I wrote this sketch for Newsjack on the tax arrangements at Airbnb. They didn’t use it, so thought I’d pop it up here.
HOST: This week it emerged that Airbnb paid less than £200,000 in UK corporation tax last year, despite collecting over £600 million in rental payments for property owners. The digital economy’s great, isn’t it? You can use an Apple or Microsoft device to Google an Airbnb place and have an Amazon delivery waiting for you when you arrive. And all in the time it takes to close three schools and a hospital. But how would companies react if their customers tried using the same tactics?
FX: PHONE RINGS
AIRBNB CALLER: Good afternoon. I’m calling from Airbnb UK about the property you’ve registered with us. I believe you’re renting out 139a Blackfriars Road?
JIM: That’s right, great ratings too. We’re getting so many stars, the guy in the flat opposite has set up his own observatory! Though now I come to think about it, he might just be a pervert.
AIRBNB CALLER: Well…quite. I’m ringing because we’re having some trouble with your account, and we’ve not been able to collect the Airbnb service charge. Are you able to settle up over the phone please?
JIM: Ah. Did you say you were calling from Airbnb UK?
AIRBNB CALLER: That’s correct.
JIM: Well, there’s your problem. The flat is actually registered in Dublin.
AIRBNB CALLER: I’m sorry? 139a Blackfriars Road. That’s in London, right?
JIM: Well yes and no. The address is a London address, but the flat is registered in Dublin for accounting purposes. Look, did you ever read the Narnia books as a kid?
AIRBNB CALLER: No.
JIM: Exactly. It’s just like that. Outside the front door, it’s black cabs and red buses; inside it’s shamrocks and Guinness. Outside they’re playing Streets of London; inside it’s sweet, sweet Molly Malone.
AIRBNB CALLER: This is ridiculous. I must ask you to please just settle your account.
JIM: I’m afraid I can only speak to Airbnb Ireland about this.
FX: PHONE CUTS OFF
FX: PHONE RINGS AGAIN
AIRBNB CALLER: [The same caller as before, doing a questionable Irish accent] Hello, this is Airbnb Ireland, calling to settle your account for flat 139a.
JIM: Ah. Well it’s not actually me you need to speak to.
AIRBNB CALLER: [persisting with the accent] What? Aren’t you the registered owner?
JIM: Yes and no.
AIRBNB CALLER: What?
JIM: My accountant recommended I split my personality into separate entities. Right now, you’re talking to cheeky, knockabout me, resident in London. But all my assets – including the flat – are controlled by my hard-headed businessman persona. He’s domiciled in Luxembourg.
AIRBNB CALLER: [Giving up on the accent] Oh for Christ’s sake…
JIM: But none of us can do anything without consulting our controlling international playboy persona in the Cayman Islands. And good luck getting that guy off the beach at happy hour, know what I mean?
AIRBNB CALLER: [Snapping] This is nonsense! You can’t pretend a building is in a different country or controlled by a different part of your own personality, just to avoid paying the money you owe!
JIM: [pause] Hmmm… Actually, that reminds me. While I’ve got you on the line, several of my personalities work for HMRC and as it happens, we’ve been trying to get in touch with someone at Airbnb for a while to discuss tax arrangem-… Hello? Hello?
FX: PHONE CUTS OFF