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HMRC blocks tax avoiding celebrities from honours

03 September 2018

Don’t expect a knighthood if you join a tax avoidance scheme. A document obtained by The Times reveals a “traffic light” system of ratings used by HMRC, which has blocked celebrities from receiving knighthoods and other official honours. Every year a group of senior tax officials investigate the affairs of thousands of nominees, sending the names and ratings to the Cabinet Office honours committee and the prime minister. In this system, a green flag signifies low risk, amber medium and red high. A memorandum between HMRC and the Cabinet Office states that “poor tax behaviour is not consistent with the award of an honour”- if an honour was awarded to someone with poor tax behaviours, trust in the integrity of the system would be lost.

This discovery suggests that celebrities may have been overlooked for honours due to their involvement in controversial tax schemes, despite these ultimately being lawful. For example, singer Robbie Williams was investigated by HMRC for his involvement in an investment scheme which was found not to be a tax avoidance scheme. Similarly, leaked emails revealed that footballer David Beckham may have been flagged after a scheme he invested in was challenged by HMRC, causing his knighthood to be blocked. Beckham allegedly that there is “no truth” behind the flag.

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