Monday, 1 August 2016

#16: The Opal Fruit tax band

It would be lovely to devote this post to another culturally multi-layered object leading us up paths of discovery, but it’s the time of year when I get angry again, and I will talk about that instead.

Yes, I’ve just completed my tax return which I try to do early to avoid nasty surprises later. I declare everything, not least because of warning stories about what happens when HMRC investigates you. One of these stories is from a writer who was told off by the tax inspector for inadvertently putting a packet of Opal Fruits and some toy golf clubs through her accounts as part of a petrol receipt. The same inspector refused to accept the writer’s travel expenses as a legitimate deduction, even though she had worked on a series of Round Britain guides (although I’m not clear whether receipts had been kept).

So why get angry? Shouldn’t we all pay the right amount of tax? Absolutely – but many large corporations do not. Two recent well-known cases are that of Goldman Sachs, which were let off about £10 million of tax by HMRC after they threatened to withdraw from a scheme theoretically meant to make them pay their share of tax. In other words – they threatened to withdraw from a scheme supposedly meant to make them pay their share of tax unless they were… let off tax. Supposedly impartial civil servants, mainly HMRC chief Dave Hartnett, accepted this in case the government were embarrassed by Goldman Sachs’s threatened withdrawal. Poor loves – but that’s what friends are for. 

Tax campaigners UK Uncut took HMRC to court for this. The deal was declared legal but HMRC were severely criticised.

Another case is that of Google, which in January this year, as some kind of goodwill gesture, offered the government £130 million from profits of an estimated £6 billion since 2005, which the government accepted. Google themselves said that governments should work together to change the rules to force corporations to pay more.

Both companies, in other words, were reversing the initials of Opal Fruits and using them on HMRC, an option which unfortunately I do not have.

This injustice is in the context of the many shocks I have experienced turning self-employed and exposing myself to the chill wind of market forces as well as greater demands on your cash – sick pay, holiday pay, pension (if you can afford one) and national insurance has to come out of the amount charged. Expenses are not even reimbursed, remember (unlike those of regular employees, including MPs); they are just tax-deductible – which means we still pay either 80% or 60% of them, depending on our tax rate.

So… roll on the day when corporations are investigated and held to account at Opal Fruit level. To that end I have written to my MP to ask that he supports efforts by international governments to force companies to be transparent about where they hold money.

To that end this year I also sent my accountant (who is excellent and unfortunately incorruptible), along with my receipts, a quotation from Shakespeare’s Pericles which sums up the situation:

Third fisherman: Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.

First fisherman: Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones. I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale; a’ plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful: such whales have I heard on o’ the land, who never leave gaping until they’ve swallowed the whole parish, church, bells, steeples and all.