Coronavirus, UK tax and immigration


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The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on 30 January 2020 in relation to the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 outbreak (the Outbreak). Many countries are advising against all but essential travel to mainland China and are recommending anyone showing symptoms of the virus to self-quarantine. Beyond the obvious health issues, the Outbreak could also have unintended consequences on tax residence as individuals are forced to remain in a particular country. Individuals forced to stay in the UK may find their position compromised under the Statutory Residence Test (SRT).

How may the Outbreak affect your UK tax residency?

Travel restrictions and quarantine for those showing symptoms may result in individuals 'over-staying' in the UK for example, if they are unable to return to their home country, which may cause them to become UK tax resident for this tax year.

The legislation does permit a relief for "exceptional circumstances". The relief allows up to an additional 60 days in each tax year where an individual spends time in the UK for reasons beyond their control (such as a national or local disaster or serious illness).

Whether Coronavirus would constitute an "exceptional circumstance" will be based on the facts and initial guidance from HMRC has suggested that they will make decisions on a case by case basis, but one would expect anyone with the virus to be treated sympathetically by HMRC. However, if an individual is fit, well and able to travel, but has an afflicted relative, they may not be able to claim "exceptional circumstances".

The UK Government has been more conclusive in respect of their immigration guidance. The Home Office has issued guidance which suggests that most people in the UK whose immigration status is affected by the coronavirus outbreak will get an automatic extension of their visa until 31 March 2020.

A reminder of the SRT is set out below.

What is the SRT?

The SRT is relied on to determine the tax residence status of individuals with connections to the UK.

Under the SRT, the focus is on day counting. Broadly speaking, an individual will normally be treated as UK tax resident in any tax year if they are physically present at midnight in the UK for 183 days or more in that tax year.

The SRT is split into three parts:

1. The "automatic overseas test"

This limb of the SRT sets out the factors that are sufficient in themselves to make an individual conclusively non-resident. There are different rules depending on whether you are an Arriver (not resident in the UK in the previous three tax years) or a Leaver (resident in the UK for one or more of the previous three tax years).

In summary, an individual will be automatically non-UK tax resident for the relevant tax year if:

  • they are an Arriver and spend fewer than 46 days in the UK in the tax year; or
  • they are a Leaver and spend fewer than 16 days in the UK in the tax year; or
  • they are a Leaver and work full time overseas.

2 The "automatic residence test"

This test sets out the factors that are sufficient in themselves to make an individual conclusively non-UK tax resident.

An individual will be automatically UK resident if:

  • they spend more than 182 days in the UK in the tax year; or
  • their only home is in the UK (or they have two or more homes and all of these are in the UK); or
  • they work full time in the UK.

3 The "sufficient ties test"

If neither the "automatic overseas test" nor the "automatic residence test" are met, the "sufficient ties test" will apply.

The connecting factors (ties to the UK) are as below:

  • available accommodation in the UK;
  • a spouse or minor children who are resident in the UK;
  • working more than 40 days in the UK during the tax year;
  • spending more than 90 days in the UK in either or both of the previous two tax years; and
  • (for Leavers only) - spending more time in the UK than in any other single country in the tax year.

There are again different tests for Arrivers and Leavers depending on the number of ties the individual has to the UK:

Number of ties to the
UK
Number of days Arrivers
can spend in the UK
per tax year without becoming UK resident
Zero or one Up to 182 days
Two Up to 120 days
Three Up to 90 days
Four Up to 45 days

Number of ties to the
UK
Number of days Leavers
can spend in the UK
per tax year without becoming UK resident
None Up to 182 days
One Up to 120 days
Two Up to 90 days
Three Up to 45 days
Four or more Up to 15

 

How we can help

We regularly assist clients with their tax and residency planning both in terms of establishing tax residency in the UK or maintaining non-UK tax resident status. If you have been affected by the Outbreak and are unable to leave the UK, we can liaise with HMRC on your behalf in respect of claiming the exceptional circumstances relief.

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