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VAT: Impact of Brexit on returning expats

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Jason Croke tells the tale of two British citizens subjected to £6,211 of import taxes on their own possessions because the residence relief wasn’t applicable.

11th Jan 2022
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Mr and Mrs Brooks moved to France in 1991, while Mr Brooks worked for an international company. 

Mr Brooks retired in July 2016 and the couple decided to move back to the UK, so they placed their French (and only) residence on the market. They rented a property in Bristol (from their daughter), registered with a local GP, the local authority, electoral roll and also joined a bridge club (the card game, not the Clifton suspension version).

For all intent and purposes, they were now resident in the UK from July 2016. They visited their French property regularly to maintain the property and gardens. They also left most of their furnishings in the French property, as otherwise they would have had to pay for shipping and storage in the UK. Also, a furnished house looks better than empty rooms from a sales/marketing perspective.

Anyone who has ever purchased or sold property in France will know the process is painfully slow. It was not until November 2020 that a binding sale was agreed and with the additional burden of Covid, the furnishings were not shipped back to the UK until after Brexit (31 December 2020).

It was on that shipment that they were charged £6,211.67 in import duty and VAT, and Brooks appealed against that charge to the first tier tribunal (TC08333).

Defence

Brooks’ core defence was that the July 2016 move was in form only, in reality they were still living between France and the UK. Between July 2016 and November 2020 they had spent 177, 153, 27, 207 and 230 days in each respective year in the UK.

Legislation

In summary, a person entering the UK is not required to pay any duty or tax in respect of property imported into the UK on condition that:

  • they were normally resident in another country for a continuous period of at least 12 months
  • they intend to become normally resident in the UK
  • their property has been in their possession and used by them in the country they are moving from
  • the property is declared for relief not earlier than six months before the date on which they become normally resident and not later than 12 months following that date.

The issue

That last condition reveals the problem. The Brooks’ return to the UK was in July 2016 when they obtained accommodation, registered for a local GP and the local elections. HMRC was clear that they changed their residency in July 2016 and that the couple could have done a number of things to avoid the issue, such as pay to store the furniture in the UK or sell the furniture in France.

In effect, the relief from duty/tax was not available because they had moved to the UK in 2016 and only moved their possessions 54 months later in 2021. Brooks did not persuade the tribunal that they were still resident in France up until the sale of the French property.

It was not helped that during his career Brooks paid UK taxes at all times on his earnings rather than French tax. This was also a factor in returning to the UK as he had not paid into the French taxation system to obtain healthcare and other social benefits.

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Replies (5)

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Caroline
By accountantccole
11th Jan 2022 12:50

Suspect this is far from an isolated scenario - helpful to have a case to point people to though. Thanks

Thanks (1)
avatar
By paul.benny
11th Jan 2022 13:43

Another advantage of Brexit! Extra tax revenue from all the expats returning from the EU to help cover government spending on Covid !

Thanks (1)
Replying to paul.benny:
Caroline
By accountantccole
11th Jan 2022 16:02

Largely older people, I suspect they will be a net cost to the treasury.....

Thanks (1)
paddle steamer
By DJKL
17th Jan 2022 12:23

We will have the same issue maybe summer this year (if we can drive over re Covid) when I hope to be able to drive to Sweden, collect our personal possessions stored by our neighbour, and bring them back to the UK, the possessions mainly being 400 LPs purchased in the UK in the 70s and 80s.

I took this point to my MP last year, I got referred by them to the Treasury (we exchanged e mails) and I communicated the nonsense to the office of our good friend Boris, all to no avail.

Brexit has resulted in our reluctantly selling our house in Sweden last year (owned since 2004)-health insurance in retirement, due to pre existing condition ,was not going to be straightforward and our plans for retirement (x months UK y months Sweden) have required to be changed .

(Do not get me started on difficulty posting 4 keys to Sweden and the paperwork required, first attempt Swedish Customs returned them and we needed to search out the right code for secondhand house keys being sent to the house purchaser in Sweden)

Thanks (0)
Replying to DJKL:
VAT
By Jason Croke
26th Jan 2022 16:37

If using the green channel at the UK port, if you get stopped, will they know your 400 LP's have been in Sweden for the last few years? Or maybe you are an international DJ and travel everywhere with your music.

If using a professional moving firm, they'll do it by the book and those things will need to be declared (the couple in the article used a firm to move their furniture), whereas if you are doing it yourself, greater chance of blagging it at the UK border.

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