Mary Dejevsky: How to win at being a UK resident

Related Topics

British Budget speeches do not customarily raise laughs, but on Wednesday Alistair Darling prompted loud guffaws, and not only from government benches, when he announced a new information exchange agreement with Belize. The hilarity was because this Central American state is where Lord Ashcroft, bane of Labour marginals in the run-up to the election, shelters his zillions. The new agreement is unlikely to have any dramatic, revelatory, effect, but it was a much-appreciated touch.

For myself, I have been following the twists of the Ashcroft saga less because of concerns about any electoral advantage that might accrue to the Conservatives than because of the mirror-image it presents to my own experience as a Briton who has lived and worked abroad. Michael Ashcroft, it seems, has succeeded over many years where the expatriate Dejevsky household signally failed – which is to enjoy the best of both worlds.

On the one hand, he succeeded in convincing the UK authorities that he was permanently resident here, or intended to become so, as a condition of being granted a peerage. But he did better than this. While enjoying the benefits of UK residence, he also preserved key aspects of his previous non-resident status, which allowed him not to pay tax on assets outside the UK.

On becoming resident, he also became a "non-dom" – someone who lives in Britain, but is not regarded as so closely connected to this country as to be classed as "domiciled" here. You might argue, as I might, that a seat in the Lords for life suggests a pretty close connection, but the great and the good clearly have other ways of doing things.

Why this grates is because that is not how the system works for most people. When I became a foreign correspondent in the late 1980s, my husband, a US citizen long-resident in Britain, came too. Then, as now, Americans are taxed on worldwide earnings – something the UK Treasury hasn't yet emulated – so anything he earned was subject to US tax, regardless of where he lived. A dual taxation agreement with the UK meant he did not have to pay twice, but he did have to pay any difference between the two assessments.

It turned out, however, that living and working (freelance) in a third country was not enough for my husband to escape this dual obligation. The British judged that, while physically out of the country for sufficient days to qualify as non-resident, he was "resident" for tax purposes – though not resident, it should be added, in the sense that he qualified, say, for medical treatment on the NHS. Nor, it turned out, was he deemed resident for, well, residency, purposes.

After being back in the UK for a year, he applied for British citizenship, not least because the US had recently dropped its objections to Americans becoming dual nationals. Having lived in the UK for almost 20 years, he ostensibly met all the requirements. A-ha, but the Home Office – now it would be the UK Border Agency – thought otherwise. After a long sojourn at an office in Liverpool, his papers came back marked "refused", with a tick in the "insufficient residency" box. His time as a correspondent's spouse, working free-lance abroad, but paying UK taxes, was considered a break in his residency. He had to start again from scratch.

This is how the system works for ordinary people. You are "resident" when they want your money and simultaneously "non-resident" when the benefits, such as NHS treatment or a vote or a passport, are on them. For Lord Ashcroft and his fellow billionaires, it works the other way round.

Do we care how the other half lives in the lucky country?

Here is a young man whose sultry and petulant good looks have already taken all Australia, Cannes and now the Dublin film festival by storm. Rowan McNamara plays Samson to Marissa Gibson's Delilah. They are two indigenous teenagers (aboriginal, native Australian, choose your particular brand of political correctness), living in acute deprivation outside Alice Springs and dreaming of escape – how could they not? Samson and Delilah is released in Britain next week.

The acting is flawless in a naïf way; the desert landscape is spectacular, and it's not hard to imagine the cataclysmic impact on Australian film-goers, still unused to seeing the underside of their "lucky country" so graphically and humanely displayed.

I won't divulge the ending, which may not be what you expect, but, emerging into dark, dank London, I was in two minds. Is there not here, as in Slumdog Millionaire, as in Precious – about a disadvantaged black teenager-made-good – a voyeurism that perpetuates a condescending view of difference and confines those who are not quite like us to a box marked "curious species". I just wonder.

Come on, Britain, dress up – yes, you can!

At the start of the year, GQ magazine – rather unkindly, I felt – named Gordon Brown "worst-dressed man". Now his fellow-countrymen, ie. you and me, have won Britain the title "Worst Dressed Country in Europe". Almost half of those asked – all right, by a consumer website called Ciao – agreed; the runner-up was Germany.

And if I had been polled (which I wasn't), I would have had to agree. Returning to the UK from almost anywhere in Europe is a sartorially depressing experience. From the passport queue to the Underground, train or bus, we look collectively dowdy, scruffy, ill-kempt and devoid of style. Time was when people put on something special to "come up" to town. No more.

Alas, foreign visitors swiftly assimilate. Our "anything goes" informality is even why some like coming here. No need to put on make-up before nipping out for a paper. Nor even, we learned recently, any need to change out of pyjamas before a trip to the supermarket – until Tesco got inflated ideas about its status.

Borrowing the concept of "Dress-down Friday" from the United States, we went one worse. Dress-down for them is that strange hybrid, "smart-casual", that requires a whole alternative wardrobe. Dress-down for us is tatty jeans and T-shirts. We'll never be Italian in the style stakes, but could we not at least make Dress-down Friday conditional on a Dress-up Monday to follow?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own