Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
This article contrasts tax evasion, tax avoidance, tax resistance and tax mitigation.
Tax evasion is the general term for efforts by individuals, firms, trusts and other entities to evade the payment of taxes by breaking the law. Tax evasion usually entails taxpayers deliberately misrepresenting or concealing the true state of their affairs to the tax authorities to reduce their tax liability, and includes, in particular, dishonest tax reporting (such as underdeclaring income, profits or gains; or overstating deductions).
By contrast tax avoidance is the legal exploitation of the tax regime to one's own advantage, to attempt to reduce the amount of tax that is payable by means that are within the law whilst making a full disclosure of the material information to the tax authorities.
Tax avoidance may be considered as either the amoral dodging of one's duties to society or the right of every citizen to find all the legal ways to avoid paying too much tax. Tax evasion, on the other hand, is a crime in almost all countries and subjects the guilty party to fines or even imprisonment. Switzerland is one notable exception: Tax fraud (forging documents, for example) is considered a crime, tax evasion (like underdeclaring assets) is not.
Some tax evaders see their efforts to evade taxation as based upon novel legal theories: these individuals and groups are sometimes called tax protesters. U.S. tax protesters are an example of this kind of approach to tax evasion that has generally ended in failure for those making such claims.
Tax resisters refuse to pay the tax for conscientious reasons (because they do not want to support the government or some of its activities), sometimes breaking the law to do so. Some donate their unpaid taxes to charity, while others (at least in the US) take creative "deductions" such as not paying a percentage of tax equal to the defense budget. In either case, they typically do not take the position that the tax laws are themselves illegal or do not apply to them (as tax protesters do) and they are more concerned with not paying for what they oppose than they are motivated by the desire to keep more of their money (as tax evaders typically are). Some have suggested the term tax avoision for people who adopt the techniques of tax avoidance in the service of tax resistance, thereby doing tax resistance legally.
In the UK, there is no general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR), but certain provisions of the tax legislation (known as anti-avoidance provisions) apply to prevent tax avoidance where the main object (or purpose), or one of the main objects (or purposes), of a transaction is to enable tax advantages to be obtained. Judicial doctrines, relying on a purposive construction of tax legislation, are being evolved to prevent tax avoidance involving circular, self-cancelling transactions (IRC v. Ramsey), or where steps with no commercial purpose other than the avoidance of tax are inserted into a transaction (Furniss v. Dawson). Controversially, in the 2004 Budget, it was announced that 'promoters' and users of certain tax avoidance schemes would be required to disclose details of the schemes to the Inland Revenue.
The UK authorities use the term tax mitigation to refer to acceptable tax planning, minimising tax liabilities in ways expressly endorsed by Parliament. As set out above, on this view tax avoidance flouts the spirit of the law while following the letter and is therefore thought by some to be unacceptable, albeit not criminal in the way that evasion is. Upholding a difference between mitigation and avoidance relies on a purposive reading of legislation, and commentators disagree as to the extent to which this is permissible.
In the words of Lord Tomlin, in the UK House of Lords case, IRC v. Duke of Westminster (1936) 19 TC 490,  AC 1:
- Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.
And Lord Clyde said, in Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services and Ritchie v. IRC (1929) 14 TC 754:
- No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel into his stores.
- The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall.
- The legal right of a taxpayer to decrease the amount of what otherwise would be his taxes, or altogether avoid them, by means which the law permits, cannot be doubted.
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