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Response to the consultation on proposed criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Scotland

I don’t normally blog about political stuff because this is not a campaigning web site. However I thought it would be useful to publish my response to the current proposal that seeks to make it a criminal offence to pay for sexual services in Scotland. So here is a copy of the submission I’ve made to Rhoda Grant MSP.

If you want to know more about the proposal you can read the consultation document on the Scottish Parliament website here: Proposed Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill (2)

Dear Ms Grant

My name is Jolyon. I am an accountant and the author of www.taxrelief4escorts.co.uk which provides free tax advice to UK escorts and other individual sex workers. I am not a resident of Scotland, but as you know the same tax laws apply throughout the UK.

I set up the web site almost ten years ago in order to counteract a great deal of misinformation and rumour surrounding how the tax system applies to people working in the sex industry. I was contacted by a number of women who had decided to become independent escorts in order to provide financial stability and security for themselves and their families, and were concerned not to put that at risk by avoiding their tax obligations.

The web site is now recognised as the primary source of no-nonsense and reliable tax advice for individual sex workers and is linked to on a number of sites supporting escorts, for example SAAFE (Support and Advice for Escorts), as well as on the web sites of a large number of sex workers. It receives an average of 2,591 page views per month (monthly average over the last 6 month).

In September this year in response to repeated requests from sex workers I launched a directory of accountants willing to act for escorts and other sex workers. All the accountants listed are properly qualified and regulated by one of the recognised UK accountancy bodies. There are currently five firms on the directory, and interestingly over half of them are women. In the 13 weeks since the directory was launched we have received 31 serious requests from sex-workers looking to instruct an accountant, which is equivalent to 10 per month.

It is well established in UK tax law that income from prostitution is liable to income tax and national insurance. You can find confirmation of this on the HMRC site http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/bimmanual/BIM65001.htm:

If the activities of a prostitute or any other person deriving income from prostitution are organised in such a way as to constitute a trade or profession, the profits are liable to income tax. This was confirmed by the ‘Miss Whiplash’ case, CIR v Aken [1990] 63TC395.

In principle fees paid to them are also liable to VAT, although in practice very few individual sex workers will achieve turnover above the VAT registration limit of £77,000.

It is important to note that any woman who is trafficked, pimped or otherwise coerced into prostitution is not liable for income tax. She is not in business, she is the victim of activities which are already crimes both north and south of the border.

Your proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex seems to be predicated upon the assumption that all sex workers are victims of violence who need the protection of the state. However the evidence of my web site is that there are substantial numbers of sex workers actively seeking tax advice and instructing accountants to help them comply with their legal obligations. These are not, I suggest, the behaviours of trafficked, pimped and coerced workers, but rather of individuals who having entered the industry with their eyes wide open are anxious to fulfill their obligations as business owners by registering and paying their taxes.

You mention in the consultation document that the growth of internet advertising makes it easier for the law enforcement bodies to track down sex workers. However women who advertise on-line are much more likely to be tax payers because they recognise that they are already easier targets for HMRC compliance units.

I appreciate that income tax and national insurance flow to the UK Treasury rather than to the Scottish Parliament but I wonder whether any consideration has been given to the loss of tax revenue that would be caused by the criminalisation of the purchase of sex? HMRC may be able to furnish some figures, although they are likely to be an under-estimate because a large proportion of sex workers register for tax (with the tacit agreement of HMRC) using a euphemistic description of their business activity.

You also need to factor in the cost of having to support women who lose their business income as a result of the proposed criminalisation and become reliant on the benefits system.

The evils of trafficking, pimping and sexual exploitation which this proposal claims to address are already covered by existing criminal offences. This proposal would unnecessarily prevent a large group of independent women who engage in adult, safe, consensual and commercial sex on their own terms from earning a living and contributing to society as tax payers.

Regards

If anyone else wishes to respond to proposal you will need to get your skates on as the consultation period expires on Friday 14 December.

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