Friday, June 17, 2011

UK domicile rule treating women (kind of) like chattel

Quote of the day from George Bull of Baker Tilly, following a recent blog on gender issues in tax. Via The Telegraph, Bull notes that the UK government:
"should also remove the rule which treats women married before 1974 as having their husband’s domicile. In 2011, women are not chattels."
HMRC guidance notes (we've added a comma to the original, after '1973', for clarity):
Before 1974 the domicile of a married woman was dependent upon the domicile of her husband. . . . As a result of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973, this is no longer the case for marriages after 31 December 1973, and for those women who were married at 31 December 1973 the domicile of dependence was re-classified as a domicile of choice on 1 January 1974. Changes were also made to the position of children whose parents were living apart. This applies to the UK.
An interesting anacrhonism from history, which should have been tidied up at the time. Women have an opt-out from this 'chattel' status as Bull puts it (though doing so is not straightforward)- but unless they do opt out the status remains intact.

What an archaic and ridiculous system Britain's domicile rule is. It's timeto scrap the whole sordid mess and provide a level playing field for all, rather than a special tax break for the super-rich.

Postscript: Margaret Thatcher may have been the chattel of her husband Dennis, for tax purposes: he was a non-domiciled individual - and since they married before 1974, so was she. The Thatcher family funds were, it seems, held offshore through Jersey trusts, which excluded them from income tax. Although it doesn't seem to be that factor which prompted her to keep the notorious domicile rule, as this little piece of tax haven history attests.
"Giles Whittell in The Times recounts the time when the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher threatened to tax non-doms on their worldwide income "It was a variation on this sort of threat that caused Margaret Thatcher a rare loss of nerve in 1988. With her Treasury minister, Norman Lamont, the Iron Lady was considering taxing non-doms on their worldwide income a far more stringent crackdown than a levy. Legend has it that she received a call from a representative of the Greek shipping community who let her know that they would up sticks en masse and move to Piraeus if she persisted; and that she swiftly dropped the plan. ‘All true,’ Lord Lamont of Lerwick told The Times this week."
(And for those British people planning to jump up and say "we should keep this rule, it brings rich people to Britain!" - well, we would suggest reading Martin Wolf's comprehensive demolition job of such nonsense in the Financial Times.) And for more on domicile, see the basic principles on Youtube, and this more detailed report.

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