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by the Investors Offshore Editorial Team, October, 2012
12 October, 2012
The largest and most southerly of the Channel Islands between England and France, Jersey is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, with a population of around 95,000 (July 2012 est.) expatriates and residents. Despite being only 45 square miles, it is as bustling and active as offshore jurisdictions many times its size, and the moderate climate means that outdoor activities such as golf, swimming, water-sports and cycling are enjoyed by all its citizens.
As is the case in all of the Channel Islands, Jersey is exceptionally politically stable, and relationships with the United Kingdom, (which is responsible for its external affairs, such as dealings with the European Union), and with its peers are always cordial and respectful. The currency is the Jersey pound, which is on a par with the British pound, and there are no exchange controls.
In terms of living costs, prices are broadly the same as in the UK, although there is some divergence. Certain items, for example foodstuffs, are more expensive as a result of the various costs incurred in transportation. However, other goods benefit from the lack of VAT (although a Goods and Services Tax was introduced at a rate of 3% in 2008, later increased to 5% in 2011), and the low level of excise duties on the island. Housing is one major area in which prices are usually significantly higher than in the United Kingdom.
Jersey has a reasonably settled relationship with the multilateral organisations of the moment, namely the EU, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), although there was some friction with the latter in the early stages of its 'harmful tax competition' initiative. In the OECD's latest listing of offshore jurisdictions in April 2009, Jersey was placed in the 'white' section of the three-tier classification.
The island is not a member of the European Union, and as such is not necessarily obliged to comply with the Union's various tax initiatives, although the UK often tries to exert pressure on it to do so, as can be seen below. Recently the EU has been pressurizing Jersey (as well as Guernsey and the Isle of Man) to abandon their 'zero/ten' tax systems, under which non-financial companies pay zero tax, but after changes to the 'deemed distribution' regimes operated in the islands, their tax systems are now deemed to be in compliance with EU rules, as explained in more detail below. Despite its close relationship with the UK, Jersey is excluded from most of the effects of Britain's accession to the EU, other than those concerning trade in goods. Its constitutional position in relation to Europe cannot be changed without the unanimous agreement of all EU member countries, which of course includes the UK, which never legislates regarding Jersey without consultation.
Jersey was described on the occasion of the release of the first FATF 'uncooperative countries' blacklist as being in 'close to complete adherence' with the organisation's forty anti-money laundering recommendations, and the jurisdiction is one of the most respectable and long-established of all the offshore financial centres.
It came as a surprise, then, when in Summer 2000, Jersey and Guernsey were included on the first OECD blacklist, accused of employing 'harmful tax competition' because they had refused to sign a letter committing themselves to abiding by the rules laid down on taxation by the organisation.
Jersey signed a 'commitment' letter to the OECD in February 2002, but it contained an 'Isle of Man' level playing field clause making changes dependent on comparable changes in Switzerland and the USA. By mid-2003, the OECD seemed to have forgiven Jersey, and was assisting it to design a 0% corporate tax system.
Jersey's unique situation with regard to the EU is both a strength and a weakness. The island will remain a favoured base for holding and trading companies working into the EU, and for e-commerce activity; but it has the EU and the OECD to contend with.
After several years of 'hands-off' policy in regard to Jersey taxation, the UK government in 2002 threatened Jersey with sanctions if it didn't fall in line with EU information-sharing rules under the Savings Tax Directive. In May, 2002, it became clear that Jersey, along with its fellow UK dependent territories Guernsey and the Isle of Man, was ready to sign up to the EU information-sharing regime if that became necessary; but after the EU finally reached its compromise agreement on the Directive in early 2003, Jersey decided, along with Guernsey and the Isle of Man, to apply a withholding tax to the returns on personal savings for EU residents.
This is known locally as a 'retention' tax, and was levied at 15% from 2005, when the Directive came into force until 2007; from 2008 the rate was increased to 20%, and from July, 2011, it was increased again, to 35%.
Jersey has expressed an interest in moving to automatic exchange of information under the Directive after Guernsey and the Isle of Man both switched from the withholding tax system to information exchange in 2011. However, a letter issued by the States of Jersey to paying agents in January 2011 clarified Jersey's position thus: "Unlike Guernsey and the Isle of Man, Jersey is not intending to move to automatic exchange of information with effect from 1 July 2011. Jersey’s current policy is not to decide on when to make this change until there is a clear statement from the EU on when the two EU member states (Austria and Luxembourg) presently applying a withholding tax will be required to move to automatic exchange of information."
Jersey is particularly well known for its banking and trust sectors, and the long established nature and popularity of these areas of expertise has meant that a good financial and business infrastructure has been established.
Despite the global financial turmoil in 2008, Jersey Finance reported just a 2% dip in the net asset value (NAV) of funds in December 2008 compared to a year earlier, from GBP246.2bn to GBP241.2bn. However, total NAV in Jersey funds then began to shrink steadily until the end of the third quarter of 2009 when it reached a low of GBP163bn. Fund assest have since bounced back, and the sector is showing signs of stabilizing. As of June 30, 2012, total NAV stood at GBP189.4bn. The number of funds, of which there were 1,380 registered in Jersey at the end of Q2, 2012, has also remained fairly steady.
The total number of live companies stood at 32,938 at the end of June 2012, a small increase on the previous quarter.
Banking deposits have declined steadly since peaking at GBP212bn at the end of 2007, to stand at GBP150.4bn by the end of June 2012. The number of licensees in the banking sector has also declined, from a high of 82 in 1997 to 40 at the end of 2011. However, the island is attracting much new business from the Middle and Far East and deposits originating from these territories represent a combined total of around 18% of all Jersey deposits, reflecting the value of recent promotional activity in Hong Kong, Greater China and the United Arab Emirates.
Geoff Cook Chief Executive of Jersey Finance - the promotional agency for the island's financial services industry - noted in September 2012 that: "Overall deposit levels are holding up well considering the global conditions, though the gentle easing of aggregate deposits continues, which we are seeking to address through our focus on attracting new high quality banks to the island. In this regard, the number of licensed banks had increased to 41 at the half year."
So is Jersey a suitable location for your assets? Should you establish a business presence there? It depends…due to a number of factors, including time zone, and language, which it shares with all of the Channel Island jurisdictions, Jersey is most suitable for UK (non-resident) expatriates, foreign residents living and working in the UK, expatriate consultants and business people and European citizens.
However, if you belong to any of the above groups, and have liquid assets which you would like to protect for the future, would like to establish a personal service company, or would simply like to take advantage of the tax advantages afforded to non-residents, then it could well be ideal. Below are just some of the factors in Jersey's favour:
Wealth Management In Jersey
Although Jersey is widely recognised in the institutional investment world as one of the leading jurisdictions for pensions and insurance fund management, other areas of expertise are perhaps more of interest to expats, international consultants, and HNWI include its banking sector, and its company and trust formation sectors. Foundations, a new product, have been available since 2009.
The majority of the banks established in Jersey are branches or subsidiaries of the world's top banking establishments, and as previously mentioned, are in the main well regulated and safe, with capital adequacy levels not seen in many offshore jurisdictions. Advantageous tax treatment of interest income from Jersey bank accounts - excepting, of course, the STD related retention tax - combined with this peace of mind, means that alone, or in combination with other offshore structures, bank accounts in Jersey are a good bet.
The efficient infrastructure, which includes internationally qualified IFAs, accountants, lawyers, and stockbrokers, is also an important factor, and they should be able to provide you with information and support both in deciding whether it is appropriate to locate your assets in Jersey, and in the succeeding years if you choose to do so.
Jersey can also be a beneficial location in which to establish an offshore structure, whether for the purposes of asset protection, or to serve as a business presence for global consultants and other such self-employed professionals, although in accordance with Jersey’s commitment to the ‘Rollback’ provisions of the EU Code of Conduct for Business Taxation, the International Business Company vehicle was abolished to new entrants with effect from 1st January, 2006. Benefits for existing beneficiaries of the International Business Company regime had been progressively extinguished by 31st December 2011.
In any case, tax evasion or money laundering via a Jersey offshore structure would be very difficult to accomplish, as beneficial ownership for all Jersey based companies and vehicles must be disclosed to the authorities. However, it will never be disclosed externally except by order of the Royal Court. Tax minimisation, in conjunction with the laws of the island, however, is eminently possible.
Obviously, though, you will need assistance in setting up and maintaining these structures, and what is appropriate for you will vary according to your personal circumstances and country of residence, so you should always consult a qualified professional before making any decision of this kind.
Permission to reside in Jersey on employment grounds (about which more later) is often negotiated when applications are made to establish a business presence on the island.
Probably the most appropriate vehicle in Jersey for expats or non-UK citizens in need of asset protection for estate planning or other purposes (and in addition to, or in combination with a Jersey bank account) is the Jersey trust. The normal form of trust in Jersey is a discretionary trust, and where the beneficiaries of the trust are non-resident, income arising from sources outside Jersey is not liable for income tax there, and neither are distributions to the beneficiaries.
Although the costs involved in setting up and maintaining a Jersey trust can vary considerably, the creation of such a structure is free from government duty at least. Trust law in Jersey explicitly excludes foreign inheritance laws, and except in cases of proven criminal wrongdoing, foreign judgements are rarely recognised.
The foundation may also be an attractive possibility. In introducing the Foundation, Jersey became the first Crown Dependency to offer the structure and according to Jersey Finance, there was keen interest in the new law from the start; five Foundations were established on the day that the law came into force and more than 40 registrations to allow practitioners to establish Foundations were approved in the week after the law was introduced.
Foundations have a long history in continental Europe. In medieval times they were used for charitable or religious purposes. They are now commonly used for wealth management, and residents of jurisdictions like the Middle and Far East are more familiar with foundations than with trusts, which do not exist in their legal systems.
The regulations permit foundations to migrate in and out of Jersey. They also provide for existing Jersey companies to convert to foundations.
The approval of the Jersey Foundations Law by Jersey’s Privy Council was welcomed by Jersey Finance as a hugely positive step in affirming the island as a centre of excellence for private wealth management business.
It is also worth mentioning that in 2012, Jersey retained its position as the highest rated offshore international finance centre in the latest Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI). Overall, Jersey remains 21st in the biannual rankings ahead of Guernsey in 31st, the Cayman Islands (40th) the Isle of Man (44th), and the British Virgin Islands (45th). Jersey has also gained two points in its overall rating. In the rankings of industry sectors, Jersey is the only one of the offshore jurisdictions to feature and is ranked eighth in the global top ten for private banking and wealth management, just below Zurich and Toronto and ahead of Vancouver and Tokyo.
“For six editions of the GFCI in a row Jersey has been ranked as the highest rated of the offshore jurisdictions and we continue to hold a higher ranking than onshore competitors such as Luxembourg and Dublin," said Geoff Cook. "This is hugely encouraging and helps reinforce our standing and reputation for financial services globally. Alongside Jersey’s consistent success as the number one centre amongst competitor jurisdictions within the Index, it is also significant that the authors of the report have concluded that the reputation of offshore centres is continuing to improve.”
Jersey is also included at number 18 in the table that measures reputation, the only offshore jurisdiction to appear in the top twenty for its reputational advantage.
Jersey As A Location For Career Expats And Retirees
Jersey, in common with some of the other island jurisdictions, for example Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, has a good standard of living but limited space and resources as a result of a comparatively dense population.
Therefore, although it is possible to achieve short-term residence for employment purposes, or long-term residence if you are suitably qualified (in either the traditional or financial sense!), achieving permanent residence in Jersey is no mean feat…
For the majority of expatriates, the two issues mentioned above are inextricably linked, as there are really only two ways to obtain residence on the island; on economic grounds, or on employment grounds.
Initial enquiries regarding the possibility of gaining residence on economic grounds should be made to the Chief Advisor to the States of Jersey, as each case is considered on its individual merits. The Chief Advisor then consults with the Housing Committee. Although there are no hard and fast rules about who will be accepted, and normally only 5 or 10 approvals are granted each year, the following criteria may be considered when the application is being processed:
In addition to this, new residents accepted on economic grounds are expected to purchase a substantial luxury property, preferably with a value in excess of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Achieving permission to reside and work on the island is a less expensive business, certainly, but is still not easy! Nationals of EU member states have free right of movement in Jersey, and do not need to apply for work permits (non-EU member country citizens must apply for permission from a British Embassy or High Commission to reside and work on the island), but employers still need to apply for a license in order to employ them.
Residence in Jersey as an essentially employed individual is known as 'J category' residence, and permission is usually granted if the Housing Committee feels that it is in the best interests of the community to approve the application, if the employer has a good record in recruiting and training local people, if no suitably qualified local can be found to do the job, and finally, if the aforementioned licence has been granted to the employer.
If the Housing Committee is satisfied with an applicant, it will issue either time-restricted (usually 3-5 years), or open-ended consent. The former is more typical, although the latter is sometimes offered to senior or highly skilled employees, and permanent residential status is afforded after 10 years of continuous essential service on the island.
The Housing Committee also has the authority to grant or withhold permission to buy or rent property in the jurisdiction for J category employees, and can sometimes require employers to purchase or lease property in order to house their expatriate workforce.
In view of the limited space and resources available, and the desire to maintain the standard of living of existing residents, Jersey is of necessity not terribly family friendly. It is possible for the fiancé(e) or spouse of an expatriate who is coming to live and work in Jersey, to obtain entry by applying for a visa or entry certificate. Children of economic or J category migrants obtain residential status in their own right after an aggregate period of 10 years residence, provided that that residence began when they were under 20.
Residence And Taxation
Residence in Jersey for taxation purposes is divided into three categories: Residence, Ordinary Residence, and Non-Residence. Few jurisdictions employ the concept of ordinary residence any more, but it is not complicated, and really just implies a greater continuity than simple residence. A person is considered to be Jersey resident for tax purposes if they are:
Income tax is levied at one rate of 20%, and resident and ordinarily resident individuals are subject to tax on their world-wide income. Resident but not ordinarily resident individuals are subject to tax on Jersey-source income and foreign income remitted back to the island, and non-resident individuals are taxed only on Jersey income, with interest payments from Jersey-based bank accounts exempted from this by concession (but see above regarding the EU's Savings Tax Directive).
Although social security contributions are payable, and property owners may be liable for some parish taxes, there is no property tax, capital gains tax, wealth tax, or estate tax payable in Jersey, which may account for its popularity as a destination for HNWIs.
Jersey, like the UK's other Crown dependencies of Guernsey and the Isle of Man, is facing up to a moment of truth as it struggles to fit its corporate tax regime within the Iron Maiden of the EU's Code of Conduct Committee. For the last few years, Jersey has been operating a 'zero/10' regime in which the financial sector is taxed at 10% while other types of company are exempt from income taxation.
Jersey hoped this would be enough for it to escape the reach of the Committee, but it was not to be - the island has been too successful, so its competitors in Continental Europe insist on 'transparency' and a 'level playing field', hoping to force Jersey into taxing all companies the same.
You might wonder what power the EU has to force the Jersey to knuckle under, and indeed the formal answer is: 'none'. The reality, however, is that the island is reliant on approval or at least tacit acceptance of its regime by the OECD, the G20 and other embodiments of today's global moral financial police. And indirectly, pressure is exerted through the UK, which has an ill-defined but still fairly potent relationship with Jersey.
The Crown dependencies received some goods news in September 2011, or at least it sounded good on the face of it, when Jersey and the Isle of Man appeared to have been given the all-clear by the Code Group because both jurisdictions had committed to remove certain 'harmful' elements from their tax regimes, namely, in Jersey's case, the deemed distribution rules.
Jersey Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur said at the time: “Following the ongoing Review of our Business Tax Regime, the Treasury Minister proposed, and the States then agreed, legislative amendments which aimed to remove elements of our legislation that were considered harmful by the Code Group.”
"At its meeting [on] September 13, which was attended by Jersey officials, I am pleased to report the Code of Conduct Group accepted that our rollback proposal would remove the harmfulness of our regime. This has to be ratified by ECOFIN (the European Council of Finance Ministers) in December at the end of the Polish Presidency.”
"This is excellent news for Jersey, and vindicates the consistent stance maintained by the Treasury Minister and myself over a long period.”
"In these challenging times it is good to be able to present members with some very positive news, which should serve to significantly strengthen confidence in our island’s future."
In an address to members of the island's Chamber of Commerce in the summer of 2012, Jersey Treasury Minister Phillip Ozouf reassured businesses that the jurisdiction's tax regime will remain unchanged over the next few years, as the government has now put the zero-ten issue to bed, and taken the steps necessary to establish sustainable finances.
One gets the feeling, however, that this isn't the end of the zero-ten saga, and it seems hard to believe that this legislative change, which leaves the zero-ten regime largely intact, will be enough to appease those EU member states which are most precious about the level playing field. This, therefore, could be merely a temporary reprieve for Jersey's corporate tax system.
So Jersey, small but increasingly wealthy, has already been forced to consider alternatives to zero-ten should the worst case scenario materialise, none of which would be without their difficulties. It could secede from the UK altogether, but no-one talks about that nuclear option; it could make all its corporate forms tax-transparent, like US LLCs or Limited Partnerships; it could impose 10% tax on all companies; or it could abolish corporate tax altogether.
The last option is the one the finance sector would like, probably, which would cock a massive snoot at the EU, but the revenue Jersey now gets from corporate tax would have to be replaced; and that is what the government is currently agonizing about. Will the island's citizens put up with major increases in taxes in order to favour the financial sector which is the backbone of the economy?
Theoretically, it should be possible: there are plenty of other 'low-tax' jurisdictions across the world which manage without corporate tax.
The Jersey government itself has outlined a number of new tax proposals in a Green Paper, summarizing the findings of a Fiscal Strategy Review, as part of a consultation with islanders on how best to generate additional tax revenues, and it's the outcome of that consultation that could largely determine its eventual choice among the various corporate tax options should it be compelled to dismantle the zero-ten regime.
The four major possibilities, as discussed in the document, involve increases to:
Each of these could provide at least GBP30m to government coffers, says the document. Other possibilities include hikes to company registration fees, the introduction of business licence fees, and the removal of mortgage interest relief on a transitional basis.
In a parallel consultation aimed mostly at the business community, the government set out five proposals for change to the corporate tax regime:
Last but best! In the short-term at least, the government and the States are agreed that the budget shortfall can be filled without the need to increase taxes. Looking to the longer-term, the government however is keeping its cards close to its chest, and everything probably depends on the response of the islanders themselves to the prospect of increased personal taxation, whether that be through more income tax, more sales tax, more property tax or even all of them at once. It's going to be a very interesting time, if you live in Jersey.
For more detailed information on liability for tax in Jersey, please visit the Lowtax Jurisdictions Guide.
So, is Jersey a good final destination for you, your assets or your business? Unfortunately, on the first question, no definitive answer can be given, as the answer will depend very much on your personal circumstances, wealth, qualifications, and family situation. Each application is considered on its individual merits, and because of the high standard of living and relative wealth of the jurisdiction, it is quite a popular choice. But at the same time there are relatively few opportunities for obtaining permanent residence available. However, it is possible, so if you have a substantial liquid net worth, and are prepared to contribute to the community, or if you are a skilled career expat, used to moving around fairly frequently, it could be just the place for you.
On the issue of whether Jersey is a good location in which to locate your assets and/or personal service company, however, there really isn't much dispute. Although obviously there are no guarantees in the offshore world, especially with the OECD vacillating on various issues, Jersey, in common with the other Channel Islands has a reasonably calm relationship with the major multilaterals, is politically stable, experienced in the areas of trust management, company formation and administration, and banking, and should present no problems in the areas of telecommunications or support services. It isn't the cheapest jurisdiction in which to locate an offshore vehicle, but neither is it one of the most expensive; all in all, Jersey strikes a good balance.
For up-to-date news about the offshore and taxation regime, visit the Jersey section of Tax-News.com.
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