HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) adopts a tough approach when considering whether a person who claims non-resident tax status has spent more than the permitted number of days in the UK. It certainly brooked no compromise in the case of a woman who ended up with a seven-figure tax bill.
The day before the end of a tax year, the woman moved to Ireland. In the following tax year, her husband transferred shares to her on which she received about £8 million in dividends. HMRC rejected her claim to non-resident tax status and assessed her for £3,142,550 in additional tax.
She accepted that she had spent 50 nights in the UK during the relevant tax year –five nights more than the 45 nights permitted under the statutory residence test (SRT) contained in the Finance Act 2013. She asserted, however, that there were exceptional circumstances, beyond her control, which prevented her from leaving the UK on the excess nights in question.
Allowing her appeal against the tax demand, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) found that she had twice returned to the UK to visit her sister, who was suffering from alcohol addiction and depression. Whilst not accepting that her visits were prompted by her sister's threats of suicide, the FTT found that she needed to be in the UK to look after her sister's children until alternative care arrangements could be made.
In upholding HMRC's challenge to that outcome, however, the Upper Tribunal (UT) found that the FTT erred in law in finding that she was 'prevented' from leaving the UK. It noted that the word 'prevent' means stopping something from happening, or making an intended act impossible, and connotes more than a mere hindrance.
In finding that exceptional circumstances applied, the FTT reached conclusions on the evidence that were inconsistent, and thus perverse. It further erred in failing to consider whether all elements of the SRT were met on each of the five excess nights, taken individually.
The UT acknowledged that the woman may have felt morally bound to remain in the UK to care for her sister's children. However, it found on the evidence that any such sense of moral obligation did not amount to exceptional circumstances preventing her from leaving the UK. In upholding the tax demand, the UT ruled that she was resident in the UK during the relevant tax year.