Deductions from seafarers’ earnings

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 9 January 2018.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 7 would provide certainty that employees of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary—the RFA—can claim seafarers’ earnings deduction. Most UK residents pay UK tax on all their earned income wherever it arises, but seafarers are entitled to a 100% deduction from income tax for their foreign earnings in certain circumstances. The deduction is available provided that at least half of the qualifying period of 365 days is spent outside the United Kingdom, and that no more than 183 consecutive days are spent in the UK during that period. The tax treatment recognises the importance of the maritime industry to our country, and helps to maintain the competitiveness of the UK in an international market. Around 20,000 seafarers currently claim the deduction each year, and of those around 900 individuals are from the RFA.

The civilian-manned RFA delivers worldwide logistical and operational support for tasks undertaken by the Royal Navy, and it plays a crucial role supporting counter-piracy, humanitarian relief, disaster relief and counter-narcotics operations. Currently those individuals claim the deduction, but it is on a concessionary rather than a legislative basis. The changes in clause 7 provide certainty that the employees of the RFA are eligible for the deduction by placing it on a statutory footing. The RFA plays a crucial role, and it is right that its employees are eligible for the deduction in the same way as other seafarers. This clause provides certainty for RFA employees. I believe the Committee should welcome it and I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments concerning this alteration, but I have a couple of questions. As I understand it, this change largely reflects existing practice in law, specifically the fact that RFA seafarers should be entitled to seafarers’ earning deduction. I understand that the seafarers falling into that category have asked the Government to make it clear in this Committee that there will be no detriment for them as a result of this change. They are asking for that because some of them fear retrospective penalties from HMRC or from the employer, given that previously the deduction was practically operated in an informal manner. I hope that the Treasury Minister can make it clear that this measure will not operate to the detriment of the seafarers.

I wanted to make the point that unfortunately this change will not alter the material circumstances of our RFA seafarers; it recognises in law a situation that already exists informally in many cases. We have substantial recruitment issues at the moment with RFA seafarers, and those issues could become more acute because we are going to have 12 vessels when the new ones come on-stream. They will need to be serviced by RFA seafarers, yet the level of pay provided for them has been squeezed because they are covered by the arrangements for public sector employees. Their situation is out of kilter with the situation for seafarers working in the private sector doing comparable jobs, and that is a major concern for them. While we may now see a reflection of the reality when it comes to the tax situation, my concern is that we are not reflecting reality when it comes to recruitment challenges and the need to consider whether current pay levels are appropriate. This should not be viewed as a proxy for the kind of pay lift that at least some of those seafarers are saying they think they need to deal with recruitment challenges. This is rather a cosmetic change.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

The hon. Member for Oxford East raised the issue of whether there will be any detriment, and she specifically mentioned retrospective issues in terms of this formalisation of the relief that has hitherto been available on an informal basis. I can assure her that there will not be any detriment, and I thank her for raising that important matter. As for seafarers’ pay, that is probably an issue that is out of scope for this Committee, but I am sure she will raise it in other quarters. Part of the reason for introducing this clause, and for formalising and putting into legislation these particular reliefs, is to make sure that we are as effective as we can be on the tax side when recruiting men and women who do such an important job, and that we remain internationally competitive in our tax treatment of their earnings. I hope that the Committee will accept clause 7.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9