Last chance for savers to avoid offshore tax penalties

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The Independent Online

Thousands of savers with offshore bank accounts are under extra pressure to declare the interest they earn to HM Revenue & Customs, after a court ruling this week against Barclays Bank.

The bank was ordered to provide the Revenue with details of every offshore account holder who also has an address in the UK, amid mounting suspicion that savers are using financial centres such as Jersey and Guernsey to evade tax.

Unlike UK savings accounts, offshore savings products - available from about 35 banks and building societies - pay interest with no tax deducted. Anyone resident in the UK for tax purposes must declare this interest on their annual tax return and pay income tax on the money.

The order against Barclays, which is almost certain to apply to other banks too, will enable the Revenue to check that offshore account holders have been paying tax. It believes some taxpayers have deliberately been channelling earnings and other money into offshore accounts in order to evade tax, while others have not understood that interest must be declared.

Emma Rees of Barclays said: "While offshore accounts are a relatively specialist product, we have now been told to provide the Revenue with information on all our customers who have a UK address and a non-UK account."

Mike Warburton, head of personal tax at the accountant Grant Thornton, said: "Many people wrongly think that if they hold money offshore it won't be taxable - mostly, these are not large-scale fraudsters but people who don't even realise they are doing something wrong."

A few specialist offshore products, such as roll-up bonds, do offer tax advantages for UK-based savers, but the vast majority of accounts are taxable in just the same way they would be in the UK. Warburton added: "If you are domiciled in the UK, you are taxable on all your income and gains wherever in the world they are generated."

Savers found to have not declared interest could be asked to pay the tax due, plus interest and a penalty of up to the entire original tax bill.

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