A Stockingful of Tenuous Christmas Tax Facts

Santa Claus nearly bankrupted by a Finnish tax bill - the company that owned Finland's Santa Claus Office declared itself bankrupt in August this year when faced with an unpaid €200,000 (£143,000) tax bill. Revenue had dropped following a fall in Russian visitors. The office is a major visitor attraction in Lapland but was saved a few days later by Lapland Safaris Group which bought the struggling company and paid off the tax bill.

Christmas Trees - more about tax expenditure than tax collection, there are as many Freedom of Information requests about Government expenditure on Christmas as there are baubles on the Downing Street Christmas Tree.  (NB The Chancellor at Number 11 will be pleased to know this has since 1979 been donated by the British Christmas Tree Growers Association so no cost to the public purse here).  From these we learn that most Government departments send electronic Christmas cards to control costs, and that in 2012 the Scottish Office spent £59 on a tree for its London office, while the Welsh office splashed out £72. Canny Scots hey? 

Carolling - is an excellent way to make your point about tax. An Australian senator last month adapted ‘The Twelve days of Christmas’ and burst into song to complain about a number of recently introduced tax bills. The less than snappy adaption concluded: “In the fifth bill of Christmas my treasurer said to me, more FBT (fringe benefit tax), more CGT, seafarer tax, slower deductions and tax on the elderly.”  You can see this on YouTube, but I wouldn’t recommend it. 

Candle Taxes - from 1709 to 1831 Great Britain had a candle tax and forbade people to make their own candles without a licence. This tax condemned generations to rush lights (candles made from dipping rushes in animal fat) or darkness not just at Christmas but throughout the year. You could light both ends at once but rush lights burnt quickly - hence the term ‘burning the candle at both ends’.  The unpopular tax helped to ensure that the means of candle production was controlled.

A Christmas Carol - For a time the 1867 oil ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the well-known Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti was conditionally exempted from tax. Owned by a number of generations of the Leverhulme family after acquisition in 1917 by the 1st Viscount, it was accepted as conditionally exempt in 2005. Conditional exemption means that no Inheritance tax or Capital Gains Tax is due on a gift or transfer by death provided the asset is made available to the public. The terms for this Rossetti were that it had to be available for viewing at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside for 150 days in every five years. 

Interestingly the painting was sold for £4.5m in December 2013 with two other works so the exemption will have lapsed at that point; however, all three are still on the HMRC conditional exemption list. It is tempting to ask if some updating of the list is not required. Something for HMRC to tackle after the post-Christmas filing season perhaps?

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