Jersey gets it wrong, again

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Jersey is publishing another new tax law proposal today (follow the links from here). This is its third in a couple of years, and the second this year. As was the previous case, it's fair to say that these proposals abandon much of what has gone before.

The essence of the new rules are fairly simple:

  1. Most companies will pay 0% corporation tax;
  2. Some (selected) finance companies will pay 10% - but special purpose vehicles will not;
  3. Jersey resident shareholders will now have no additional tax to pay on the profits of the companies they own if those Jersey based companies pay 60% of their profits in distributions each year, and that income is assessed on the shareholder at 20%;
  4. If those companies pay out less than 60% of profit as a distribution then the shareholder will be assessed on the difference between the amount they receive and their share of 60% of profit, again at 20%;
  5. If the shareholder says they cannot pay then the company can be assessed and is required to pay for the shareholder.

In the process Jersey has abandoned its proposed deferred distribution charge. The result is that the effective rate of profits tax on Jersey owned companies is now 12%, not 20% as before (because 60% of 20% is 12%, and only 60% of profits have to be taxed now). .

It's also abandoned use of a Limited Liability Partnership as an alternative local, transparent trading entity.

And it's abandoned all attempts to collect tax on Jersey trading companies owned by non-resident people.

What does this mean? I suggest the following:

  1. The new proposals are not EU Code Compliant. As I said in 2005, if the company can be required to pay tax for a resident shareholder but not for a non-resident one then there is a ring fence. That is going to be the case, so Jersey continues to face the risk that these new laws will not satisfy the EU. That's a massive gamble on which to base your economy.
  2. The finance industry is going to pay less tax than under previous proposals. We know from previously published emails that the scope of local financial services regulation is to be reduced to ensure that this can be the case. So Jersey's black tax hole will get bigger, whilst the quality of its regulation will decline.
  3. The opportunities for tax abuse through trusts will increase - as recent correspondence showed. No wonder Malcolm Campbell, the Comptroller of Income Tax was worried. Under these rules anyone in Jersey can transfer assets into a company, transfer ownership of that offshore to a trust in, say, Guernsey and avoid all tax. And Jersey is totally naive to think it can stop this when it is taking almost no powers to enquire about disposals of capital assets.
  4. The tax black hole in Jersey will increase.

I think all these issues are incredibly important. I think the last in some ways the most important, from a purely practical viewpoint. I know local ministers think this tax gap between what they expect to bring in and spend is now running at around £85 million from about 2009 onwards A year ago I predicted a figure of £110 - £120 million. There are several reasons to think I must be right (sorry to be so emphatic, but I think I can be, with confidence). First of all the figures to support £85 million do not stack. They fail to take into account all current corporate sources of tax from existing companies. Secondly, and more importantly, even if they were right the new proposals massively increase the hole.

The numbers tell the story. Jersey gets £132 million a year from companies now, being from those paying at the 20% rate. It gets £61 million from those paying at lower rates.

Of these sums Jersey always said it was going to lose at least £10 million a year because of an unspecified cause before the new tax came in. It's also, on average being losing £5 million of tax a year as the takings trend has been downward. That's £25 million gone by the time the new tax regime is in.

£10 million is known to be lost from the ending of Exempt Companies.

That leaves the International Business Corporations, which currently pay £51 million or so. Some of these won't be in finance. Suppose that's 20% of them. That's £10 million lost.

Of the remainder, most probably pay around 14% on average now to keep controlled foreign company rules happy. So, about 30% of £40 million or so will be lost. That comes to about £12 million. That's a loss of £32 million from exempt and IBC companies altogether - or more than half of current income they generate.

Then there's the £132 million from other companies to worry about. Data I hold says that about 34% of all income tax at the 20% rate is paid by finance companies. That's about £60 million. They'll now pay at 10%. So that's about £30 million lost.

Of the remainder of £72 million (£132 - £60 million) I'm assuming £25 million is going anyway, as noted above. That leaves £47 million left to deal with. This is now going to be taxed at 12% in many cases, not 20%. That's £19 million lost. Of course, some companies will pay out more than 60%, I agree. But some companies will be owned by non-Jersey people. That income will be completely lost. Let's call it quits on that.

And then there's another factor. Anyone with a company can now pay tax at 12%, not 20%, and avoid additional social security contributions. That will persuade at least half of local businesses to incorporate. The self employed and rents combined contribute £34 million of Jersey's tax. Say half is self employed income, that means a loss of about £7 million.

And some employed people will now seek to be self employed as consultants for this reason. Add another, say £5 million lost for that.

What's the total? £118 million. Mysteriously close to the number I debated with Senator Le Sueur, Jersey's finance minister, last year in the States of Jersey. I remain of the view that my figures are right. In addition, my logic is transparent whilst the States have so far done nothing similar, as a recent Scrutiny Panel noted. So I am several steps ahead of them.

And if I am right then the people of Jersey are in for a torrid time as they struggle to individually pay for the finance industry. the alternative is that Jersey will go bust. Those are its options. It's a high price to pay to support tax avoidance and evasion on a giant scale, and an unreasonable burden to place on ordinary people to ensure that Jersey's anti-social tax policies continue.

Neither is an option. In which case it really is time for Jersey to rethink its situation, entirely. There's no point being a tax haven when it will lead to your financial ruin. And that's the reality Jersey has to come to terms with.