The Seafarers Earnings Deduction (SED) is a less commonly known yet distinct piece of UK tax legislation that grants seafarers the right to claim 100% tax exemption on foreign earnings, as long as they qualify.
This law came fully into effect in 2012 after a long battle between the trade unions and HMRC, spanning almost 15 years in the courts until both parties reached an agreement. At the time of writing, the SED sadly doesn’t apply to the Armed Forces (other than the Royal Fleet Auxiliary) deployed overseas although the unions have always wanted this exemption included in the bill.
Even after the first ratification of the bill, eighteen years on from the 1988 Finance Act, many seafarers still fail to use the exemption. The reason that this tax exemption came into effect was with consideration for the fact that seafarers and yacht crew spend long periods of time at sea, in a highly competitive market, with potential to play a huge role in the defence needs of UK waters. Due to the pressures of globalisation and increasing competitiveness within the employment sector, it was seen as only fair to give offshore workers suitable financial compensation through reduced tax liabilities.
Consultations, with yacht crew, commercial seafarers and many others, have made it alarmingly apparent that a large proportion of eligible seafarers are not making use of this fantastic opportunity to claim exemption from taxation. It appears that in most cases this is either because they weren’t aware of the legislation, they believed they did not qualify for the deduction, or that they are unsure how to claim it because the rules and regulations surrounding it were so obfuscated.