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Tax editor urges wealthy tax avoiders to ‘take a good look at themselves’

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Ordinary taxpayers unable to avoid tax are ‘horrified’ by the behaviour of a wealthy few who are driven by greed to engage in aggressive tax avoidance schemes, a leading tax writer and lecturer has told Tax Journal.

Yesterday Rebecca Benneyworth congratulated journalists at The Times who had conveyed the outline of complex avoidance schemes ‘in an intelligible way’ during the past week. Daily articles have highlighted what the paper called the ‘secrets of the tax avoiders’.

Invited to comment on Graham Aaronson’s warning in today’s newspaper that ‘more riots in the streets’ would not be far away if aggressive tax avoidance were not tackled effectively, Benneyworth said she was ‘astonished that on the whole Times readers commenting online were expressing dismay’ at the continuing coverage.


Benneyworth, Editor of Tax Adviser and Deputy Chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty, published her personal reaction to the Times series at AccountingWEB.

She told Tax Journal today that she was ‘heartened’ that many members of AccountingWEB had agreed broadly with the view that the recent publicity about aggressive avoidance schemes ‘risks damaging our profession in the eyes of the public’.

She added: ‘Graham [Aaaronson] has expressed the view that unless this issue is resolved soon it could provoke unrest. I’m not sure that this alone could do so, but this issue, combined with benefit cuts – maybe the loss of housing benefit to the under 25s, proposed yesterday – would be enough to provoke a significant reaction.

‘My own experience is that ordinary taxpayers, taxed under PAYE (and let’s not forget the 12% NIC they are paying too) are horrified by the behaviour of the wealthy few. They have no opportunity to avoid tax themselves, and their tax bill is a much more significant element of their household budget than it is to the “few”.

‘Driven on by greed – whether of the taxpayers or those developing and marketing these schemes – the “few” pull ever further away from “the rest”. It is time that someone held a mirror up for them to take a good long look at themselves – but by the look of the comments on the Times online they have developed myopia.’


The Times article has attracted more than 70 comments. ‘Frank Spence’ wrote: ‘Last summer’s riots were blamed on deprivation, etc. The next lot will be blamed on an unfair taxation regime that some could take advantage of. [Aaronson] has just handed a new defence and excuse to the thugs who just take what they want but refuse to work for it.’

‘Rugbyfiddler’ wrote: ‘It ill behoves the government (in the person of the Prime Minister) to castigate individuals in society for using the existing tax legislation to their advantage, especially at a time when so many members of both houses of Parliament have recently been found wanting in their own area of expenses “manipulation”. Better to put in place laws which prevent “legal” tax avoidance ...’

Last week the Times columnist David Aaronovitch said that instead of asking their accountants if a tax avoidance scheme was legal, the rich ‘should ask themselves: is it moral?’

He noted that ‘cornerstone’ of moral systems was imagining what would happen if everybody did the same thing: ‘If we all found a Carr-style way to avoid paying our taxes, would we be a better or a worse society? The answer – criminals roaming unhindered, the borders unpoliced, children uneducated, the sick left to die at home – is obvious, and that should be the basis for a conscience-based decision on paying tax.’