Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson has denied that he is leaving Britain to flee tax at his British Virgin Islands (BVI) retreat, as he now gives most of his income to charity.

Branson responded in a blog post to a Sunday Times article claiming he was selling his Oxfordshire mansion to settle permanently on Necker Island, which is in the BVI.

Branson said: "I have not left Britain for tax reasons, but for my love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and in particular Necker Island, which I bought when I was 29 years old, 34 years ago, as an uninhabited island on the edges of the BVI.

"Seven years ago we decided to move permanently to Necker as we feel it gives me and my wife Joan the best chance to live another productive few decades. We can also look after our health (Joan is approaching 70 and I'm not far behind).

"I spent 40 years working day and night in Great Britain building companies and creating competition and choice for consumers across a whole range of industries. The companies we created from scratch have created tens of thousands of jobs and paid hundreds of millions in tax."

Having reportedly handed over the day-to-day running of his Virgin Enterprises business empire to trusted executives, he said that he now spent much of his time working on not-for-profit ventures, and added: "I have been very fortunate to accumulate so much wealth in my career, more than I need in my lifetime and would not live somewhere I don't want to for tax reasons."

In an interview in April, Branson condemned those who leave to pay less or no tax abroad.

"I don't think people should be leaving the UK because of our tax system," he was reported as saying.

He went on to describe the UK tax rate as "reasonable", and said "in the current climate, it would be wrong if George Osborne [the chancellor] lowered taxes for the rich."

Branson sold his Oxfordshire property to his children Holly, 31, and Sam, 28, for £1.35 million in August, but the transfer of ownership is believed to have taken place five years ago.

Around seven years ago, he sold his mansion in Holland Park, West London, for around £7.5 million.

The BVI has zero income tax, and a payroll tax of only 8%, meaning that Branson would pay considerably less tax on income than in the UK, where high earners face tax rates of up to 50%.

A spokesperson for Branson said: "He moved there (to the BVI) more than seven years ago, but rather than retiring there, he spends 90 per cent of his time starting not for profit ventures and raising millions for charity through speeches and other charitable engagements.

"Since he gives 100% of any monies he earns from these to charity, it makes no difference for tax purposes whether he is in the UK or the BVI."