Double Taxation Treaties - Wealthy South African Relieved of £10 Million Bill

Rich individuals often have their feet firmly planted in more than one country and that can give rise to disputes as to where they should be taxed. In a guideline case, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) considered the position of an extremely wealthy man with extensive ties to both the UK and the Republic of South Africa.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) argued that the man was liable for Income Tax in respect of more than £20 million that he received from a family trust during five tax years. He asserted that, for the purposes of the UK's double taxation treaty with South Africa, he was resident in the latter and should thus be taxed there. The amount of tax at stake in the dispute came to over £10 million.

Ruling on the matter, the FTT found that, although he possessed substantial homes in South Africa, most of the property and other assets that he owned outright were in the UK. During the relevant tax years, the settled routine of his family life was in the UK. He spent more time in the UK than in South Africa and, although he never received a salary in this country, he worked remotely in and from the UK and it was in the UK that he paid tax on his employment income.

The FTT, however, noted that he was a national of South Africa and rejected HMRC's arguments that he had put down deep roots in this country. He and his wife owned homes on three continents but there was very clear evidence that their closest personal links were to friends and family in South Africa. South Africa, its people and culture were rarely out of his thoughts and he had an ongoing and longstanding emotional and financial commitment to its future as a nation.

His various occupations and political interests were also more closely linked to South Africa than to the UK. In upholding his appeal, the FTT found that his centre of vital interests had always been in South Africa. By operation of the double taxation treaty, therefore, he was deemed to have been resident in South Africa for tax purposes throughout the relevant period.