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Offshore Disclosures Facility

By Peter Brooke
This article is published on: 25th May 2015

This month I had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick Maflin from Marine Accounts for a Q&A session on the Offshore Disclosures Facility.

Patrick, Firstly what is the Offshore Disclosures Facility?
The Offshore Disclosures facility is an amnesty for UK citizens who have undeclared offshore earnings. It is directly aimed at targeting offshore tax evasion. The G20 have now opted similar schemes such as the Offshore Disclosures Program (ODP) in the US & Project Let’s Do It in Australia.

What is offshore evasion?
Offshore evasion is using another jurisdiction’s systems with the objective of evading UK tax. This includes moving, not declaring or hiding (via complex offshore structures) any income, gains or assets out of the site of HMRC.

When does the amnesty end & what happens if I do not declare?
The UK disclosure facility ends on 30th September 2016. Individuals who choose not to declare their earnings can face fines of up to 200% of the tax evaded and possible imprisonment as it is now a criminal offence. Project Let’s Do It in Australia came to an end in December 2014 and the IRS have not stated when ODP will end.

How can I declare my earnings through the facility and what are the benefits?
UK seafarers can declare their earnings under the Seafarers Earnings Deduction (SED) providing that they spend more than 183 days out of the UK and work onboard a ship. If you declare now before becoming subject to investigation you will not face fines and will not have to pay tax on your earnings. However if you owe tax through work days in the UK or not qualifying for the SED exemption you will only pay 10% on top of your tax bill as opposed to 200%.

What happens if HMRC contact me first?
If they do contact you first you are faced with possibility of a tax investigation into your financial affairs and will not qualify for any penalties at the lowest rates and will have to pay the taxes you owe for up to 20 years. You could also face criminal prosecution.

What if I move my funds to the Cayman Islands, surely it is safe there?
The UK signed ten more automatic exchange agreements in 2014 including many of the classic ‘offshore centres’. The new global standard developed by the OECD has been endorsed by the G20 and now 44 jurisdictions in total. This will lead to greater tax transparency and the ability for governments to clamp down on those who evade tax.

What exactly will the new global exchange mean? What type of information will the G20 access?
The 44 jurisdictions are going to share if you have a bank, investment or custodial account and will be able to see your name, address, account number, balance and income.

When I browse the yachting forums I still see crew asking where the best place is to open an account to avoid paying tax! What do you think of this?
It surprises me that people choose to openly broadcast that they are looking to avoid paying tax and that they believe that today with the open exchange of information that this is still possible and the right course of action.

HMRC contacted over 20,000 people in 2013 about their offshore assets. In 2014 offshore banks in the 44 jurisdictions started collecting information about UK & US residents. This information will reach HMRC by the start of 2016.

Are Offshore accounts still permitted under the Offshore Disclosures Facility?
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having offshore accounts & investments as long as you declare the income and gains on your tax return. This is not designed to stop people banking offshore, but to allow individuals to bring their tax affairs up to date if they have worldwide undeclared income. The principle benefits of using an offshore account is currency flexibility.

This article is for information only and should not be considered as advice.

Article by Peter Brooke

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