Tax: Call the plumber! It's an emergency

Tradesmen are the latest target for HMRC, says Geoffrey Hollander

May 11, 2011

We are told that the Messianic era will be preceded by a period of great confusion, where previously accepted norms are turned on their heads. Over the past century, we have seen several events that previously were not thought to be possible, such as the creation of the State of Israel and the downfall of communism.

Even now, we are witnessing the fall of some long-standing dictators in the Middle East. Each of these events may be a sign that the ultimate Redemption is near.

The UK government, together with America and other developed countries, would like to see another change take place, perhaps no less radical. This change would mean that people would declare all of their income to the taxman, and have to pay the right amount of tax, precisely when it was due. No longer would comments such as "it's my money and I'll do what I want with it" or "what's it the taxman's business how much I earn?" be acceptable attitudes, or even the norm. By tackling non-compliance, increasing investigations and making threats to those who do not come forward, the government is committed to increasing tax revenues.

Over the last four years, HMRC has introduced amnesties and facilities to enable people with money offshore to pay their tax and make a new start. After some initial wariness, people are declaring hidden income and paying over money that they never intended to join HMRC's coffers.

The Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility (LDF) is still open until 2015, allowing people to declare offshore income on favourable terms. This has helped bring in over £8.5 billion of tax in 2009/2010.

However, HMRC estimates that there is £42 billion a year of tax which it is still not collecting, either through mis-statement of tax or non-payment of agreed liabilities. Closing this gap would mean a massive boost to the economy. But that can only come if attitudes to tax change. In the meantime, HMRC has commenced the most serious of investigations against some people who are known to have offshore bank accounts, but have not yet come forward. We do know of several cases where HMRC is holding incorrect information, but where it discovers that someone was holding offshore accounts and did not come forward, the consequences can be most serious.

And the government is at the same time ensuring that there are fewer places to hide. Who would ever have imagined that Liechtenstein would be cooperating with international tax authorities? The next target is Switzerland, already in negotiations. Some Israeli banks have handed over information about customers and the Channel Islands are also complying with HMRC notices for information.

For people earning money in the UK, but not paying the right amount of tax, a new facility opened on March 1, targeting plumbers, but open to all UK tradesmen. HMRC has obtained details of people who are Corgi-registered and is giving them an opportunity to clean up their tax affairs. For some reason, HMRC suspects that many plumbers prefer payment in cash and do not declare it to HMRC, also potentially saving them VAT. Terms of the facility are quite favourable and non-disclosure at this stage is likely to mean much harsher penalties and monitoring in the future. So for anyone with a Corgi registration, it is time to speak to your accountant or to a specialist who can deal with this for you.

After plumbers, another industry will be targeted. And in a world where we leave many electronic footprints, it is not hard to imagine HMRC collecting lots of data, to help target its inquiries. So will we look at a world in 10 years' time with no Swiss bank accounts, where all labourers take credit cards and give you a VAT invoice? Who knows, but if those who need to declare don't come forward soon, it might be time to start praying for the Messiah.

Geoffrey Hollander is head of tax investigations at Cameron Baum Chartered Accountants. For a no-obligation consultation, call 020 7724 8824

    Last updated: 4:57pm, May 11 2011