Much as many of us like to revel in the national pastime of Watching Celebrities Squirm, I can’t help feeling a tinge of sympathy with Jimmy Carr, Gary Barlow and the like who have been caught up in the moral frenzy surrounding tax avoidance.
They were clearly approached by a very clever tax planner who promised to cut their tax bill to virtually nothing, legally. How many of us could honestly say that we wouldn’t have signed on the dotted line.
A couple of issues spring to mind among the whole media feeding frenzy. Firstly, it doesn’t sit well for the Prime Minister to be commenting on an individual’s personal, legal, tax planning. I also wonder how many editors of national newspapers and columnists have money in similar “morally repugnant” tax schemes themselves.
It is enshrined in law that it is every Briton’s right to arrange their affairs in order to pay as little tax as possible. However, I don’t think the original judge envisaged the type of complex, artificial schemes in the current cases. The schemes in question, with fantastic names like Icebreaker 2, are under HMRC tax tribunal at the moment so the poor celebs may well end up paying the tax anyway.
The biggest issue for most of the population is that they are taxed under PAYE and are not earning six-figure salaries, let alone the millions earned by most in these schemes.
Complex tax avoidance is not an option for many while the wealthiest seem to have a whole range of ways of doing it. So what legal (and moral) investment and planning options are available for lesser mortals?
Personal contributions into a recognised UK pension receive income tax relief at your highest marginal rate. So a contribution of £80 would give a basic rate taxpayer £100 in their pension straight away. Higher rate taxpayers can claim the further relief through self-assessment. Employer contributions are a tax relievable business expense and don’t attract National Insurance.
All adults have an allowance, currently £11,280, that they can pay into an ISA each year. Investments within an ISA grow in a benevolent tax environment, similar to pensions. A substantial sum can be built up over time by using each year’s allowance. Income and capital gains from ISA investments are paid tax-free so they can be used to supplement income or splash out on big expenditure items.
These tax wrappers allow investments within them to grow free of UK taxes, benefiting from “gross roll-up”. Income tax is payable on the growth on encashment but, with a bit of clever planning, the plan holder could be a non-taxpayer when this happens. Segments of the bond can be assigned to non-taxpayers who can then cash them in tax free. This is very useful for paying grandchildren’s university fees, for example.