Does your cross-border tax planning stand up to today’s scrutiny?
By Steven Langford, Partner, Blevins Franks

There has never been more tax transparency than today. With the ‘Common Reporting Standard’ (CRS) global initiative now in full flow, tax offices across the world are keeping track of taxpayers’ offshore assets and accounts through the automatic exchange of

information. And they are increasingly starting to follow up on discrepancies.
In the case of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), where UK tax
declarations do not match offshore information received under CRS, they have been sending out ‘nudge letters’. These are prompting tax payers to check and correct details of overseas income and gains on their UK tax records or potentially face a tax investigation.
Legitimate cross-border tax planning has always been crucial, but with such heightened worldwide scrutiny it is more important than ever to ensure you are paying the right taxes, in the right place, at the right time. If you get it wrong, even unintentionally, the penalties can be severe.

What is the Common Reporting Standard?

The CRS came into effect in 2016, when the early adopters began collecting information on financial accounts held by non-residents. The first actual exchange took place in 2017 between 49 jurisdictions, including the UK and Spain. Today, over 100 countries are co-operating; in 2019 alone, they shared
details on 84 million offshore accounts covering total assets of €10 trillion.
The financial institutions obligated to report information each year include banks, custodians, certain investment entities and insurance companies, trusts and foundations. Besides basic contact details, country of tax residence and tax identification number, the focus is on financial assets owned outside the country of residence. This includes investment income (interest, dividends, income from certain insurance contracts, annuities etc.), account balances and gross proceeds from the sale of financial assets.

Local scrutiny

This increased global transparency enables local tax offices to easily verify whether tax payers have accurately reported their worldwide income on their income tax and, where relevant, wealth tax returns.
In Spain too, the authorities have been following up discrepancies after comparing data to residents’ declarations. Remember: Spanish residents are also required to submit a Modelo 720 each year to list overseas assets exceeding €50,000 in certain categories, with severe penalties for discrepancies or failure to comply.

The UK’s clampdown on tax evasion

In the last decade, the UK government has introduced over 100 measures and 200 task forces targeting tax avoidance.
Today, the CRS plays a key ongoing part in HMRC’s strategy. Using its ‘Connect’ analysis programme, it can cross-check data received from abroad with its own (including details on salaries, bank accounts, loans, property, car ownership etc.). In 2018/19, HMRC received £560 million from offshore tax investigations, 72% more than the year before CRS data collection began. Recent tougher penalties for undeclared offshore income and gains include an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison.
The March 2020 UK budget allocated extra funding, staff and resources to further scale up its tax evasion scrutiny.

New EU law to share cross-border tax information

To deter aggressive tax planning and uncover information not usually captured through the CRS, the EU has brought in new reporting obligations for cross-border tax arrangements by advisers, accountants and other third-party professionals, through the EU directive known as DAC6.

The importance of getting it right

If you are tax resident in one country and have assets or earn income in another, take extreme care. You need to follow the local tax rules, the UK tax rules and also the relevant double tax treaty to make sure you are correctly declaring income and paying tax where you should be.
While cross-border taxation is highly complex, getting it wrong, for any reason, can have serious consequences. Remember, ignorance is no defence; it is your
responsibility to check you have declared all your worldwide tax liabilities and bring your tax situation up to date if necessary.
Beware too that many UK-based banks, advisers and financial providers are set to lose their licence to operate in the EU once the Brexit transition period ends, so be sure to check if your situation will change on 1 January.
There are tax planning arrangements available in Spain that can help you legitimately reduce your tax liabilities, particularly on investment capital, so take advice for the best results. A locally-based adviser with cross-border expertise can help you enjoy favourable tax treatment while offering peace of mind that you are meeting your tax obligations, here and in the UK.

Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax
information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.