James Quarmby - Spear's Magazine

James Quarmby

Stephenson Harwood

James Quarmby
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Spear’s checks in with James Quarmby, Stephenson Harwood’s head of private wealth, who makes time for a call during ‘an extremely busy’ period for his practice and the firm’s international offices. ‘Hong Kong is back to normal, the Dubai office is reopened… Singapore’s good to go,’ he says, adding that the London office is facing ‘all that pent-up demand’ in relation to real estate investments amid Covid-19.

‘In times of turbulence, high-networth clients want to talk to their lawyers…they’re often switching around their investment policies, they’re moving cash around internationally and they want tax or legal advice,’ Quarmby says. Lockdown boredom and lowerpriced assets have contributed to increased transactions too. ‘The clever ones are saying, “Well, OK, this is a horrible time, [there are] all sorts of problems, but you know, we can’t waste a good crisis.”’

Will the government introduce a wealth tax to pay for Covid-19? ‘I don’t think it’s in their blood,’ he tells us. ‘But the golden goose, though, is pensions, isn’t it?’

He points to how George Osborne ‘stripped away’ the idea that you’re limited to taking an annuity. ‘Everyone thought he turned into a socialist, but actually it’s a purely capitalist move – if you allow people to take as much as they like from their pension, it accelerates the tax charge. Fiddling around with the non-doms and all that sort of stuff is just crumbs.’