David Beckham, taxes and knighthood

David Beckham
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At last it’s official, you can buy a knighthood by paying HMRC an undisclosed sum.

The taxman is becoming renowned for his efforts to recover taxes from those “customers” who get involved in allegedly dodgy scheming, even the relatively innocently such as David Beckham.

Apart from the very obvious, collecting the overdue taxes, the armoury extends to

  1. Interest
  2. Penalties
  3. Naming and shaming
  4. Various registers of serial and serious tax avoiders
  5. Prison
  6. A word in the ear of Her Majesty

While most industry professionals will have been aware of the first five points on the list above, it is the last one that hit the headlines in a big way this week following yet more email leaking to salacious websites.

It transpires that the only thing stopping Posh Spice’s husband from becoming Sir David Beckham was his involvement in what was probably a film tax scheme, which offended the powers that be in Somerset House or Parliament Street to the extent that that he was given a red flag, which at least makes a change from the occasional red card with which he was familiar in his playing days.

If a story in the Daily Mail is to be taken at face value, a man appointed to be one of Britain’s ambassadors to the last Olympic Games was offered the chance to backtrack and achieve ennoblement, if he paid a large sum to the Revenue.

In the best bulldog British spirit, not only did Mr Beckham, as he remains, turn down this valuable opportunity unlike so many donors to political parties who know the price of a gong, he went an unwise step or two further.

If avoiding taxes is a mistake when it comes to trying to get that small appendage to one’s name, giving titles to the members of The Honours Committee (which decides on such things) that might be mistaken for obscenities by those who understand such things is definitely an even bigger error.

While David Beckham’s behaviour in this matter has been naive and personally counter-productive, it does raise some bigger questions both about both the British honours system and our tax regime.

In a country where tax avoidance has been raised to an art form and is almost certainly practised by many who genuinely can call themselves “Sir” or “Lord”, there is a degree of hypocrisy in preventing someone who, applying current standards, is undoubtedly deserving of a knighthood, merely because he has been caught out doing what his peers (pun absolutely intended) are doing a little less obviously or publicly.

Indeed, there has to be a possibility that we would no longer need to think about reform of the House of Lords or many institutions in the city, if consistency was applied and titles removed as well as denied, where arguably legitimate tax avoidance was in point.

On the other hand, if people open themselves up to trouble by using arrangements that are at best controversial and at worst determined by the courts to be illegal, perhaps there is some justice if they suffer penalties that really hurt, rather than doing little more than paying back the taxes that they had avoided many years before.

This debate could run and run.

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08th Feb 2017 16:58

But point 6 above cannot be right per my comment here about HMRC's duty of taxpayer confidentiality:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/tax/hmrc-policy/9am-lowdown-beckham-mtd-...

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09th Feb 2017 07:23

Mr Bryant

I hate to remind you but it is Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Therefore, our Dear Queen has effectively spoken to herself in this case and thankfully there is no breach of security.

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09th Feb 2017 10:50

Where is your legislative or case law justification for that, considering the clear ruling in the PM Ingenious SC case? (There are no exceptions other than for law enforcement purposes under POCA 2002 etc. and the Queen as a person has got nothing to do with this and HMRC do not dish out honours, so they are a totally different and separate body as far as confidentiality is concerned, just like the police are a totally separate body to HMRC and HMRC cannot divulge things even to the cops without due process i.e. within the laws of taxpayer confidentiality). I am very happy to be proved wrong, but even if you can provide any case law or legislation justifying disclosure (short of such law enforcement reasons which are clearly not relevant here) it would surely be caught by the SC's "school playground" point.

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09th Feb 2017 15:47

I would much sooner David Beckham got a knighthood than the endless stream of ex Mp's and civil servants who get them for basically doing a job, often badly.

Beckham has been an icon to millions of kids and a genuine role model, he was instrumental in Olympic bid, a great England skipper and does huge amounts for charity and to promote sport globally.

His dedication to the country is impeccable and deserves whatever awards come to him.

Dame Lin Homer however........

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