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  1. Wealth
September 25, 2019

What JK Rowling’s £15.3m donation can teach us about tax

By Spear's

With careful planning and the right advisors, it is possible to find sophisticated yet commercial solutions for the creators and funders of charities on a wide range of issues, writes Alice Wheatley

In a welcome change from the Brexit doom and gloom, it was widely reported in last week’s press that JK Rowling, acclaimed author of the Harry Potter tales, had donated an admirable sum of £15.3 million to a research centre focussed on neurological conditions. The cause is a close one: her mother died aged just 45 from complications relating to Multiple Sclerosis.

The Anne Rowling Neurology Clinic based at the University of Edinburgh was established with a £10 million donation from Rowling in 2010.

This was not the author’s first stab at philanthropy. She is widely considered one of the most generous celebrities in the UK. In 2011, Rowling famously paved the way as the first author to make it onto the Forbes billionaires list.

Her reign, however, was short-lived. She dropped off the list again in 2012 following an estimated £120 million in charitable giving throughout her year on the list.

So who else joins the millionairess on the list of celebrity do-gooders? Repeatedly topping the Sunday Times Giving List 2019 in the celebrity category and ranking 12th on the list overall with annual donations of £27.1 million (9 per cent of his total wealth) is Elton John.

The sequin-clad star has donated over £300 million of his wealth over the past 10 years to charities including the Elton John Aids Foundation and the Royal Academy of Music. Last November, in a flurry of Christmas cheer, he announced his fee for the John Lewis ad would also be donated to good causes.

According to the Sunday Times data, he is the third most consistent giver in the country, having featured high on the list for the last 11 years.

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Those more cynical amongst us may suggest celebrities’ donations can never be labelled as true altruism. The inevitable press coverage these good deeds trigger of course give the star a healthy PR boost – whether sought after or not.

Another benefit of philanthropic donations, but which is seldom the driver (no-one gives away money to save tax!), is the availability of tax relief.

This might be relief from income tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax – the latter having been reviewed recently in the Office of Tax Simplification consultation.

And so whether or not these acts are deemed heartwarming or headline-grabbing, one hopes the next generation of stars continue the legacy of celebrity philanthropy and avail themselves of professional advice to boost the impact of their giving with planned and careful structuring.

With careful planning and the right advisors, it is possible to find sophisticated yet commercial solutions for the creators and funders of charities on a wide range of issues, including the choice of the appropriate vehicle, be it a charitable trust, charitable company or specialist charitable vehicle Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

This ensures the fiscal efficiency of donations, particularly in a cross-border context and reaping the benefits of dual-registered charities.

Photo credit: Daniel Ogren @Flickr

Alice Wheatley works at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.  

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