The Federation of European Independent Financial Advisers

I normally like to start a new E-zine or article with a story or some kind of recent experience to try and provide context to what I am about to write. However, because of my lack of travels, I am lacking stories at the moment. In fact, I am now starting to believe that there is a government conspiracy to bore me to death, or they are in collaboration with Netflix to lobotomize me with endless series and films. Lockdown phase 2 is proving somewhat monotonous!

So, with the fact that there isn’t really much to tell you other than work related matters, then we might as well crack on, because the truth is that as a result of Brexit a number of financial things have changed. A lot of my clients are now non-EU citizens (i.e. Brits), and so a better understanding of Italian tax legislation is essential. We have done some extensive digging in this regard and our investigations have sprung up some unwelcome news for some.

The information we found was buried so deep in Italian tax law text that it took us (in reality my colleague Andrew Lawford ended up discovering it through sheer determination and persistence) quite some time to dig it up. So make sure you read the whole E-zine as something might be relevant to you.

I should add that the financial services industry is still trying to work itself out and we should remember that there is no deal for financial services as part of the Brexit trade agreement. A lot of hope is being placed on a potential trade agreement being reached on financial services by the spring, as professed by Rishi Sunak, but I have my doubts.

SO, WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?
Let’s start with the one that got the most press leading up to Brexit. The automatic closure of UK bank accounts for EU residents.

There is not much to say here, other than the main culprits seem to be Barclays, Lloyds, Nationwide, Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax. To date, my experience with clients is that the closure letters are a bit of a scattergun approach. Not everyone I know with an account in these banks is being approached to close it.

I am asked a lot about the possibility of using a UK address of a relative or friend and whether this would alert the bank to you living in the EU or not? The likelihood is that it will for 2 reasons. The first is that under the Common Reporting Standard (International sharing of tax and financial information) banks only need to ‘suspect’ that you are resident in another country. This might be determined from activity on your account, or other financial information that they may receive from foreign tax authorities. The second reason is that ultimately you should be asked to prove the address you provide. A simple check on the land registry can avert them to the fact that you are not the registered owner of the property. A standard requirement is to request a copy of a utility bill showing your name and address on it or some kind of official tax authority document. If you are unable to prove these, then the chances are that the banks will catch up with you sooner or later.

So, what are the alternatives? I have recommended Fineco as a good Italian bank alternative (for transparency purposes, I have been an account holder for approx 10 years) but I believe that more of you than ever are finding it easy to open and use Transferwise as a transitionary online solution. But it’s NOT a bank, so beware! There are online banks as well, such as N26 and the online offshoots of the regular Italian banks. There are certainly lots of options available although finding a non-UK alternative that will allow UK direct debit payments is pretty much impossible.

UK PROPERTY OWNERSHIP
I have written previously about this and the increased wealth tax that will now be charged on UK property ownership for Italian residents. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​

To recap, in a pre-Brexit world a UK property owned by an Italian resident would have had a wealth tax charged against it each year, in Italy. The value for calculating this charge was 0.76% of the council tax value of the property. This is considerably lower than the market value in most cases. However, now that the UK has left the EU the method for calculating that wealth tax changes.

Properties that are located outside the EU are subject to the same charge, 0.76%, but in this case the valuation basis moves to the purchase/acquisition value of the property, where provable, and the market value otherwise. For most people I am finding that this is quite a difference, and for anyone who has bought in the last 10 years or so, this means a mostly, higher annual wealth tax charge. To date, I have only come across one person who retired to Italy and had retained the family property in the UK for many years, and could benefit from a very low purchase value for calculation purposes, hence a net tax benefit as a result of the tax change post Brexit. Most are going to find that their cost of holding UK property will increase as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

TAX BREAK…
For anyone inclined to sell their UK property then we shouldn’t forget that there is the possible ‘sale-of-home’ tax break as an Italian resident. If you have owned the home for more than 5 full tax years then Italy does not consider a property sale speculative (even a property located overseas) and so no capital gains tax is charged in Italy. You may have tax applied in the country in which the property is situated, in which case you would need to check the local tax laws. In the case of the UK, a property sale as a non-UK tax resident means capital gains tax would be charged on the property, but only from the date at which the legislation was introduced: 6th April 2015. What this means is that any gains made up to that point can effectively be written off, and the cost value for the purposes of calculating the capital gain would be the value as at the 6th April 2015 or later, depending on when you bought the property. A handy tax break for anyone who has held property in the UK for more than 5 years.

UK IFAs
Now, we come onto the more technical points and an area which I see evolving over the coming year/years: UK IFAs (Independent Financial Advisers).

Even when the UK was inside the EU it was not uncommon for me to come across people who had existing relationships with UK based IFAs who advised them on their finances, in the same way that I do for my clients living in Italy. But, even inside the EU most firms were not licensed to work with clients who were living in an EU state (it was easy enough to check on the Financial Conduct Authority website in the UK), and even in the few limited cases where they had the licence they did not have any experience of the Italian tax and financial system, so their advice was mainly useless and normally bad for the client. However, many continued to operate regardless, protected (loosely) by being a member of the EU.

Fast forward to a post Brexit world and the fog has cleared. If you are working with a UK based IFA, and living in Italy, then you should not be receiving any advice from them. They will not have the necessary authorities or licences to operate in the EU, and as such, you as a client are not protected for any advice that they give you. This has been very clearly highlighted in a Banca D’Italia document which was released at the end of last year.

If you do work with any UK based financial professional it would be in your interests to contact them and ask if they have an EU based entity to ensure they can continue to work with you. In much the same way as the banks are pulling out of the EU (the ones that have no intention to develop or maintain their existing EU business), IFA firms (small or large) should also be doing the same.

I have to admit, that I have benefited from this because a number of UK firms with Italian resident clients have already contacted me about passing on their clients because they are no longer able to work with them. I expect this to continue as more firms understand their legal liability of working with clients in an un-licensed capacity.

If you are in this situation please speak with the firm and/or send me a message and I can help you to look into it in more detail.

ASSET MANAGERS
This is a category, very similar to UK based IFAs. These are firms which generally manage sizeable portfolios for clients and have a direct relationship with the end client. To date there are mixed messages coming out of this sector. Some asset managers are aiming to pass EU based clients to EU based firms, like ourselves, others are clinging onto various legal loop holes to retain business. If you have a portfolio managed by a UK based asset manager directly, then the best you can do is to contact them and ask them what their post Brexit plans are. We expect that over time the EU will develop a more protectionist and hardline stance on working with non EU based firms. This will ensure that they can more readily protect their EU residents and citizens and also win business from the UK.

Where UK asset managers are used inside Italian tax compliant accounts, in the way that we mostly structure assets for our clients, then you do not have to worry as the provider of the account will be keeping abreast of legislation as it changes.

***For all my clients, please be aware that we are on top of any changes in this regard and you do NOT need to contact your asset manager as a result of the content in this E-zine. If anything changes we will notify you as soon as we become aware. We also have contingency plans in place should any changes need to be made***

TAX ON UK DOMICILED ASSETS

This is probably the most revealing piece of information that we have discovered, and whilst it is new for UK residents, it has always been the tax case for other non-EU Italian residents e.g. US citizens. And very important information it is as well for the holders of UK domiciled non-property assets (excluding bank accounts).

We are not sure if most commercialisti are aware of what we discovered and so we encourage you to have a discussion with yours if you think you might be affected! Essentially, if you hold non-EU approved investment funds in a portfolio with a bank or an asset manager, then these same assets must meet 3 simple rules for the flat 26% tax treatment for investment income and capital gains to be applied, in Italy.

 

1. The fund or collective investment must be established in a member state of the EU or EEA

2. It must be sold in Italy under the relevant distributions guidelines from the regulator CONSOB

3. And if you are working with someone who manages your money they need to be subject to EU authorisations in the country in which they operate from

And the important point to note is that any investment fund must be covered under all 3 criteria and not just one!

What is the consequence if your collective investments don’t meet these criteria?
Very simply all your investment income and capital gains are added up and taxed at your highest rate of income tax! They are added to all your other income for the year and taxed accordingly. For someone who is earning up to €15000pa (pensions, rental income and/or employment income) then this would be advantageous, but for any figure above then your tax rate will be higher than the 26% currently charged on the same asset.

How can you check if you have a non-EU domiciled collective investment asset?
Very simply, all securities are allocated an International Securities Number (ISIN code). You will need to check that yours starts with an EU approved code, such as IE, LU, FR, IT etc. For any UK citizen living in Italy holding securities/funds or assets, whose code starts with the letters GB, then it might be time to take another look at your financial planning as a resident to try and mitigate any future tax charges on these assets.

The above article was kindly provided by Gareth Horsfall from The Spectrum IFA Group and originally posted at: https://www.spectrum-ifa.com/understanding-italian-tax-legislation/