It cuts both ways: The man who took Caffe Nero to task over its tax affairs

Senior Reporter

If you run a national coffee shop chain and see Steve Pottinger on his way to one of your shops for his morning latte, a swift call to your accountant may be advisable.

The 51-year-old’s letter to Caffe Nero, in which he symbolically enclosed his loyalty card in protest at the chain not paying any UK corporation tax, has been shared thousands of times on social media – and it’s not the first time he’s had to switch brands.

“The idea that they were somehow getting away with not paying annoyed me, especially because I’d actually moved to drinking occasionally at Caffe Nero when I stopped going to Starbucks because they were dodging corporation tax,” he told The Independent. “Part of it was almost a feeling of betrayal: ‘What – you’re doing it as well!’”

In 2012 Starbucks came under fire after it emerged that it had not paid any corporation tax in the UK for the previous three years. Following pressure from politicians it has since started paying tax and last month said it was moving its European head office to the UK from the Netherlands, meaning it will be liable to pay more.

At the time, Mr Pottinger vented his anger at the coffee chain by refusing to buy its products and composing a protest poem about it entitled “No-one likes an angry poet”, which he uploaded to YouTube.

He said he became angry about Caffe Nero a few weeks ago when he read a newspaper article stating that the company made a pre-tax profit of £21.1 million in 2013 but paid no corporation tax, despite running more than 500 cafes in Britain. The firm has rejected similar tax avoidance accusations previously, saying tax-deductible interest payments on debt used to buy the business mean it has not been liable for corporation tax.

In the letter, Mr Pottinger wrote: “I’m aware that what you do is perfectly legal... but at a time of austerity when vital services face cutbacks, it sticks in the craw. Loyalty cuts both ways. But you seem to have a disconnect when it comes to your responsibilities to paying your dues.”

He told The Independent he had been particularly incensed as his elderly father had just been discharged from hospital, where he had been receiving crucial treatment courtesy of the NHS.

“If you’re just looking at figures on a sheet, it’s just figures on a sheet – they don’t have any repercussions. But when companies avoid tax that has direct implications on what there is in the pot and therefore what happens when people need healthcare,” he said.

“Moaning about tax is a popular pursuit, but at the same time without taxation we don’t have schools, hospitals, teachers, nurses – all the good things that make our society one that we’re actually incredibly lucky to live in.”

Mr Pottinger, who works in the music industry but also performs his poetry around Britain, said he found the attention his letter had received on social media “vaguely surreal”, but that it had been “20 minutes well spent”.

He added: “About 24 or 48 hours after I posted it on Facebook I remember being hugely excited that it got to 300 shares and exceeded my wildest expectations. And then I got up the next day and everything had started gathering speed like an increasingly large snowball.”

Having now all but run out of chain coffee shops, he said he intended to give a few independent establishments a try.

Mr Pottinger has since received a letter from Caffe Nero’s head of customer services, Justina Virdee, in which she said: “I can assure you we don’t take what you have said lightly”, and offered to send a representative from the company to meet him and discuss his concerns.

It is understood that the tax-deductible interest payments on the debt used to buy Caffe Nero are made to British banks and that the firm does not engage in “transfer pricing”, where a part of a multinational firm based in one country charges another in a different tax jurisdiction for services.

The company declined to comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

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
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?