Legal action by Good Law Project and the Ecotricity founder, Dale Vince, has forced UK tax authorities to admit that some private equity fund managers have been paying tax at the wrong rate for more than 35 years.
Since 1987, HMRC has taxed the money managers receive from private equity funds as capital gains – at a rate of 28% – instead of as trading income, which is taxed at 47%. This has seen Government losing hundreds of millions of pounds a year – enough to pay the salaries of more than 10,000 nurses.
Good Law Project and Dale Vince warned the tax authorities in May of an impending legal challenge, arguing that this practice is unlawful in the case of buyout funds. These funds buy mature companies with borrowed money, using the company’s assets and income to pay off the debt before selling them on. This practice has crippled important economic sectors such as nursing homes.
HMRC has now conceded the key argument raised by Vince and Good Law Project, accepting that the money managers receive from buyout funds – known in the trade as their “carried interest” – “would be taxable as trading income in the hands of UK tax resident individuals. HMRC would expect such individuals to file their self-assessment returns accordingly.”
With buyout funds making up an estimated 70% of the private equity industry, this recharacterisation would net the Government a further £420m a year in tax.
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity and tax campaigner, said, “I’m pleased that HMRC has relented on this issue and made clear that private equity funds can be subject to the same tax rules as nurses and teachers – they do not have an exemption from tax norms. The position until now has been driven by consecutive Conservative governments, which is clear from the material that HMRC has disclosed. We now have the potential to recover over £400m a year in previously lost tax revenue. It’s a significant sum, enough for example to make sure our schools are safe from collapsing ceilings.
“Will Rishi Sunak take this opportunity? Or will he continue to gift £420m a year to some of the wealthiest people in the country instead. We need a tax system that is fair, this clarification is a step towards that, but we need a government that is fair too. Britain has endured a decade of Conservative Austerity, we’ve been told there is no money for public services – while as much as £4 billion has been gifted to private equity interests.”
Jo Maugham, Executive Director of Good Law Project and a leading tax KC, said, “Private equity fund managers have been grossly undertaxed since 1987 – not because of the law but because of the political pressure put on HMRC by Government. This stance could be easily reversed, without any change in legislation, and should be. I hope a future Government takes that step.”