Simon Read: It's the lengths to which the rich go, and the loopholes they find, that makes their tax avoidance stink

The former boy-band star Gary Barlow has been in the news for reportedly avoiding around £20m worth of tax payments through a music industry investment scheme known as Icebreaker.

Last week Judge Colin Bishopp ruled that Icebreaker was primarily a tax-avoidance scheme that had allowed Barlow and his Take That bandmates Howard Donald and Mark Owen, and their manager Jonathan Wild, shelter around £63m from the tax authorities. Cue waves of opprobrium from MPs and others, some of whom demanded that Barlow should be forced to hand back his OBE. Contrarily, Independent columnist Grace Dent wrote on Wednesday: "The funny thing about tax avoidance is we moan and moan and moan, but we've all had our hands in the butter."

That annoyed reader Mary Littlefield of Norfolk, who on Thursday responded: "I never had the opportunity to fiddle, nor would have done so because, like most honest, hard-working people, I believe in paying taxes for the benefit of all through the provision of a welfare state."

I agree with Mary whole-heartedly. But does Barlow – and the other tax-dodging millionaires – really deserve our anger? Look at it this way: do you have a pension or an Isa? Both are in effect tax-avoidance schemes, aren't they?

And, therefore, while most of us won't knowingly try to "fiddle our taxes", we will make the most of the tax-efficient opportunities that are handed to us.

And surely wasn't that all Barlow and the other Take That members were trying to do? You could say that the only difference is the scale. So while you and I save a few pounds by sticking money in an Isa, millionaire pop stars save a few million by taking advantage of complicated "schemes".

Kevin White of the upmarket financial adviser deVere pointed out: "Tax avoidance is not a crime; tax avoidance is legal and can form part of a competent financial strategy. On the other hand, tax evasion is illegal and therefore punishable under the law."

That's a fair point but I don't believe it's as simple as that. High-level tax avoidance, as far as I can tell, involves spotting legal loopholes to exploit for financial gain. Eventually, the taxman usually realises there's a loophole and closes it, but until then tax avoiders can rightly claim they're acting within the law.

But that doesn't mean they're right. Just because clever lawyers or accountants have spotted the opportunity to avoid tax, it doesn't mean that wealthy folk should do so.

There is a world of difference between these questionable loopholes and the legitimate, government-backed schemes that allow people to invest in a tax-efficient way, such as via Isas and pensions.

So we could blame the tax authorities that allow such loopholes to happen. But with thousands of experts crawling all over complicated tax rules to find loopholes, it must be hard to shut all the doors.

You could also accuse the wealthy folk, such as Barlow and his cronies, of being greedy in wanting to use such schemes. They may have only been following the guidance of their financial advisers, but they must have had an inkling that the schemes may not have been totally above board.

I think the tax experts who spot the loopholes must take the brunt of the blame. They're like computer hackers, to my mind. Rogue hackers exploit any online loophole they can find to cause mischief or for financial gain. They are hated by most for the trouble they cause.

Tax experts who find loopholes in the law to exploit for financial gain are almost in the same bracket, aren't they?

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

    Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

    Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

    Test Lead - London - Investment Banking

    £475 - £525 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Investment Banking, Technical ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game