Revealed: Britain's biggest taxpayers
Super-rich list of top earners who buck trend and choose to pay their share
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Monday 24 September 2012
They are Britain's billionaires and multi-millionaires who stay and pay their way, the super-wealthy that Her Majesty's tax officials have no need to hunt down.
At a time when politics is dominated by debate on the billions of pounds that recession-hit Britain loses in revenue to shady, offshore tax havens and tax avoidance schemes, research by The Independent reveals that many of our highest-earning taxpayers choose not to hide their income from HMRC and haven't packed their bags for Monaco or the Bahamas.
The study reveals that a surprising mix of investment gurus, financial wizards, and property and insurance bosses are some of the wealthiest "customers" of HMRC's "Affluence Unit", which, it was announced this weekend, will be expanded to scrutinise those with assets worth more than £1m.
The star taxpayers' list is based on visible earnings at Companies House, in the annual reports and accounts of publicly quoted and privately held companies. There is no evidence to suggest these individuals, who live and work in Britain, have done anything to reduce their huge tax bills.
The Independent's tax list is headed by David Harding, the Cambridge-educated physicist who founded Winton Capital, the world's largest hedge fund, whose recent dividend payment of almost £53m added to his salary of £12m. Mark Coombs is worth £1.5bn and, as head of the Ashmore investment house, is an expert in emerging markets.
Like all the others on the list, these are financial experts capable of reducing what they hand over to HMRC. But there is nothing to suggest they opt to do so – their income payments are made to them direct in the UK, and not routed via some complicated overseas tax structure. Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the research showed that the majority of people in the UK "paid their fair share". He added: "This proves you can play by the rules and be successful in business without resorting to tax dodging or moving your money overseas."
Matthew Sinclair, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "It is important to expose tax evaders, but it is also important to recognise those who buck the trend and pay their fair share of tax. It gives the lie to the notion that all of Britain's wealthy are scared off by robust tax laws and are engaged in a hide-and-seek battle with HMRC. This is a timely reminder that for all the stories about the bad apples, most people, rich and poor, pay plenty of tax."
It is an inconvenient truth for those who believe high taxes will scare away the super-rich, that many of Britain's billionaires and multi-millionaires are prepared to pay what it costs to live and work in Britain.
That means little to the average UK household, which brings in £33,000 a year. But for the Treasury's coffers, it's crucial. According to recent figures, the UK is home to 26,000 individuals earning between £500,000 and £1m a year, and 13,000 people with taxable earnings of over £1m.
The list excludes high-profile individuals whose companies may be based in the UK, but who are known to be tax exiles.
Neither do Britain's super-wealthy football stars feature, many of whom are reputed to make £1m a month in wages and side deals, as we cannot verify their actual earnings. Likewise, the author JK Rowling, also does not feature because we cannot assess her earnings from recent publicly available financial records.
We also accept there will be other highly private individuals whose taxes cannot be verified, but whose contributions form part of the top one per cent paying the highest tax rates that account for 28 per cent of all that HMRC takes in income tax.
Others on the list include Michael Spencer, the founder and chief executive of ICAP, the City broker that specialises in deals for financial institutions. His recent combined salary and dividend total of £30m puts him at No 6 in our ranking.
Mr Spencer, like Mr Harding an Oxbridge-trained physicist, is a former Conservative Party treasurer. He believes getting it wrong on taxation would end London's position as the "golden goose" in the UK economy.
What do the super-rich taxpayers actually think? They already pay a lot, but would they pay more? Getting their views on the record is no easy matter. For those who did voice opinions, the message was clear. One quoted the words of Winston Churchill, saying: "Trying to tax us back into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up with the handle."
Owen Oyston, the Blackpool-based property tycoon who narrowly missed out on inclusion in the list, branded any further wealth taxes, "unfair and unjust".
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