government may fulminate against offshore tax avoidance schemes every time they are ‘exposed’ in the press. They have to do that.
What they are not going to do is make money that goes offshore taxable again or to make loans subject to tax.
So, offshore tax avoidance will continue as long as the laws of the land allow it – and courts will continue to rule that loans are not taxable.
For a list of hose companies who operate offshore (and onshore) tax avoidance schemes click on Offshore Umbrella Companies List