Friday 28 October 2016

Are you on the wrong side of the Tax Man?

A stint abroad or an overseas holiday home could leave you owing money to Revenue, writes Louise McBride

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

A stint abroad or an overseas holiday home could leave you owing money to Revenue. Cartoon: Tom Haliday
A stint abroad or an overseas holiday home could leave you owing money to Revenue. Cartoon: Tom Haliday

The ongoing Panama Papers scandal, which has lifted the lid on how the rich and powerful used tax havens to hide their wealth, could have serious repercussions for any Irish individuals who have used accounts in the country to evade tax.

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The ordinary man on the street doesn't have to worry much about any follow-up investigations which the Revenue Commissioners might undertake on foot of the Panama leaks - because most of us don't have our money hidden away in obscure offshore accounts.

However, it is still easy for ordinary individuals to slip up on their taxes. Here are seven ways you could find yourself on the wrong side of Revenue because you didn't pay enough tax - innocently or otherwise.

Your six months waiting tables abroad

People are most likely to take chances with tax on foreign income they earn, according to Barry Flanagan, senior tax manager with That foreign income could include money earned while working abroad for a few months - or rental income pocketed on an overseas property.

"You might go abroad and work for six months," says Flanagan. "People often think that they have no more tax to pay [on the income earned while working abroad] as long as they have paid tax in the country where they earned that money. They may take the view that Revenue will never find out about that foreign income anyway and so they don't declare it.

"However, once you are tax resident and domiciled in Ireland, you need to declare your worldwide income. There may be relief (from Irish tax) if the income has been subject to tax in the foreign country you worked in. But that income still needs to be reported to Revenue."

So essentially, you may still have some tax to pay to the Revenue in Ireland on money you earned while working abroad for a few months - particularly if the income tax rates in the foreign country are lower than they are here in Ireland. To calculate the extra tax due (if any), you typically deduct the amount of tax you paid to the foreign tax authority from the amount of tax you would have paid on the income had you earned it in Ireland. The balance is what you owe to Irish Revenue.

"Even if no additional tax is owed, there would still be a filing obligation and this income should be reported to Revenue via your tax return," said Mr Flanagan.

Your Spanish holiday home

Many Irish people own second homes abroad - which they rent out. Even if you have paid tax on your foreign rental income to the tax authority in the country where your overseas property is based, you could still have more tax to pay to the Irish Revenue (assuming you are resident or ordinarily resident, and domiciled in Ireland).

Again, the extra tax due is typically the difference between the amount of tax paid to the foreign authority - and the amount that you would have paid Revenue had you earned the money in Ireland. You also have to declare your overseas rental income to Revenue.

"You might have a property in Bulgaria and have filed a tax return over there for rental income earned on the Bulgarian property," said Mr Flanagan. "You have to report that income in Ireland too."

Your foreign shares

Okay so the foreign shares you snapped up some time ago might not have turned into the money spinner you were expecting but if you're earning dividends from those shares (no matter how small), you need to declare that money to Revenue - and pay whatever tax is due.

"People sometimes take chances because they've only earned a small amount of income from foreign dividends - however, you must declare everything," said Mr Flanagan.

The tax rules around foreign dividends are very complex. So you could get on the wrong side of Revenue because it is so easy to slip up here - rather than because you are deliberately chancing your arm.

Your out-of-date tax credits

People often claim tax credits which they are no longer eligible for - but which they qualified for previously. Tax credits reduce the amount of income tax you have to pay. So incorrectly claiming tax credits can land you with a major tax bill, because you will have to pay Revenue back any money you owe it.

You could be over-claiming or under-claiming tax credits if there has been a big change in your life in recent years, such as a new job, the purchase of your first home after renting for a number of years, a marriage (or a break-up of one), or the death of a spouse.

You should advise Revenue of any major change in your life circumstances - so that it can update your tax records. "Taxpayers should regularly review their circumstances and ensure the tax credits that they have been granted are what they expect they are entitled to," said a spokeswoman for Revenue.

Your uniform allowance

The tax allowances for flat-rate employment expenses allows employees to claim back some of the cost of uniforms and other work-related expenses. These allowances vary, depending on the job.

So should you claim a flat-rate allowance and then change job, you could be getting a much higher (or indeed, lower) annual allowance than you're entitled to if you haven't informed Revenue of your new position.

Your tax break on mortgage interest

Many of the so-called 'accidental landlords', who are renting out their homes because they moved on or ran into problems repaying the mortgage on it, could be caught out by mortgage interest relief. Mortgage interest relief - which will be abolished completely by the end of 2017 - reduces your mortgage interest bill.

Many borrowers who snapped up mortgage interest relief before it was pulled in late 2012 are still getting the benefit of the tax break - through lower mortgage bills. However, any of these borrowers who decided to rent our their home since - and continued to claim mortgage interest relief after doing so - are in line for a major tax bill.

To qualify for the tax break, the interest you are paying must relate to money that you have borrowed to purchase, repair or improve your sole or main residence.

So if you no longer live in the property and are renting it out, you no longer qualify for the mortgage interest relief and you shouldn't be getting it.

Your tax bill as a landlord

Landlords often slip up on the tax paid on rental income - particularly when it comes to the expenses which are written off their tax bill.

"Quite often, people inadvertently claim the full mortgage repayments (on the rental property) as a tax deduction - or they write off the full cost of the mortgage interest," said Oonagh Casey-Grehan, partner with Fagan & Partners.

You can only write off 75pc of your mortgage interest against rental income. You can't write your full mortgage repayments off your tax bill - and if you have done so in recent years, it is likely that you have significantly underpaid tax on rental income, and owe Revenue a lot of money as a result.

"We have also seen cases where people have been writing off the cost of the local property tax or the old Non Principal Private Residence (NPPR) charge when they shouldn't have been," said Ms Casey-Grehan.

"We often see people who buy furniture and appliances for a rented property and who incorrectly claim the cost of that as an expense in the first year of renting the property - as opposed to over eight years."

The extent to which rental income is taxed has also prompted some landlords to under-declare the amount of rental income they are earning on a property - so that they can reduce their tax bills. Such landlords could face interest, penalties, publication of their name, and possible prosecution if caught - because Revenue is likely to take the view that they have deliberately underpaid tax. The Tax Man comes down hardest on those who have deliberately evaded tax - so avoid doing so and if you find you have innocently underpaid tax, come clean.

As for Panama, Revenue won't be taking any prisoners.

"As more information becomes available to Revenue, taxpayers with undeclared offshore assets will be identified," said a spokeswoman for Revenue. "Our message to taxpayers and intermediaries who assist them in managing their offshore assets is clear: the consequences of tax evasion are costly and serious. Contact Revenue without delay."

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