Michael Winner on his dealings with the revenue and his diet book

31 October 2007

31 October 2007

Can anyone lend me quid or two? For the first time in my life I’m borrowing money. Mortgaging property. Scrabbling around for cash so I can live my lavish life-style. In case any of the firms I have accounts with are getting worried, please don’t. I have many, many, many millions of pounds in what is laughingly known as a rollover fund. Mine’s in Guernsey. This turns cash into shares but your money is only put on the money market so there’s no risk. Instead of interest you get extra shares. When you eventually sell you pay around 25 per cent tax because it’s reckoned you’re cashing part of the increase and part of what you originally put there.

Years ago my learned tax lawyer, Ron Downhill of Berwin Leighton Paisner (commission please, Ron, if you get any business from this), agreed this was a good thing. For four years the Special Compliance Office put a wonderful man on my case who was determined to show it was tax evasion. At the end the Revenue agreed it wasn’t. Thus I got tax clearance for over 100 of these rollover schemes, nearly all operated by famous banks. They’d never bothered to get it. They just took their commission and smiled. Ron said to me some time ago, ‘Why bring in money and lose 25 per cent of it, when if you borrowed against your Guernsey shares, you’d only be paying, at most, 1 per cent more than you’re already getting?’ So now I’m borrowing against anything. Including my mansion in Holland Park which I conservatively estimate is worth £35 million. If you shop around, interest rates vary massively. A bank manager asked, ‘Why do you want to borrow £2 million?’ I replied, ‘Because my income has diminished near to zero and I’m sitting opposite my beloved fiancée who refuses to go to work.’ I know Shakespeare said, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’ But he didn’t have money in a Channel Islands rollover account.

Now to another, more bizarre, financial matter. I’m sure you remember my last Spectator Diary when I told you of tax inspector Colin Kain, who works for the North East Metropolitan Area Complex Personal Return Team in Tyne and Wear. Mr Kain took what I considered a near-lunatic view that when I paid for meals in my role as food critic for the Sunday Times, as I had to eat to live, it showed a duality of purpose which meant such expenses were not deductible. No other food critic in the land was thus afflicted. Already six senior tax inspectors had agreed to what I was doing, as they do for all other food critics. But Mr Kain is in a world of his own. He even suggested that if I was not hungry and then had a meal to write about, he might consider it deductible! The Special Compliance office had gone into everything, left no stone unturned, when I voluntarily told them I’d put a few quid in Switzerland when tax was 75 per cent on earned income and 98 per cent on savings and I now wished to atone for it. That was settled amicably.

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Just when I thought all was over, up pops Colin Kain, tax inspector extraordinary. His first probing letter was dated 6 October 2005. The matter was settled on 5 October 2007. Two years of endless haggling on most minor points, none of which (and I can’t understand how Kain didn’t see this) would produce one penny extra tax for the Revenue or the nation. Unless I unexpectedly earn millions in the future, it never will.

One might ask why did Mr Kain and his colleagues (who he often consulted) in Tyne and Wear bother about all this when the end result was bound to be nil pennies for the Revenue? Have they nothing better to do up there? They’re paid by the taxpayer to follow up matters where there might be some reward to the nation. As it is, the only people rewarded were my accountant and tax lawyer, to the tune of some £40,000. A total waste of my money and a total waste of the Revenue’s time. It is my ever so humble opinion that after sending five massive files of ridiculous letters which got the Revenue nowhere, the Complex Return Team in Tyne and Wear should be put to useful work such as road-sweeping, knitting cardigans for pensioners or basket-weaving. I’ve dealt with tax inspectors, including the heavy mob at the Special Compliance office, for 52 years. I’ve had disagreements. But I’ve ended up greatly respecting them all. Those oddballs in Tyne and Wear let the side down. I shall send this daring article (well, in a democracy, why should we cringe with fear at bashing tax inspectors?) to Paul Gray, Chairman of HM Revenue and Customs at his office in Parliament Street. I’ll suggest he (all right Paul, you can pass the job to an underling) should seriously look into why the Tyne and Wear grotesques wasted two years of public money, their time, and mine, in pursuit of a no-win situation.

I’ll finish by telling you about my amusing, well-reviewed, highly effective diet book, Michael Winner’s Fat Pig Diet. If a glutton-slob like me, who failed every diet for 25 years, can lose three and a half stone and keep it off, so can you. On my diet you can eat ice-cream, cakes, anything. Just eat less. It’s all explained with many jolly stories. Get the book. Buy dozens as Christmas gifts for your fat friends. It’s fun and I need the money.

Michael Winner’s Fat Pig Diet, published by JR Books at £12.99, is on sale now.

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