Celebrities and tax
Such is the omnipresent nature of modern news news that it’s hard to imagine a time when stories weren’t constantly available to us online and on-screen.
Yet it’s true that before the creation of the American satellite network CNN, our national news feed consisted of a couple of television bulletins and – quite often – single editions of the main print titles.
Now, however, the demand for new content on-air and online via our TVs, radios and digital devices means that we’re never more than a moment away from breaking news.
Many media organisations have realised that articles about celebrities – or ‘click-bait’, as they’ve become known – are important to develop both a following and the sort of commercial income from advertisers needed to sustain their operations as print circulations, in particular, decline.
Whilst that can allow the even tanned and telegenic to promote themselves far beyond what was once thought possible, it also has it pitfalls.
Take taxes, for instance.
Between the advent of 24-news and a couple of years ago, I can only think of one star – the tickling stick-wielding toothy Scouse comedian Sir Ken Dodd – to have found himself in the spotlight for being on the wrong side of the taxman (although he as found not guilty of avoidance after Crown Court trial in 1989).
HMRC’s decision to get tough with tax avoidance, though, seems not only to have coincided with a boom in digital news but a raft of celebrities coming a cropper for trying to minimise their tax bills.
We’ve had people like the comic Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow, the Take That singer and TV talent show judge, whom Carr himself dubbed a “national treasure”.
In a roll-call which sounds like the cast list of a revue show at the London Palladium, they’ve been joined by former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, TV presenters Ant and Dec and even David Beckham.
As such, celebrities and tax headlines have had something of an uneasy relationship.
So it makes something of a novel departure to have one of the biggest celebrities of the moment coming up with an idea to help HMRC clamp down on avoidance.
World heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua has suggested that more of the wealthy would be prepared to cough up a share of their riches if the Revenue was not only up-front about how their taxes would be spent.
It’s an arrangement which bears partial similarity to the precepting element of our council tax bills, by which local authorities detail the share of their income which is passed on to other authorities, such as police, fire and passenger transport.
There are those who might dismiss Mr Joshua’s recommendation but I think that it might have its merits and not merely because I specialise in tax advice while he is a very muscular chap who has made a living out of beating people up.
After all, the idea that information or wording can make people more willing to pay their share of tax is something that HMRC itself has seen fit to adopt.
Back in 2014, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, revealed how the Revenue had been using individuals known professionally as “behavioural economists” – but dubbed ‘the nudge squad’ – to increase the tax take by subtly altering the wording of letters sent to people regarded as potential evaders.
Therefore, giving taxpayers – whether well-known or not – more of a clue as to what their money’s being spent on is not that far-fetched at all.
I sincerely doubt, I must say, that HMRC will be picking up the ‘phone to Mr Joshua any time soon.
Even with increased numbers of personnel and complex algorithms to weedle out those who would welch on their tax payments, another angle of attack might be considered too much for the taxman to cope with.
I think that’s a shame as it’s surely in the Revenue’s interest to listen to all suggestions which might close the tax gap, especially those which engender an appreciation that everyone should play – and pay – a part.
On that basis, I think Anthony Joshua’s notion is..well…just knockout!
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