Anyway, as the hot days roll on here in Rome and the fresher ones will start soon, I was thinking how I could get started on some more serious topics of finances for residents in Italy. One thing I have come up against this summer on a number of occasions has been the subject of personal private pensions, and how they are treated for taxation, so I thought it might be a good idea to explore the different types of personal pensions which are in existence in the EU, which type Italy uses and what we can learn to help us understand the taxation of such a financial product in Italy.
EET, ETT, or TTE?
This subject can get complex, but every so often it’s good to delve in and try to make some sense of it. The main problem is that throughout the world, and even between European states, different models of taxation are applied to the different models of personal private pensions that exist. Italy has adopted one of these models, which in itself is no problem, but when we, as foreigners, move to Italy we may find that our existing private pension plans don’t fit into the same model as the Italian one. In most cases our commercialista has the ‘enviable’ job of choosing how to apply the Italian way to our scheme. It’s a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
So what are the main models? As the title of this paragraph alluded to, there are three main models used which go under the monikers: EET, ETT and TTE.
What do these stand for?
The initials mean the following:
EET: Exempt, exempt, taxation. (The majority of EU member states adopt this approach, including the UK)
ETT: Exempt, taxation, taxation. (Italy, Sweden and Denmark adopt this model)
TEE: Taxation, taxation, exempt. (This used by Hungary and Luxembourg)
**The US also falls in the EET system**
As you might have guessed, the ‘exempt’ and ‘taxation’ tags refer to the point at which taxation is applied to the monies in your private personal pension. So, the first tag refers to the point at which the contribution is made into the pension fund (monthly or lump sum payments are treated equally), the second tag refers to the money when it is invested and accumulating within the pension (capital gains and income generated from the invested funds) and the third is the point at which one goes into retirement and starts to receive payments from it (the actual pension payment). Clear as mud? Let’s continue…
The EET model
The UK, US and many other EU member states apply the EET model (exempt, exempt, taxation), and it is my favourite model! I think it is the easiest to understand and the fairest model. I also expect that this model may also be adopted (or phased in) by Italy as part of Mario Draghi’s big tax shake up, for which we are still waiting for details (end October is the latest news).
Fundamentally, a model which allows someone to accumulate funds in a tax efficient environment throughout their working life and then be taxed at normal tax rates when they eventually come to take that money back, would seem to be the easiest and fairest way to allow individuals to accumulate as quickly and efficiently as possible. It also incentivises people to want to make more contributions into these types of savings plans for their future.
The ETT model
However, our beloved country of residence, Italy, adopts the ETT (exempt, taxation, taxation) model. Interestingly, the other two countries which adopt this model in Europe are Sweden and Denmark. I don’t think I need to point out the significant difference between the social security systems of Denmark and Sweden versus Italy, but it merely highlights the fact that Italy remains a higher taxing EU state. That being said, I love Italy, as I know a lot of you do, and it deserves much more than an critical look at its taxation system. The fact that the fund is taxed in addition to the pension payments on retirement means that their model doesn’t complement sufficiently the lower benefit payments on offer from the state through the contributi scheme, previdenza complementare’ and is not a great attraction for savers for retirement. However, you need not take my word for it. Between Italian workers, private individuals and public scheme employees, only 25% contribute to a separate private pension scheme to top up their existing benefits from the state. That figure is well below the EU average!
That low number might be due to the fact that between the low tax benefit (a maximum deduction against tax of only €5164.57 per annum), the rates of tax applied to the fund itself (between 20% and 26% depending on which fund you hold your private pension with), the restrictive ranges of investment options and the higher charges, then it comes as no surprise that not enough people are choosing to top up their pension with a private arrangement, but are more likely to buy property or find other ways of supplementing their retirement income, assuming they have surplus income after the state has taken their contribution for the state related pension.
There is, however, one advantage. The monies when received as an income payment in retirement attract a tax rate of 15% and can fall to 9% if you have contributed for 35 years to a previdenza complementare. This additional benefit stills fails to be attractive enough for people to save in this way for their future, probably because the benefit is too far in the future for many people to even consider when they have more pressing financial needs today, which brings us back to the point that the incentive for people to save today needs to correspond to a benefit received today i.e. a tax break on contributions, or no tax on the invested fund.
So what does this mean for the taxation of your non-Italian pension
As you might imagine it’s not as simple as saying that a personal pension that you own from one country will be considered the same, for tax purposes, as an Italian private pension (previdenza complementare).
The complexity lies in the fact that because Italy cannot analyse every different type of pension in the world, it is impossible for them to legislate for each one as well. Therefore, we have to use some logical thinking, but even that may be interpreted differently by the tax authorities in Italy.
At this point you might want to take a moment’s silence for your commercialista whose job it is to make that interpretation and on whose shoulders, ultimately, that decision lands. Although it is unfair to say that they don’t have any information to hand, because one client, whose commercialista was clearly on the ball, alerted her to an ‘Istanza di Interpello’ dated 27th May 2020, (click HERE, basically it is an opinion provided by the Agenzia delle Entrate on a specific case presented by a specific individual). This interpello went some way to explaining the thinking of the Agenzia behind the taxation of pensions which fall into the EET model (exempt, exempt, taxation). The ‘opinion’ was based on a UK pension.
Taxation on accumulation or not?
What it all seems to boil down to is how the pension is taxed during the accumulation phase. Italy taxes the fund during this phase but gives a preferential tax rate when the monies are drawdown. A UK pension, for example, is not taxed during the accumulation phase, but then drawdowns are taxed at regular income tax rates. So, going back to the logical thinking approach, if someone moves to Italy with a UK pension, it doesn’t make sense that they would benefit from tax efficient growth in the fund AND be provided with a preferential tax rate on drawdown. That would constitute a double tax benefit, which I doubt the tax authorities would approve of.
It doesn’t matter what you or I think!
The interesting point here is that even with all this information and supposition, the reality is that your commercialista can still choose to apply any method of taxation that falls in any of the different models because the legislation doesn’t exist to do otherwise. Therefore, the best you can do is to take a guess.
Attention, however, because the Interpello from 27th May 2020 gives a pretty good outline into the thinking of the Agenzia regarding the EET model, in that when payments are taken they should be taxed at income tax rates, not the 15% preferential tax rate. If you are advised to, or you choose to apply the 15% preferential tax model, there is always the chance that the Ageniza could come looking at some point in the future. It’s highly unlikely given the circumstances, (in my opinion), but not beyond imagination.
Given the complexity around pensions it comes as no surprise that it is often easier to bury one’s head in the sand rather than checking exactly what you have and how it should be declared. If you have any doubts then you can always contact me for a free no-obligation analysis of your situation. It is a part of the overall service package that I provide to clients and others looking to regularise their pensions arrangements in Italy. For clients, I also liaise with their commercialista directly to clarify their current choices and determine if anything should be done differently.
Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme
Staying on the subject of pensions
For anyone who is intending on living away from the UK permanently, we have over recent years been helping clients review existing UK private pension arrangements to determine whether a QROPS transfer may be appropriate. This is a type of overseas pension, which operates like a UK private pension plan, is always domiciled in Europe for EU resident individuals and is operated under an EU framework of compliance and oversight.
Since the UK’s exit from the EU we have been wondering whether the UK would stop the possibility to move pension monies from the UK into the EU to slow money flows out of the country, out of spite or any other number of reasons relating to the future relationship with the EU. To date this has not happened, but could be announced in any UK budget. (the next budget has been announced for the 27th October 2021).
There are potential tax consequences of having a UK pension plan which is now no longer ‘harmonised’ with EU legislation and there could be adverse tax consequences in the future. In addition, moving pensions to QROPS is considered removing a tie to the UK for anyone looking to remove UK domicile for inheritance tax purposes. Therefore, if you have a private personal pension arrangement that you are waiting to receive benefits from and /or drawing down from, I can offer a free analysis of the benefits of transferring it away from the UK.
Superbonus 110% – discussions on the beach
There is a lot of discussion going around at the moment about the Superbonus 110% that the Italian government is offering to bring your property into the eco-friendly age. I won’t go into details because it’s so complex that I am totally lost with the whole affair. However, I did happen to have some discussions on the beach this summer with an Italian gentleman of 73 years of age. He is a practising architect in Milan and has built buildings all over Italy. I struck up a conversation on the subject of the 110% Superbonus and how his company was coping with the bureaucracy. I was a bit taken aback by his answer that they had made a decision not get involved, at all.
His view was that the process of attaining permissions and subsequent documenting of the process is so incredibly complex and time consuming that the professionals involved in the process are forced to increase their fees substantially just to cover the cost of work and /or monitoring and reporting. He also explained that because ultimate responsibility for the Superbonus 110% will fall on the shoulders of the professional following the process, that their insurance risk against the Agenzia delle Entrate poking around in the future, and finding faults in the documentation is so high that they would have to increase their fees substantially to compensate for that risk.
This architect said that he had been talking to other firms in Milan who were charging significant fees, and that in total, between architects, geometre, and builders, costs could spiral to 40% of the amount claimed for the work.
Now, I am no expert on this particular area and I am sure that there are some of you reading this who will be able to pull this logic apart, but my point is that if you are looking at significant renovation work through the use of the Superbonus 110%, then make sure you check the small print and the costs. Remember that in addition to the costs of following the work, building material prices have sky rocketed due to Covid and continue to rise. What is claimed from the Agenzia delle Entrate may be less than the cost of work if these costs continue to rise.
Ultimately, it is the client who pays the fees and so my advice is just check that the NET amounts claimed from the Agenzia delle Entrate will cover the cost of your work and you are not going to be left with half finished properties.