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An alien drops in

Over the weekend my son Barry made one of his fleeting but intense visits to Blighty – in recent years an average of maybe two per annum – and so over dinner on Friday night we had the opportunity for a bit of a catch-up.

Having just completed a transatlantic voyage with a handpicked crew of eight he has flown in to sort a few things out, not least attending a clinic to see his surgeon and have another scan on his badly-broken wrist of eighteen months ago. There are people to see, business to deal with – and maybe even a car or two to consider buying.

We have an interesting relationship – we’re close, possibly in some ways alike – which is probably why at times we drive each other nuts.

One of the reasons is that Barry has always done things his way or not at all.

He chose to make his career in a demanding world and has reached where he has all on his own, without nepotism or favours save those he has gained off his own bat, and thus has also endured a number of ups and downs, and indeed bumps and scrapes, along the road.

Plus, it’s a hard life. When you’re at sea – responsible for a yacht and indeed the personal safety of everyone on board – you’re effectively working 24/7 without a break. Not an environment for someone who is afraid of hard graft or pressure, but it comes with the territory in the marine industry.

Fair play to Barry. He’s not a showy or boastful person but he’s respected because he’s good at what he does, knows his own mind and calls things as he sees them.

Recently an owner asked what he thought of his new second-hand yacht.

The gist of Barry’s response was “Not much” – it was pretty to look at, but that was about it. As a vessel for hard-yards sailing it was poorly conceived and designed, kitted out with inferior fittings and – as for its layout and systems, well “You wouldn’t start from here”.

Not necessarily a report that someone who had not long before shelled out over 10 million euros for the item under review would wish to receive.

“How did he take it?” I asked. “Quite well” said Barry, whose attitude is grounded in the stance that, as a yacht captain, he’s hired to give his opinions and, for good or ill, does so – his reputation depends upon it.

I could see where he was coming from.

Four and more decades ago, as a young barrister, my pupil master asked for my view of a particular case we were dealing with. I replied ‘A’.

He commented “That’s interesting, mine is ‘B’ …”.

I reacted “Well, I must be wrong then”, at which point my mentor corrected me: “A barrister is never wrong. He’s just paid to give his opinion. The next barrister’s opinion may well be different – that’s life – but this may also go some way to explaining why some barrister’s opinions are deemed worthy of being more expensive than other’s”.

Barry earns decent money but the nature of his calling presents him with constant tax issues.

When he lived in Spain he was prey to the whims of the Spanish tax authorities whose antics have to be heard to be believed.

They have access to your bank accounts and regularly take amounts of tax out of them that they feel you ought to be paying, apparently on the basis “Do it first, and then answer questions about it later”. If, however, you haven’t received their estimate of your personal income during the quarter concerned – or indeed any – it then takes three to four months’-worth of your, and your professional advisers’, time to challenge and hopefully one day rectify the issue.

As a result, Barry retired hurt from Spain and tried to re-register as a UK citizen for tax purposes, not least because you have to be registered somewhere.

As a British citizen, there exists a ‘mariner’s tax exemption’ whereby money earned whilst you are touring the world effectively ‘living on a boat’ attracts no British tax.

This might be an ideal situation for Barry and those like him, but for one thing.

If you don’t live in the UK for at least six months of the year you cannot qualify as a British citizen! Barry currently doesn’t physically visit the UK – let alone live here – for more than two to three weeks each year so he’s been rejected as a British citizen.

And thus has been stateless ever since he quit Spain.

He’d be perfectly content to pay income tax somewhere if he only could find a country prepared to have him.

As it is, he’s been working in his current position for the past nine months and has yet to draw down a single penny of his entitled remuneration while he tries to sort out his extraordinary position.

Sitting in my gaff, ‘flying’ a desk-top computer accompanied by the television or radio noodling away in the background as I conduct my daily business, I know it’s not something I could do.

Not at my age, anyway.


About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts