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Viewing posts categorised under: Tax in Italy

Do you have investments in the UK?

By Andrew Lawford - Topics: Investments, Italy, Tax in Italy
This article is published on: 4th February 2021

04.02.21

Time for a closer look at foreign portfolios

In one of my articles last year I looked into the complexity of the taxation regime for the various types of investment income that can arise for an Italian resident. I would suggest that you read that article, or at least its section on funds, as background before continuing. In this article we are going to look in greater depth at the taxation of funds, or collective investment schemes (from now on I’ll refer to these simply as “collectives”). While this may seem a somewhat dry topic, it will be of particular concern to those who have investments in the UK, given that their tax treatment will be changing now that Brexit has come to pass. Equally, though, many people will have investments in collectives that they made in their countries of origin that do not pass muster in Italy, and these will bring less than desirable consequences from a taxation perspective.

Ufficio Complicazione Affari Semplici

Let’s first make it clear that there is nothing in Italian law that makes it illegal for an Italian resident to own certain kinds of foreign asset, but as many people find out when navigating the Italian system, the fact that you are allowed to do something doesn’t automatically mean that it will be easy. In fact, Italy has a mythical government office known as the Ufficio Complicazione Affari Semplici (the Office of Complicating Simple Matters – it even has its own Facebook page) which, if it actually existed, might well be one of the most efficient government entities in the country (I am joking, of course, but it does sometimes feel that way)!

tax in italy

Anyway, back to the main point of this article: there is an important distinction made in Italian tax law between EU domicile as against non-EU domicile for collectives.* In order to enjoy the basic 26% rate of taxation for financial income, collectives must either respect the UCITS regulations (i.e. be authorised under the EU law for collective investment undertakings), or, if non-UCITS, they must be domiciled in the EU or EEA, registered for distribution in Italy and managed by an EU licensed asset manager. These requirements will exclude almost all non-EU domiciled collectives, with UK collectives the most recent addition to the list (as from 1st January 2021). So what happens when you have invested in a collective that isn’t covered by EU rules? Any income generated will be taxed at your marginal income tax rates, which is likely to be penalising for all except those with limited incomes (the lowest income tax band is 23% in Italy).

Much has been made in the press of the fact that financial services were excluded from the Brexit agreement. Below is what this looks like in practice (the following is an excerpt from a letter sent by the fund manager Janus Henderson to investors in their UK domiciled funds):

“With effect from 1 January 2021, UK domiciled investment funds that had previously operated under the Undertakings for the Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (UCITS) regulations will cease to be classed as UCITS and will instead become “UK UCITS”. From the same date, UK domiciled Non-UCITS Retail Schemes (NURS) will cease to be classed as EU Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) and instead will be classed as third country AIFs. Any UK domiciled Janus Henderson funds that were registered for marketing purposes in any EU 27 countries will no longer be registered and marketing of the funds will therefore cease. For the avoidance of doubt our “UK UCITS” and NURS will not be registered for marketing in the EU as third country AIFs.”

Also on the list for unfavourable tax treatment you will find any non-UCITS ETFs, which would include all of those listed in the US (remember that ETFs are simply collectives that trade on a stock exchange). It will also include holdings in Investment Trusts listed in the UK. To be fair, UK Investment Trusts have always been in an unusual situation – something I found out first hand a number of years ago after holding an Investment Trust through an Italian bank. I was amazed at the paperwork that arrived at year end relating to this holding, the income from which I was obliged to put in my tax return (to be taxed at marginal rates). At the time there was also a complicated distinction made between the variation of the fund’s NAV compared with the variation of the price of the shares that I had bought and sold – although I believe that particular distortion has now been resolved for listed funds like ETFs (every now and again something slips past the Office of Complicating Simple Matters).

USA Federal Bank

What about the US?
Any American readers should be particularly concerned, because they cannot hold EU collectives due to the arcane nature of US taxation, which makes compliance difficult even for non-resident US citizens.

You are unwise to hold EU collectives from a US point of view, and unwise to hold US collectives from an Italian point of view. So what to do? Do not despair: much will depend on your individual situation, but we can often help to improve substantially the overall tax efficiency and declaration burden relating to your portfolio.

The bottom line is that you should never assume that what works well in one country will work well in another, and especially not one like Italy that has government offices specialised in complicating matters!

If you would like to discuss your own situation then please get in touch. Our aim is to simplify complicated matters as much as possible whilst making sure that your assets are well managed, with a view to the long term. In this context, avoiding unnecessary tax exposure remains a key element of most successful investment strategies. With proper guidance in the process of portfolio construction, it is entirely possible both to enhance investment returns and reduce administrative complexity.

* Normally you can tell where a collective is domiciled by looking at the first two digits of its ISIN code (ISIN stands for International Securities Identification Number, a 12 digit alphanumeric code which almost all financial instruments have): IT will identify an Italian security, GB a UK security, LU a Luxembourg security and so on.

Understanding Italian tax legislation

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Italy, Tax in Italy
This article is published on: 22nd January 2021

22.01.21

I normally like to start a new E-zine or article with a story or some kind of recent experience to try and provide context to what I am about to write. However, because of my lack of travels, I am lacking stories at the moment. In fact, I am now starting to believe that there is a government conspiracy to bore me to death, or they are in collaboration with Netflix to lobotomize me with endless series and films. Lockdown phase 2 is proving somewhat monotonous!

So, with the fact that there isn’t really much to tell you other than work related matters, then we might as well crack on, because the truth is that as a result of Brexit a number of financial things have changed. A lot of my clients are now non-EU citizens (i.e. Brits), and so a better understanding of Italian tax legislation is essential. We have done some extensive digging in this regard and our investigations have sprung up some unwelcome news for some.

The information we found was buried so deep in Italian tax law text that it took us (in reality my colleague Andrew Lawford ended up discovering it through sheer determination and persistence) quite some time to dig it up. So make sure you read the whole E-zine as something might be relevant to you.

I should add that the financial services industry is still trying to work itself out and we should remember that there is no deal for financial services as part of the Brexit trade agreement. A lot of hope is being placed on a potential trade agreement being reached on financial services by the spring, as professed by Rishi Sunak, but I have my doubts.

UK Banks closed

SO, WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?
Let’s start with the one that got the most press leading up to Brexit. The automatic closure of UK bank accounts for EU residents.

There is not much to say here, other than the main culprits seem to be Barclays, Lloyds, Nationwide, Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax. To date, my experience with clients is that the closure letters are a bit of a scattergun approach. Not everyone I know with an account in these banks is being approached to close it.

I am asked a lot about the possibility of using a UK address of a relative or friend and whether this would alert the bank to you living in the EU or not? The likelihood is that it will for 2 reasons. The first is that under the Common Reporting Standard (International sharing of tax and financial information) banks only need to ‘suspect’ that you are resident in another country. This might be determined from activity on your account, or other financial information that they may receive from foreign tax authorities. The second reason is that ultimately you should be asked to prove the address you provide. A simple check on the land registry can avert them to the fact that you are not the registered owner of the property. A standard requirement is to request a copy of a utility bill showing your name and address on it or some kind of official tax authority document. If you are unable to prove these, then the chances are that the banks will catch up with you sooner or later.

So, what are the alternatives? I have recommended Fineco as a good Italian bank alternative (for transparency purposes, I have been an account holder for approx 10 years) but I believe that more of you than ever are finding it easy to open and use Transferwise as a transitionary online solution. But it’s NOT a bank, so beware! There are online banks as well, such as N26 and the online offshoots of the regular Italian banks. There are certainly lots of options available although finding a non-UK alternative that will allow UK direct debit payments is pretty much impossible.

taxation on overseas rental property for Italian residents

UK PROPERTY OWNERSHIP
I have written previously about this and the increased wealth tax that will now be charged on UK property ownership for Italian residents.

To recap, in a pre-Brexit world a UK property owned by an Italian resident would have had a wealth tax charged against it each year, in Italy. The value for calculating this charge was 0.76% of the council tax value of the property. This is considerably lower than the market value in most cases. However, now that the UK has left the EU the method for calculating that wealth tax changes.

Properties that are located outside the EU are subject to the same charge, 0.76%, but in this case the valuation basis moves to the purchase/acquisition value of the property, where provable, and the market value otherwise. For most people I am finding that this is quite a difference, and for anyone who has bought in the last 10 years or so, this means a mostly, higher annual wealth tax charge. To date, I have only come across one person who retired to Italy and had retained the family property in the UK for many years, and could benefit from a very low purchase value for calculation purposes, hence a net tax benefit as a result of the tax change post Brexit. Most are going to find that their cost of holding UK property will increase as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

tax-italy-guide

TAX BREAK…
For anyone inclined to sell their UK property then we shouldn’t forget that there is the possible ‘sale-of-home’ tax break as an Italian resident. If you have owned the home for more than 5 full tax years then Italy does not consider a property sale speculative (even a property located overseas) and so no capital gains tax is charged in Italy. You may have tax applied in the country in which the property is situated, in which case you would need to check the local tax laws. In the case of the UK, a property sale as a non-UK tax resident means capital gains tax would be charged on the property, but only from the date at which the legislation was introduced: 6th April 2015. What this means is that any gains made up to that point can effectively be written off, and the cost value for the purposes of calculating the capital gain would be the value as at the 6th April 2015 or later, depending on when you bought the property. A handy tax break for anyone who has held property in the UK for more than 5 years.

UK IFA

UK IFAs
Now, we come onto the more technical points and an area which I see evolving over the coming year/years: UK IFAs (Independent Financial Advisers).

Even when the UK was inside the EU it was not uncommon for me to come across people who had existing relationships with UK based IFAs who advised them on their finances, in the same way that I do for my clients living in Italy. But, even inside the EU most firms were not licensed to work with clients who were living in an EU state (it was easy enough to check on the Financial Conduct Authority website in the UK), and even in the few limited cases where they had the licence they did not have any experience of the Italian tax and financial system, so their advice was mainly useless and normally bad for the client. However, many continued to operate regardless, protected (loosely) by being a member of the EU.

Fast forward to a post Brexit world and the fog has cleared. If you are working with a UK based IFA, and living in Italy, then you should not be receiving any advice from them. They will not have the necessary authorities or licences to operate in the EU, and as such, you as a client are not protected for any advice that they give you. This has been very clearly highlighted in a Banca D’Italia document which was released at the end of last year.

If you do work with any UK based financial professional it would be in your interests to contact them and ask if they have an EU based entity to ensure they can continue to work with you. In much the same way as the banks are pulling out of the EU (the ones that have no intention to develop or maintain their existing EU business), IFA firms (small or large) should also be doing the same.

I have to admit, that I have benefited from this because a number of UK firms with Italian resident clients have already contacted me about passing on their clients because they are no longer able to work with them. I expect this to continue as more firms understand their legal liability of working with clients in an un-licensed capacity.

If you are in this situation please speak with the firm and/or send me a message and I can help you to look into it in more detail.

investment talk

ASSET MANAGERS
This is a category, very similar to UK based IFAs. These are firms which generally manage sizeable portfolios for clients and have a direct relationship with the end client. To date there are mixed messages coming out of this sector. Some asset managers are aiming to pass EU based clients to EU based firms, like ourselves, others are clinging onto various legal loop holes to retain business. If you have a portfolio managed by a UK based asset manager directly, then the best you can do is to contact them and ask them what their post Brexit plans are. We expect that over time the EU will develop a more protectionist and hardline stance on working with non EU based firms.T his will ensure that they can more readily protect their EU residents and citizens and also win business from the UK.

Where UK asset managers are used inside Italian tax compliant accounts, in the way that we mostly structure assets for our clients, then you do not have to worry as the provider of the account will be keeping abreast of legislation as it changes.

***For all my clients, please be aware that we are on top of any changes in this regard and you do NOT need to contact your asset manager as a result of the content in this E-zine. If anything changes we will notify you as soon as we become aware. We also have contingency plans in place should any changes need to be made***

italy tax

TAX ON UK DOMICILED ASSETS
This is probably the most revealing piece of information that we have discovered, and whilst it is new for UK residents, it has always been the tax case for other non-EU Italian residents e.g. US citizens. And very important information it is as well for the holders

of UK domiciled non-property assets (excluding bank accounts).

We are not sure if most commercialisti are aware of what we discovered and so we encourage you to have a discussion with yours if you think you might be affected!

Essentially, if you hold non-EU approved investment funds in a portfolio with a bank or an asset manager, then these same assets must meet 3 simple rules for the flat 26% tax treatment for investment income and capital gains to be applied, in Italy.

1. The fund or collective investment must be established in a member state of the EU or EEA
2. It must be sold in Italy under the relevant distributions guidelines from the regulator CONSOB
3. And if you are working with someone who manages your money they need to be subject to EU authorisations in the country in which they operate from

And the important point to note is that any investment fund must be covered under all 3 criteria and not just one!

What is the consequence if your collective investments don’t meet these criteria?
Very simply all your investment income and capital gains are added up and taxed at your highest rate of income tax! They are added to all your other income for the year and taxed accordingly. For someone who is earning up to €15000pa (pensions, rental income and/or employment income) then this would be advantageous, but for any figure above then your tax rate will be higher than the 26% currently charged on the same asset.

How can you check if you have a non-EU domiciled collective investment asset?
Very simply, all securities are allocated an International Securities Number (ISIN code). You will need to check that yours starts with an EU approved code, such as IE, LU, FR, IT etc. For any UK citizen living in Italy holding securities/funds or assets, whose code starts with the letters GB, then it might be time to take another look at your financial planning as a resident to try and mitigate any future tax charges on these assets.

And that’s it for this E-zine! There are quite a few financial planning considerations to be taken into account here and so I will elaborate on them in future E-zines, but if you have any doubts as to whether any of these topics may apply to you, or want some help looking into anything, then I would suggest you get in touch using the form below.

Investment income taxation in Italy

By Andrew Lawford - Topics: Investment income taxation in Italy, Investments, Italy, Tax, Tax in Italy
This article is published on: 5th November 2020

05.11.20

This should be easy, shouldn’t it? Everything gets taxed at 26% – dividends, interest and capital gains. However, for anyone who has delved into the world of Italian fiscal matters, it should be obvious that the words “easy”, “taxation” and “Italy” do not belong in the same sentence.

Let’s try and examine how it all works
Basically you have two main choices: do you want to keep all of your financial assets in Italy, or will you keep some, or all, of your assets outside of Italy? While it is beyond the scope of this article to look at the solidity of the Italian economy and its financial system, you may well be reluctant, with some cause, to move all of your assets here. Maintaining assets abroad as an Italian resident can be fraught with difficulties, but careful planning can mitigate almost entirely the issues that arise. Read on for further details.

Basically you have two main choices: do you want to keep all of your financial assets in Italy, or will you keep some, or all, of your assets outside of Italy? While it is beyond the scope of this article to look at the solidity of the Italian economy and its financial system, you may well be reluctant, with some cause, to move all of your assets here. Maintaining assets abroad as an Italian resident can be fraught with difficulties, but careful planning can mitigate almost entirely the issues that arise. Read on for further details.

Assets held in Italy:
Let’s start by looking at the situation for those assets held in Italy (i.e. in an account at an Italian financial institution):

For directly-held, unmanaged investments at an Italian bank or financial intermediary, the 26% rate will apply to income flows (e.g. dividends and coupons) at the time they are received and to capital gains at the time they are realised. This system is known as regime amministrato and it is generally the default position that most people will find themselves in when they open an account in Italy, unless they opt for a discretionary asset management service (see below). Under this system, the bank or other intermediary involved makes withholding payments on the client’s behalf and no further tax is due.

You can opt out of this system and elect to make your own declarations and tax payments (regime dichiarativo), however this is likely to be a sensible option only for someone who has assets spread over a number of different banks, as it is the only way to off-set gains realised in one bank with losses realised in another. The cost of doing this is that you will have to take responsibility for the correct declaration of all your investment income, which is no easy task. It will necessitate a lot of work on your part, as well as the need to find a local tax accountant willing and able to handle this aspect of your tax return.

If you decide to use a financial adviser to help with the choice of your investments in the above context, it is worth noting that any explicit cost of the service will attract Italian VAT at 22% (and if you are not paying an explicit cost, then you should look closely at the assets you are being advised to purchase – expensive, commission-paying funds are still very much alive in the Italian market). It is not possible to deduct the advise cost from your gross results before taxation is withheld.

The weird world of fund taxation:
One of the more perverse aspects of financial income taxation in Italy is the treatment of fund investments (basically any collective investment scheme, including ETFs). These will produce what is known as reddito di capitale when they generate dividends or are sold at a profit, but a reddito diverso when sold at a loss. What this means in practical terms is that in a portfolio containing only funds, you cannot off-set losses against gains. If you do accumulate losses through selling losing investments, you will need to generate gains that can be classified as redditi diversi in order to off-set the losses. This will likely involve investments in individual stocks and bonds, which may lead to an odd portfolio construction driven by tax considerations – generally not a good basis upon which to choose one’s investments.

Let’s turn now to directly-held, managed investments held with an Italian institution. In this case, taxation of 26% will be levied annually on any positive variation in the overall account value, with no distinction being made between the various sources of the income (this is known as the regime gestito). If the account suffers an overall decrease in value in the course of a given year, this loss can be carried forward and off-set against gains recorded over the following four years. Whilst this is a relatively simple arrangement from a tax perspective, it remains inefficient in the sense that it taxes you on unrealised returns (although at least the return is taxed net of fees).

It is worth noting that the asset management fees charged on this type of service attract Italian VAT at 22%, so an agreed cost of 1% per annum becomes a 1.22% cost for the client. Italian institutions will also generally favour investments in their “in house” managed funds, even when better (and cheaper) investments are available.

Assets held outside of Italy:
There is nothing to prevent you from holding assets outside of Italy, but you do need to go into such a situation with your eyes open. You will find yourself essentially in the same situation as the person who opts for the regime dichiarativo which I described above, together with the added aggravation of having to comply with the foreign asset declaration requirements (Quadro RW), which mean that you have to declare not only the income you derive from your financial assets, but also their value and any changes in their composition from year to year. If you’d like to have an idea of the complexity of making these declarations, get in touch with me and I will send you the instruction booklet for the 2020 Italian tax return (Fascicolo 2, the section which deals mostly with financial income and asset declarations, runs to 62 pages this year, and no, it is not available in English). You cannot opt to have a foreign, directly-held, discretionary managed account taxed as per the regime gestito above, because this is only possible for accounts held with Italian financial institutions. This means that any account will have to be broken down into its constituent elements and the tax calculated appropriately. Please also note that accounts which enjoy preferential tax treatment in a foreign jurisdiction will generally not carry any such benefits for an Italian resident.

Italian-compliant tax wrappers:
There is a solution which allows you to maintain foreign assets whilst removing 99% of the hassle described above. This involves using an Italian-compliant life insurance wrapper, issued from an EU jurisdiction. There are a number of other important benefits that accrue to this type of solution for an Italian resident, the two main ones being deferral of taxation until withdrawals are made (or death benefits paid) and total exemption from Italian inheritance taxes. I am reluctant to present comparative numbers in an article of this sort, but it should be clear that if the investments and costs are the same under the various scenarios examined, tax deferral will lead to a higher final investment value, and so should always be the preferred solution.

tax in italy

My goal with this article hasn’t been to make your head spin (although I can understand that this might have been its effect), but instead to make it clear that even apparently simple rules can hide a web of complexity which will ultimately lead to an inefficient outcome for the unwary investor. My goal is to cut through the complexity and make your life as simple as possible, whilst giving you access to quality underlying investments. Yes, it can be done, even in Italy.