Saturday, 29 December 2007

Domicile puzzles

Then again, what are we to make of the so-called reforms relating to the taxation of non-domiciled residents in the UK? This was one of the policies the Government has pinched from the Tories following the policy announcements at the Conservative Party conference. The Tory proposal proved that the Government does not have the monopoly on misguided (did I hear you say daft?) policies. So why borrow this one except to trump the Opposition?

During its ten years in office the Government has discussed several times changing the rules concerning non-domiciled persons, which in simple terms are those whose background or family history might suggest their natural homeland is not one of the countries comprising the United Kingdom. For a more detailed explanation see here. A study was made in 2005 and there was a consultation, but we had started to suppose that the Treasury saw the whole issue as a political hot potato.

Briefly, unlike domiciled resident individuals who are liable to UK tax on their worldwide income and capital gains, non-dom residents have up to now been taxable on their UK income of course but not their overseas income and gains except to the extent of the amounts actually remitted to the UK. It had been the view of many that if taxation of worldwide income and gains were extended to non-doms many of our richer guests including oil billionaires would take themselves and their spending power elsewhere; hence there had been no amendment to the rules since the first review was announced way back in 1949.

The new rules effectively bring most non-domiciled residents into a regime of being taxed on worldwide income unless they pay annually to HM Revenue & Customs £30,000 plus whatever tax is due on remittances as before. Of course the super-rich will go for this unless they see this as an unprincipled betrayal and leave the country. Those who will be hit are the non-doms of moderate income who have brought their labour and investment to the UK, perhaps employing people in their factory, workshop or restaurant; those who hope to retire in their homeland or elsewhere. Of course there are long-term resident (seventeen years plus) non-doms who already knew that if they died within the UK their worldwide estates would be liable to inheritance tax.

The Government talks a lot about fairness. One might say that it is not fair that some taxpayers of a particular class pay less tax than others with similar income. Is it fair that the very wealthy can buy off HMRC with a £30K bribe or paying annual protection money? Is the Treasury reduced to acting like the Mafia or an East End gang? Worse, is this not another example of the total lack of coherent fiscal policy? What on earth is going on?

© Jon Stow 2007

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