In Focus: Tax  

Sometimes, we need to be a little more American

Simoney Kyriakou

Simoney Kyriakou

Maybe it's my North American heritage talking, but I often find myself wishing certain things were a little more American over here. 

Take pancakes, for example. Ordering these from even established 'breakfast specialists' in the UK inevitably results in disappointment: a lack of maple syrup, too little butter, or the bacon is an under-crispy, flabby, salt-encrusted lie.

Also, there's no Dairy Queen within a 50-mile radius of London, which is surprising, given how the City extols Warren Buffett.

You would think they would honour the Sage of Omaha's business acumen by putting their money where their mouth is (or let me put my mouth where my money is) and stump up the capital to allow us to indulge in peanut buster parfaits to our heart rate's discontent.

Moreover, adapting our homes from rain-sucking, damp-seeping brickwork to a more American/Canadian-style construction that allows for better insulation in both summer and winter would be a boon, not just for our heating bills but also for reducing our personal energy footprint.

True, there are a million other things I would not want the UK to adopt from the US, not least the abomination that is 'aluminum'. Or calling petrol 'gas' (when it is actually a liquid).

But one more thing I would like to see adopted over here is a better individual understanding of tax.

I will never forget how an American working at the Royal Bank of Canada was astounded when I explained that Brits do not do tax returns – at least, only a certain sector of society does, such as the self employed or those earning an income outside of their usual employment.

The fact that every man and woman in the country does not have to keep box-loads of receipts from shopping malls to petrol (gas) was incredible to him. "How do you all keep track of your spending and income?" he asked.

A good question.

Given the state of the UK's finances, where the average household debt currently stands at £9,400 excluding the mortgage (according to Bank of England figures), and the average amount saved each year is £6,700, you can understand why we need to get to grips with our money.

Ask the average Brit what PAYE is, or what their NI contributions are, or what their personal tax allowance is, and you would most likely get blank looks or an embarrassed humming and hawing, accompanied by an apologetic laugh. Try it, next time you are in Tesco.

By contrast, most Americans have a basic understanding of their taxes, even if they do not know where all the tax goes. A 2019 study by Betterment found 85 per cent of Americans felt somewhat confident about their tax knowledge.

Admittedly, 48 per cent said they were uncertain whether their tax rates changed in the past year, and 23 per cent said they were not certain when the date of the tax return was.