Tax: spirit of the law vs letter of the law

Updated: 
Lawyer The letter of law is easy to understand and live by; UK laws are there in black and white for us all to follow and mean the majority of us don't steal or go joy riding.

However, when it comes to living within the spirit of the law, that's another thing entirely. If the cashier at the supermarket gives you back to much change you might be tempted to keep it and that's sort of stealing although I doubt there's a written rule that says as much (happy to be proven wrong if it is the case!).



The importance of living within the spirit of the law is growing, particularly when it comes to avoiding the payment of tax.

The Treasury is keen to clamp down on tax evasion – those failing to pay the tax they owe by flushing their money through illegal tax shelters or failing to declare income or gains at all – but it has also turned its eye towards tax avoidance.

Tax avoidance is another kettle of fish completely. For a start it's completely legal to try and avoid paying tax; the government sets the tax rules and allowances and as a UK citizen you are entitled to try and minimise the amount of tax you pay to the government. Nothing wrong with that is there?

Well, according to the Crown Prosecution Service there might be, because it's concerned that some tax avoidance schemes aren't in the spirit of the law, in other words they're very complex, very clever, and work too well.

Director of prosecutions Keir Starmer has asked the government for more money so it can go after middle-class tax avoiders who are part of 'dishonest tax avoidance schemes'.

The problem I have with this is what constitutes a 'dishonest tax avoidance scheme'. Is it a tax scheme that is operating within the letter of the law, no matter how complex, but outside of the spirit of the law?

If that is the case then the letter of the law isn't the line in the sand between evasion and avoidance, so who draws that line? Who will decide whether something is evasion or avoidance and whether it is legal or not.

This is very shaky ground for the government and the CPS to walk on but shakier for individuals looking to shelter their money from tax – who will be left wondering whether they will be subject to retrospective action against a scheme that is technically legal.

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT