How to avoid UK tax if you’re an oligarch
You are the beloved daughter of the dictator of Freedonia. You have oodles of cash, investments, real estate etc etc, all of which you earned through your legitimate occupation as a podiatrist. You aren’t taxed in Freedonia (because local tax inspectors generally take the view that taxing the dictator’s daughter is not compatible with their continued good health).
As we approach 2023, you’re thinking about moving to London. Yes, Daddy says it’s a decadent imperialist hell-hole, but the schools are awfully good, the Bottega Veneta salon top notch, and the chance of being executed for treason pleasingly low.
You engage a top team of private client tax advisers and give them a short set of instructions: you are arriving in the UK on 6 April 2023 and won’t be returning home any time soon. You want to spend lots of money in the UK, pay zero tax in the UK, and declare none of your assets to HMRC.
You expect this will be very hard indeed, and so are most surprised to find that the solution fits on a postcard.
This is what it says:
- You should continue to own a large and gaudy estate in Freedonia, and write an Important Note documenting the fact that you intend to spend a few years in London and then return home. This is a huge fib; but absent HMRC employing a team of psychics, they have no chance of disproving it. Ta da: you’re a non-dom.
- Next, open a bank account in Honduras (which maintains strict bank secrecy and doesn’t share account information with other countries).
- Before 6 April 2023, make sure you put a modest amount of money into the account, enough to fund your lifestyle for a few years – say $1bn.
- The new bank account has one unusual feature – any interest earned on the account is paid into your normal account (on some other tropical island).
- You then move to London on 6 April 2023. Make sure all your expenses are paid from the Honduras account. Never use any other account for UK spending.
- $1bn isn’t what it used to be. What if you start to run out of money in the Honduras account? You ask someone to make you a gift, straight into that account. Where does the gift come from? Who cares! (HMRC might, but they probably won’t even find out about it.)
Mission accomplished. You can now spend lots of money in the UK, but you’ll pay zero UK tax. Your tax return will show none of your foreign income or assets.
How can this be? Poor Dania had a horribly complex tax treatment when she remitted a modest amount of money to the UK from Germany. Why don’t you have an even worse time?
Because non-doms are only taxed when they remit funds/assets to the UK. This is often abbreviated to “bringing funds into the UK” but that’s wrong – bringing stuff into the UK is only a remittance if it derives from foreign income and gains after the point someone becomes UK tax resident. The Honduras bank account is, in the jargon, a “clean” account – because everything in it derives from before the time you became UK tax resident. Gifts are also “clean”, even if made after you become UK tax resident. So you can bring in what you like and there’s no remittance, and you pay no UK tax.
- You’d declare any taxable remittances – but you don’t make any.
- And you’d declare any UK income and gains – but you don’t have any.
Literally all HMRC know about you is that you’re a non-dom. HMRC can’t tell you – with your $1bn of liquid assets – apart from poor Dania.
All good things come to an end, and after seven years you will have to start paying the £30,000 charge to continue to use the remittance basis, and after twelve years, £60,000. A pretty sweet deal. After fifteen years you should lose the remittance basis entirely… but there are ways round that (I’ll discuss in a future post).
- The non-dom regime is of little or no use to normal people, in part because of its complexity, and in part because it turns off the allowances that shield middle class people from tax on modest investment income and gains.
- The non-dom regime is a simply fantastic amount of use to the very wealthy, who with a little effort can live in the UK without paying any tax. If you have a huge amount of offshore cash, it isn’t even very complicated.
What should we do about this? That’s my next post.
Tiresome caveat: none of this is legal advice. Anyone stupid enough to plan their tax affairs on this basis deserves everything they get. Any oligarchs reading this and looking for tax advice should go to this well respected independent adviser.