How long have you been a tax adviser Liz?
Since 1984!
How did you come to specialise in US taxes?
I became a specialist in US international tax about twenty years ago when I moved to the UK. After three years here I was practically running the entire US division of a boutique dual US/UK company. I started my own practice after five years there.
Where were you working at the time?
US Tax and Financial Services, a practice in London and Zurich.
What are the most common mistakes you see made by non-specialists in your area of tax?
Robbing Peter to pay Paul. What’s the good of getting the lowest tax number in one country only to have a higher tax in the other one? I figure out where it’s lowest and how to get it there.
What are the most valuable issues on which you have given advice?
The disposition of assets before a major life changing event, such as divorces, moving countries, giving up citizenship, aquiring permanent residence status, starting a company, closing a trust, selling a home, etc.
What differences might you expect to see in the coming year that could impact those issues?
We’ve got a lot of people who had arrived in a country for just a few weeks only to have it turn into three months or more from Covid 19. We’re helping make sure their country of residence remains the one it would have been pre-Covid 19.
What has been your worst experience with HMRC?
The threat made to a famous author that if he wanted to object to their findings, it would be in court which would have sullied his reputation. I got them to agree that we would accept their findings only if we could compute the figures rather than use their estimate. Their estimate of how much was owed was £200K. They owed him £30K once I did the maths. Yay!
What has been the most rewarding thing you have done from a tax perspective?
Every person who came to my office crying over the worry that they would owe a lot turned around when I showed them the balance due was much smaller (often zero) and that I could get the IRS to waive all the penalties too.
How would you describe your attitude to tax?
It serves a good purpose; except for the bits that go towards military might.
Which aspect of tax would you nominate for a silliest tax rule award?
Children’s breakfast cereal is sales tax exempt in Canada if the box has a free toy. They go on define what a free toy is; the description specifies that it can’t be beer, liquor, or wine. I don’t know about you, but I’d pay sales tax to get me some of that more grown up cereal.
What is the funniest tax related experience you have had?
I did an advice session with an actor who did the voice of a robot on a sitcom. I couldn’t stop laughing as he peppered our oherwise stressful conversation with quips from the show. I like my comedian clients a lot!
What is your top tax tip for general practitioners?
Ask all-encompassing questions. It’s not, “Did you earn any interest?” It’s, “Do you have any bank or investment accounts?”
If you hadn’t gone into tax what would you like to be doing now?
I was doing day labour, waitressing, and singing in a rock band; so I suppose I’d still be in the rock scene nights with a boring day job.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time – away from the world of tax?
I’m gardening this year. Most years I travel a lot! This year it was New England and Dublin. Next year it’s to be Washington DC and Las Vegas and the southern coast of Spain.
What other question do you wish I had asked and how would you reply?
What tips would you give an apprentice? Have a perfect resume. It’s not just spelling and grammer that have to be perfect. The fonts, the kerning, the paragraph structure, the bullet points; every teensy detail is critically identical to all the other similar bits on the CV. You don’t know what programme they’re going to be using to open your CV, so check how it looks on Windows, Macs, Android, Google, etc. Everywhere it should be the same: Perfect. You’ve had all the time in the world to get the CV right. If you can’t get something right with all the time in the world, why would a job with high pressure deadlines be interested in your CV?