It’s not just the likes of Google and Amazon that are likely to come under the Inland Revenue’s tax investigation microscope in coming months. Partly reflecting public opinion and partly the sheer scale of the public sector deficit, the HMRC is threatening to crack down hard, by investigating anyone it suspects of using artificial tax avoidance schemes or of evading tax altogether. The government has so far earmarked £ 900 million towards the cost of this effort.
Clearly, anyone handling cash is going to be investigated closely and the advice of tax accountants is to come clean with them first so as to avoid unnecessary expense and embarrassment further down the road. If you have the slightest doubt about the safety of your past tax returns, it may be prudent to take out an insurance policy which will at least cover your professional fees in the event of an HMRC tax investigation . Currently, there are also a number of part amnesty arrangements in place which can help mitigate potential liabilities especially in relation to offshore bank accounts.
The latest sector to feel the full force of the Revenue’s new resolve is the restaurant trade where HMRC teams have started to visit establishments in London and Scotland with a view to spotting any obvious discrepancies between the number of covers served on a daily basis and the official record of sales maintained by the owners. Staff levels are also being monitored so that they can be compared with official payroll returns. It is well known that many restaurant staff members are paid in cash in order to avoid both PAYE and National Insurance.
HMRC is empowered to make impromptu tax investigation visits to business premises without warning so that it can instantly check the authenticity of the income declared. As always, the Revenue is quick to point out that honest traders have nothing to fear and in a perfect world that would clearly be true. However, business owners do sometimes make mistakes with their record keeping. If they are unlucky enough to incorrectly record takings on a single ‘observation day’, HMRC are unlikely to be very understanding.
There is still a choice for restaurant owners who have knowingly understated profits although probably not for much longer. HMRC has a limited number of on-going disclosure initiatives which encourage those who are prepared to come forward to regularise their affairs with minimal intrusion and significantly reduced penalties.
It is expected that the restaurant trade operation is likely to be followed by task forces investigating up to nine other trades where the use of cash is clearly regarded as significant.
Baker Tilly is an independent firm of chartered accountants and business advisers, positioned as one of the leading mid-tier accountancy firms. Baker Tilly specialises in Tax Investigation solutions to corporate organisations. For more information, please visit: http://www.bakertilly.co.uk/services/tax/tax-risk-and-investigation-management-services.aspx