Oliver Heslop is a highly experienced UK tax specialist dealing with expatriate cross border issues and is the official Expat Focus UK Taxation partner. In this interview we learn more about Oliver's background and experience and the services he can offer to British expats abroad and foreign nationals in the UK.
Oliver, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to join GETS?I had my tax training in 1995 with Andersens then Deloitte in expatriate tax work. Before GETS, most recently I was as tax partner with Shipleys LLP in London. They specialise in media and I even helped a British ITV producer with UK/Australian tax problems.
In my career I have worked on the big expat programs of Rolls-Royce, Yahoo ! and other large multinationals. I still do this sort of work but I also have British expat clients all over the world; the US, West Indies, all of Europe and the Middle East. I have even lived in Poland as an expat myself. There I learned that it is vital to eat hot meals not sandwiches for lunch, and that Winston Churchill is no WWII hero in Poland!
Since 2011, I have acted as the main UK tax advisor for the US Embassy in London, assisting US expats.
I find that many of our new clients contact us by email, even twitter. Whatever next!
What services does your company GETS offer and what is your own role?
I am the main owner of GETS Ltd set up in late 2012. As I mentioned, for three years before this, I was a tax partner with Shipleys just off Trafalgar Square.
GETS Ltd consists of UK tax specialists in Reading UK and London, even in Melbourne, Australia. We also have great access to foreign tax advisors. Having been in the profession for so long, I have a large network in different countries. This week, for example, I am working with colleagues in the US, France, Chile and Singapore.
We have a number of different client types. There are British people overseas who need UK tax support eg how to stay UK non-resident for tax, how to comply with UK tax laws during their absence. Secondly, we assist Europeans, US nationals and others who live in the UK for employment. They require help to minimise UK tax, to comply with all the UK rules, and to claim the tax incentives available to certain groups.
Another important category of client is the corporate client. A company might be sending 5 UK nationals to work in Germany. They will ask : how should they manage the payroll, income tax, and social security issues. In another case, a business client is keen to roll out tax equalisation but they are encountering objections from staff. We can offer clients practical advice to help achieve (or perhaps slightly alter) their objectives.
What UK taxation issues do your expat clients typically encounter?
There are some hot topics which we are seeing regularly.
In 2013, the UK Government changed the UK tax rules on residence. There are thousands of British nationals overseas who could now be at risk of UK tax residence. Many live in say the EU and Middle East but return to the UK regularly, even work here occasionally. We carry out full tax healthchecks to ensure that they are not caught by the new rules. In most cases, they are safe (from UK tax on salaries) but we must often prepare a personalised guide for them on the do’s and don’t’s.
We also stress to these British clients that in the long-term they should be entitled to a UK state pension; be it a full or a part one. We advise them on how to secure this pension, which is increasingly important due to new and more generous 2016 rules.
We act for a number of highly paid foreign nationals based in London. They can often claim significant UK tax reliefs, if they are short-term assignees. However, they face a higher risk of investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Normally this is not because they are suspected of tax evasion. Instead, HMRC like to audit high earners, especially those with large expat tax exemptions. We advise our clients on how to comply with all HMRC rules, how to keep proper records. Even how to defend an HMRC enquiry if this happens to them.
You've been an expat yourself – do you find that helps when dealing with clients?
Great question! When people go on assignment, they are never prepared for the frustrations in the early months. An English client in the Spain told me she cannot yet access the health service properly and she is most unhappy. My American IT clients often complain about UK technology (“I need to turn my watch back 10 years!”). In Poland, for me, life did become easier after 2 months. For example, I finally found a decent hairdresser and an English speaking dentist. It was all very satisfying.
When I first meet clients it can help sometimes to share some negatives, before we move on to the benefits, of being abroad.
If you could give just a few pieces of advice to our members in relation to UK taxation, what would they be?
If you can, call me or another expat tax advisor before signing your assignment letter or contract. There are clauses that can be changed at no cost to your company that could benefit you for tax. Also, the date that you leave or arrive in the UK can greatly impact your UK tax position. Seek advice before you agree to leave the UK in, say, May, when late March can actually be much better for UK tax.
What are your plans for the future?
GETS is a fairly new high growth business. In the future, we will grow again but only when we can guarantee the same quality service. We would rather stand still for 12 months than grow and weaken our services.
What do you do to relax?
I have an 8 year old daughter who loves her swimming and other adventures. This summer I was bouncer at her junior disco but thankfully there were no major punch ups (joke!) I also ran the Magnum ice cream stall at her school fete. And some say I live life in the fast lane…
Oliver, thank you very much for your time!
Readers who would like to contact Oliver may do so through the enquiry form here.