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The Lede: How should international families shape their personal narratives?

In May’s issue of The Lede, Adam Gale discusses how international families should shape their personal narratives. The Sunday Times Rich List 2022 revealed that the UKs wealthy are a pluralist bunch, and there is an entire philosophical and political debate about their tax affairs.

International families can shape their personal narratives.

This article is an extract from Transmission Private’s monthly newsletter, The Lede, which tracks the world of reputation management for private clients. You can sign up for the newsletter on our website via the tab at the bottom of this article or by completing the form here.

The UK’s wealthiest are a pluralistic bunch. In the Sunday Times Rich List 2022, for example, nine of the top 10 entries were either born abroad or part of a multinational family. Yet the public has a love-hate relationship with ultra-high-net-worth migrants, particularly around their tax affairs. 

Rich List

Top 10 richest in the UK (Source: The Sunday Times Rich List 2022)

I sense where this is going. Last month, front pages splashed with the story that Rishi Sunak’s wife, fashion designer and heiress Akshata Murthy, was a ‘non-dom’, tabloid shorthand for someone based here on a non-permanent or indefinite basis but domiciled for tax purposes in another country. Unsurprisingly, the coverage was not generally favourable.

Explain. The implication was that non-doms are avoiding UK tax - not a good look, especially when you’re married to the Chancellor. Yet it’s a brush that could tar a considerable number of wealthy expats living in the UK.

Why should a person’s tax affairs be open for discussion? In theory it’s a matter for you, your tax advisor and HMRC, but with prominence comes attention. People will dig and, if you’re unlucky, people will leak.

How should a person respond? There is a whole philosophical and political debate that you could have. These tax arrangements are very old, totally legal and no less an example of a ‘tax avoidance scheme’ than self-employed people having a different national insurance rate from salaried people. They reflect the complexity of modern global lives. And, if they didn’t exist, it would be a major barrier for people to move to the UK, where they spend, found businesses, invest and - let’s not forget - pay a considerable amount of tax in absolute terms.

So they should say that then? These are perfectly reasonable defences, but it’s more about how you deploy them. If you get defensive there’s no way you can win in the court of public opinion. That’s because a) most folk don’t understand the finer points of British and international tax law; and b) there is a leading question lurking between the lines - ‘should the very wealthy pay more tax?’ - to which detractors can always say yes. You’re left defending wealth inequality itself, hardly a popular position.

The solution? Describe in simple terms why this arrangement reflects the reality of your situation. The UK isn’t your permanent home. Your foreign assets have nothing to do with the UK and possibly predate your arrival here, so you pay taxes on them in your home country. Say you pay your UK taxes as due and contribute to the local economy, but don’t get caught up in a debate about who ought to pay what. And of course, make sure you can trust your tax advisor before going into politics.

Takeaway… Whether it should be public knowledge or not, you don’t want to spend time discussing your tax arrangements. If you have non-dom status and some prominence, prepare what you’d say if there’s a leak.

Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.