The Mirror carries a report today (13 April 2013) that the house that Margaret Thatcher lived in for the past 20 years is “owned” by a company called Bakeland Property Company Ltd. registered in the British Virgin Islands. The story is a little confusing and conflates ownership with leasehold. The fact that the house is owned offshore was first reported by Rob Evans and David Hencke in the Guardian in 2002.

In England and Wales, land is owned on a system of Freehold and Leasehold whereby Party A may be the Freeholder but may grant a lease to Party B (the leaseholder) of, for example 100 years. The property is thus “owned” by both parties simultaneously. In the case of 73 Chester Square (pictured above on Google Streetview) there are actually three parties with an interest in the property. (1)

1. The Freehold is owned by the Trustees of the Will of the Most Noble The 2nd Duke of Westminster.

2. There is a lease (Title NGL534189) for 200 years from 25 March 1984 of No.73 Chester Square and other land in favour of Grosvenor Estate Belgravia, 70 Grosvenor Street, London, Company No. 01138134.

3. There is a sub-lease (Title NGL688804) from Grosvenor Estate Belgravia to Bakeland Property Company Ltd. from 18 October to 25 December 2030 and a further sub-lease (Title NGL740241) from Grosvenor Estate Belgravia to Bakeland Property Company Limited for 59 years and 167 days from 12 July 1996 to 26 November 2055. (2)

Bakeland Property Company Limited is a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands with its Registered Office at Essanestrasse 91, Po Box 341, L1-9492, Eschen, Liechtenstein and c/o Collyer-Bristow, 4 Bedford Row, London WC1R 4DF.

Assuming that the leasehold interest was held by Bakeland Property Company Limited on behalf of the late Mrs Thatcher (who thus had a proprietorial interest in the house as opposed to simply being a tenant and having no connection with Bakeland), that the beneficial interest is inherited by her children Mark and Carol, and that, as the Mirror claims, the house is currently worth £6 million, then both inheritance tax at 40% (£2.4 million) as well as Stamp Duty Land Tax at 7% on any subsequent sale (£420,000) will be avoided.

The new Stamp Duty Land Tax rate for residential properties owned by corporate bodies of 15% only applies to properties acquired since 21 March 2012 and will not apply where the legal title remains in the same name and only the beneficial ownership of an offshore trust or company changes.(3) It may well be the case that Bakeland is owned by trusts whose beneficiaries are people other that the late Mrs Thatcher but because offshore companies are usually run by nominee Directors and owned by at least one offshore trust, the identification of the precise beneficial interest is extremely difficult.

And that is one of the legacies of Mrs Thatcher’s property-owning democracy. (4)

 

(1) There are 4 parties if you include the fact that Freeholders are not absolute owners but hold their land from the Monarch who is the only person capable of owning land “absolutely” in England and Wales as this entertaining exchange of emails with the Land Registry demonstrates.

(2) Thanks to @MrsTrevithick for alerting me to fact that Bakeland was, until 1996 registered in Jersey. This explains why there are two leasehold titles in the name of the same company – actually two different companies with the same name.

(3) See Treasury Consultation “Ensuring the fair taxation of residential property transactions” for details of proposed changes in the taxation of residential property owned by non-natural persons (e.g. offshore companies).

(4) In searching for the titles to 72 Chester Square I mistakenly typed 73 and obtained the title of No. 73 next door (Title NGL889003). It is owned by 72 Chester Square Limited incorporated in Liberia.

 

22 Comments

  1. Aye, Mrs. Thatcher wasnt that daft was she!

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  2. So ‘Ding-dong’ is actually the cash register chiming?

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  3. Not bad going for a grocer’s daughter with an eye to the main chance. But ye couldnae tak it wi ye wumman :).

    Grosvenor Estates is the business/admin arm for the Duke of Westminsters property portfolio. The interesting thing to know would be who are the directors and beneficial owners of the Bakeland Property Company.

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  4. Margaret Gardiner

    Nothing short of OBSCENE

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  5. stanton carlisle

    Excellent work. Thank-you for the insight.

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  6. Just make you wonder, how many others at Wasteminster and the likes are getting away with this, I think it is time the taxman started looking a little closer to home, as in the past and present occupiers of the Palace of Westminster.

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  7. Stewart Sweeney

    Yes good work. Another example of the billions no trillions of pounds of tax cheating systemically carried out by the 1% plus 4%

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  8. Sounds like the rental agreement of a public sector worker. But hey you know what they say, “who sees muck….”

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  9. Theremustbeanotherway

    The costs of the funeral of the late Margaret Thatcher (MT) will be met by the state, ie the loss socialised.

    However, the gain from the eventual property sale will be in private hands free of IHT and SDLT at the higher rate, ie the gain privatised.

    This would appear to be Denis Thatcher’s handiwork. The cynical might suggest that this little arrangement was the real reason why MT did not want a state funeral!!

    One wonders whether there is scope in the estate/trust for a significant donation to charity in order to put things on a moral footing?

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  10. James Docherty

    Got to laugh, I heard someone refer to her as “patriotic”. As long as she doesn’t have to pay all her taxes!!! To think these people preach to the working classes and those on benefits. Scum!!

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  11. Pingback: Margaret Thatcher, Kermit Gosnell, & #DingDong | Edinburgh Eye

  12. There’s no Stamp Duty Land Tax (or Stamp Duty for that matter) on a transfer by inheritance anyway (meaning there wouldn’t have been any SDLT to pay on the transfer of the house to Mark & Carol (or whoever even if the lease had been held by the late Lady T personally).

    How is it you reckon they avoid Inheritance Tax on the house?

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    • Because it is owned in BVI and is thus a non-UK asset.

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      • But is it not the case that IHT is paid on the assets of a deceased person who was domiciled in the UK (as Lady T was) irrespective of where these assets are situated (i.e. whether they are UK assets or non-UK assets)?

        See for e.g. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/cto/customerguide/page20.htm#7 – “if you are domiciled, or deemed to be domiciled, in the UK, inheritance tax applies to your assets wherever they are sited.”

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        • I am not an expert in this matter but these are not the assets of Mrs T – they are the assets of a BVI company. How those assets are subsequently transferred depends on the structure set up in BVI which will probably be completely opaque. Her son and daughter are also not domiciled in UK as far as I know.

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          • If you’re not an expert in the matter, why are you writing blog posts confidently asserting the Thatchers are avoiding IHT and SDLT?

            The house (leasehold interest therein, strictly speaking) is an asset of a BVI company. The asset of the late Mrs T (according to the assumptions you’ve made for the purposes of your post) is the shares in that company. It’s a reasonable assumption that these shares are worth at least as much as the house itself.

            I’m not an IHT expert either but according to HMRC’s website (I assume they know what they’re talking about), the value of the shares in the BVI company are chargeable to IHT because the person they belonged to was domiciled in the UK. (The domicile of Mark and Carol Thatcher is irrelevant.)

          • I didn’t know you had to be an expert to write a blog. I confidently assert this because I am confident it is true and have spoken to a number of people who are experts and who do know about it. You are assuming Mrs T has shares in the BVI company. That would be most unusual – normally offshore companies like this are managed by nominee Directors and owned by offshore trusts. The structure can be quite complex and there is no liability for inheritance tax because there is no asset being transferred – there will be beneficial interests in a series of offshore trust arrangements none of which the UK tax authorities can have any knowledge of. The law is changing – see this briefing for example
            http://www.burges-salmon.com/Practices/tax/Publications/UK_Residential_Property_Tax_Overview.pdf

  13. Regarding the funeral and costs. Ken Loach suggested ‘it should be put out to tender and given to the lowest bidder’ and went on to say, ‘she would have liked that.’

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  14. Andy, of course you don’t have to be an expert to write a blog but if you’re going to use a blog to make allegations against people, then I think it behoves you to have a reasonably good grasp of what you’re talking about.

    You suggested the Thatchers were avoiding stamp duty (stamp duty land tax, strictly speaking) but I think you now accept that’s wide of the mark because SDLT doesn’t arise on an inheritance transfer (from deceased to beneficiaries) even had the lease of the house been vested in the late Lady T personally.

    As far as IHT is concerned, at first you suggested they won’t pay IHT on the value of the house because it’s “a non-UK asset” – as if they’d not pay IHT on a house they owned in – say – Ireland or a house in Britain vested in a company incorporated in Ireland. Now you seem to be saying they’ll avoid IHT because the house is owned by a company incorporated in the BVI. In other words, the avoidance seems to be particular to the BVI (and other tax havens?) as opposed to A N Other country merely because it’s not the UK.

    Is it simply that arrangements in the BVI (et al) are so impenetrably opaque that, on a pragmatic basis, HMRC simply doesn’t bother to attempt the effort of collecting the tax because it’s not cost effective?

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    • SDLT will be avoided as well since, if as I imagine, the house is sold via an offshore transfer of control of a beneficial trust there will be no change in title. This is one reason why the governement has introduced reforms.

      Many countries like Ireland have double taxation treaties. BVI has one too but the beneficial ownership of many BVI companies will be unknown even to BVI because they are controlled by nominee Directors and Trusts in other jurisdictions. So part of the problem is, yes, that it is simply too difficult and time consuming for HMRC to track down such avoidance, hence the reforms noted above.

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      • Aye, but the SDLT will be avoided by the purchasers of the house, not the Thatchers as sellers (SDLT being a tax payable by purchasers, not sellers).

        As regards IHT, to be clear, the estate of a person domiciled in the UK pays IHT on assets situated in a foreign country by virtue of the deceased’s UK domicile, not because the UK has a Double Taxation Agreement with the country concerned. (I note from a glance that the DTA with Ireland doesn’t cover IHT.)

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        • I am aware that SDLT is paid by buyers. My point is that SDLT will be avoided if any new owner simply becomes the beneficiary of whatever trusts currently own Bakeland Property Company. In other words, ownership transfers as a consequence of transactions in the beneficial ownership of Bakeland. I have edited the text to make this clearer.

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