Newly released statistics reveal that specialist HMRC taskforces have collected £109m in extra tax over the last six months alone. Such impressive results mean that the Revenue is likely to continue to invest money in these units, and increase the number of investigations launched.
As most accountants will be aware, taskforces are set up to target the underpayment of tax across specific industry sectors and geographical areas. They undertake intensive bursts of investigatory and surveillance work- usually lasting around nine months- to identify any causes for concern.
HMRC set up a total of 27 new taskforces between April and October of this year, targeting a range of sectors and regions. Construction workers, taxi drivers and restaurants have found themselves a focus.
HMRC taskforces have an impressive track-record. The very first were established in 2011 and over 100 have been set up since then. Over £400 million has been collected as a result of their efforts. One taskforce alone has generated over 20 arrests.
Taskforces can undertake aggressive investigatory work. Teams can turn up at any time, announced or unannounced, to inspect premises and accounts, in order to uncover taxes owed. They have a wide range of tools at their disposal to help identify any high risk targets. New powers have granted HMRC officers increased access to information held by websites and employers on workers and customers, for instance.
Taskforces can levy financial penalties of up to 100% of tax owed, so HMRC has significant potential to get a good return on its investment.
Experts predict that lawyers and a wider range of landlords could be the next targets for these specialist investigatory units, having recently been the subjects of voluntary disclosure campaigns. Often, a taskforce will step in once a declared tax ‘amnesty’ period comes to a close. Any taxpayer under suspicion who has failed to take advantage of a campaign is likely to receive particularly intense scrutiny.
With HMRC clamping down so intensively on a range of targets across different sectors and locations, many innocent clients are likely to be caught in the crossfire.