Gutiérrez Pujadas & Partners

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Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa’s unexpected announcement of the elimination of aggressive tax benefits for non-regular residents in Portugal has reignited the debate over special regimes in several countries. Spain, in particular, has its own regime, colloquially known as the “Beckham law”, which benefits around 10,000 people every year, at a tax cost of over 100 million euros per year, according to the limited official data available.

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Tax distortions and criticism of special schemes

These regimes, designed to attract high-net-worth taxpayers to their respective jurisdictions, have been criticised by bodies such as the European Commission, who point out that they create tax distortions between countries and disparate tax treatment for citizens. Carlos Cruzado, president of the Tax Ministry Technicians’ Union (Gestha), highlights the difficulty of obtaining detailed information on the subject, a concern shared by other experts and academics.

The lack of accurate data at the Tax Agency

The Tax Agency does not have precise data in its public statistics that would allow it to assess the consequences and impact of this special regime. However, since 2020, the Ministry of Finance has included a section in its collection and statistics reports that quantifies the fiscal impact of this advantage. In 2023, according to the draft General State Budget, the collection cost of this regime is estimated at 105.7 million euros for the year as a whole, benefiting 11,078 taxpayers.

The Beckham Law in Spain and its tax implications

The Beckham Law is a special regime applicable to workers posted to Spanish territory, known as impatriates. These professionals can choose to be taxed under the rules applicable to non-residents or through personal income tax, with additional advantages compared to other individuals. One of the main benefits is that taxpayers under this scheme are only taxed on income generated in Spain, excluding income from other countries. In addition, up to 600,000 euros per year, the tax rate is 24%, rising to 47% above that figure. It should be noted that this regime has a maximum duration of six years.

Perspective and analysis

Carlos Cruzado points out that these differences represent a disadvantage for habitual residents, who face considerably higher tax rates in the brackets below 600,000 euros. He therefore considers Portugal’s decision to eliminate its regime to be positive, and urges Spain to follow suit.

The Spanish special regime, initiated in 2003 and subsequently modified in terms of conditions and requirements, was popularised by elite foreign footballers, such as David Beckham. This regime, contained in Article 93 of the Personal Income Tax Law, was designed to favour the arrival of skilled workers in Spain through more favourable taxation. However, María Luisa Sabella, from the Tax Agency, points out that this regime is more advantageous for workers whose average personal income tax rate is higher than the fixed rate of taxation established in the IRNR. This implies that it mainly benefits higher incomes, which raises concerns about the principles of fairness, equality, progressivity and economic capacity.

Conclusions and future prospects

Although some tax experts and advisors argue that what the Treasury forgoes through these regimes is recovered in other ways and that these regimes attract qualified profiles and business managers beneficial to the country’s economy, the elimination of such differentiated tax treatments in Portugal could be an opportunity for Spain to attract talent through a revision of its special tax regime. It is crucial to carefully assess the benefits and implications of these special regimes in the context of tax justice and tax fairness.

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