Charitable Giving and the budget: A sledgehammer to crack an egg?
The Chancellor announced on Tuesday that he was “shocked”, by the extent of tax avoidance occurring, completely legally, through wealthy individuals giving large portions of their income to charity, or claimed through other tax reliefs.
This comes as part of an ongoing row between third sector organisations and the government over the plans announced in the Budget to cap the amount on which tax reliefs can be claimed at £50,000, or 25% of an individual’s income, whichever is greater. The effect of this, estimated by the government as a saving of £890million in 2014-15 if individuals do not change their behaviour, remains, as Sarah Smith said in this blog previously “almost impossible to answer” by a third party, as HMRC do not make available the data used in their analysis – which is itself not broken down by sources of reliefs.
This morning’s declaration by Number 10 that “wealthy people are donating to charities which do not do a great deal of charitable work”, is another salvo in this argument.
It does, however, highlight a more serious issue with the way in which charities are regulated in this country. The organisations to which these donations are going must be bona fide charities, registered with the charities commission, in order for these reliefs to be claimed. The Charities Aid Foundation, among the vociferous opponents of the change to the tax relief system, would presumably not oppose the prevention of tax avoidance through these charities.
If, as the government is presumably arguing, these charities exist purely for the purpose of tax avoidance, why are they afforded charitable status at all? Why does the government feel that it is acceptable for people to avoid tax to the tune of 25% of their income through these faux-charities, but no more? Although some have long argued that there are too many charities in the UK (over 180,000), it is understandably hard to make a clear judgement as to which should be disposed of. Nonetheless, the government’s statement this morning implies that they are able to identify a number of them. Given that these charities are the recipients of huge donations, cutting back on avoidance through them by stripping them of their charitable status and making more rigorous the accreditation and auditing process for charities would appear to be more efficient than the imposition of a cap, and would avoid the collateral damage to legitimate philanthropists and the charities they support.