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?

Twitter: @simonnread

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine