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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.