Five questions answered on the crackdown on tax avoidance

G20 finance ministers make an announcement.

G20 finance ministers meeting in Moscow today announced a global crackdown on tax arbitrage by multinational companies. We answer five questions on the proposed crackdown.

Why has this crackdown been launched?

It’s been announced in a bid to tackle base erosion and profit sharing by multinational firms and hopes to address recent sustained criticism of the low tax paid by firms such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks.

It’s hoped it will push up tax rates for firms that specifically arrange their tax affairs so they only pay a small amount. 

What’s the plan?

An action plan has been drawn up by Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for the G20. It sets out more than a dozen ideas to block gaps between national tax systems and tackle practices that artificially separate taxable income from the activity that generates it.

It includes proposals to tackle abuses of tax and to prevent tax avoidance by shifting intangibles between group companies.

It also aims to neutralise the impact of “hybrid” structures used to reduce billions of dollars of tax.

Other countries that are outside the OECD, such as China and India, will be invited to take part in the programme.

What will the outcome be?

This will depend on the co-operation of governments over the next two years, but it is largely hoped that “the golden age of ‘we don’t pay taxes anywhere’ is over,” as said by Pascal Saint-Amans, the top tax official at the OECD.

But this may not happen if commitments of business and governments dwindle.

What have the experts said?

Will Morris, chair of the BIAC’s tax committee, speaking to The Financial Times, said: “In some areas, the international tax system has not kept pace with globalisation and changing business models, and it is appropriate to look again at those areas and consider, based on all the evidence, whether any changes are required.”

What have the critics said about this initiative? 

A campaign group that pushes for tax reform, The Tax Justice Network, also speaking to the FT said:  “piecemeal recommendations for states to apply patches to the increasingly leaky international tax system...would be like trying to plug the holes in a sieve.”

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.