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Will good tax planning be viewed as tax evasion?

It used to be that as long as you took good legal and tax advice and made sure you obeyed the law, then it was perfectly reasonable to do your best to minimise the amount of tax you legally paid.

That has changed, possibly for good, driven by the pattern of behaviour where some very rich individuals and some very successful companies, taking good advice, have managed to – quite legally – avoid paying a lot of tax.

The public, fanned by media sensationalism (frankly verging on hysteria at times) are not happy about this behaviour. Nor, of course, is the Government, which wants more revenue and feels that if successful individuals and companies are getting away without paying their dues, then it either needs to tighten the law and/or use moral persuasion to mobilise public opinion so that those companies and individuals are less inclined to use some of the tax avoidance devices available to them.

In this respect, it has been rather successful in turning avoidance (which used to be just good tax planning, where people simply take advantage of the tax breaks governments build into their tax codes) into the new evasion. The lines are at best blurred, if not already entirely eroded, and it is common now to condemn both tax evasion and tax avoidance in the same sentence as if they are the same thing.

The publication of the Paradise Papers over the last two weeks marks another step along this journey, like it or not.

The word “offshore” has become undeniably (irredeemably?) contaminated with all things bad and downright dodgy, as journalists took a distinctly “to hell with the nuance” approach to reporting.

The fact that huge swathes of ordinary, upstanding folk will hold offshore funds in their pensions or private portfolios without even knowing it has been largely, and conveniently, overlooked.

To cut through some of the hyperbole, some groups basically set up funds offshore in Dublin or Luxembourg because it means you can take that one neutral fund and sell it across Europe.

Autumn Budget: Tax evasion crackdown to raise £23bn a year

Conversely, if you have a UK fund and you want to sell it in Germany or Italy, you cannot. And so you go through the bureaucracy and cost of setting up funds in both of these countries. Common sense, with no contrivance, underlining that most offshore funds are a legitimate and sensible way to invest.

Today, though, investors and advisers have to take into account (and obey) not just the law but the accompanying mood music which has become significantly more foreboding.

Phil Wickenden is managing director at Cicero Research


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There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. You are so right! In the end if this pressure from Government continues all it will ultimately achieve is less FDI and individuals and firms that are able will just take their money and businesses elsewhere.

    Our HMRC and Government should have engraved and hung on their walls the fable of the ‘Goose that laid the golden eggs’.

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