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Advisers helping clients evade tax face new criminal sanction

by: Carmen Reichman
  • 19/03/2015
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Advisers helping clients evade tax face new criminal sanction
Advisers who help clients evade tax via offshore accounts face criminal charges under new powers for HMRC following the Budget.

In a paper setting out the government’s approach to tax avoidance and evasion published on 19 March, it said it will introduce a new strict liability offence for those who have not paid their tax on offshore income and for those helping people evade tax.

The new measure will include a fine equivalent to that paid by the individual evading tax, and a public naming and shaming.

The paper said: “Criminal sanctions are already available against individuals who facilitate or encourage tax evasion. The government today announces it will create a new offence of corporate failure to prevent tax evasion or the facilitation of tax evasion, following consultation,” it said.

The offence is understood to affect tax advisers and accountants as well as large corporates.

Chancellor George Osborne told BBC Breakfast: “We’re going to look at a new criminal offence that you can’t help someone evade tax. This is for the accountants and the other companies that might help someone evade tax – that’s a brand new criminal offence.”

The tax office is also to create new rules to make it a requirement for advisers to help tackle tax evasion.

It said it will “legislate to take a power to require all financial institutions and tax advisors to notify their customers: that HMRC is being sent data on offshore accounts; of the changes in the penalties for evasion; and of the final opportunity to disclose any unpaid tax before HMRC receives the data and opens investigations.”

The government is currently in agreement with more than 90 countries to exchange information on offshore financial accounts automatically every year.

It will introduce new disclosure facilities for those wanting to report they have not paid their tax in 2016 as a last chance facility before automatic disclosure begins the year after.

The new facility will carry tougher penalties than its predecessor and may refer people to criminal investigations if appropriate, HMRC said.

Domestic avoidance

HMRC is also stepping up its efforts to crack down tax avoidance in the UK.

It will make greater use of new powers gained last year, which allow it to ask those it deems guilty of tax avoidance to pay upfront.

It said it will send out 21,000 more ‘accelerated payment’ notices than previously announced, predominantly to people it has already identified.

By the end of 2016, 64,000 users of avoidance schemes will have been required to pay tax upfront, and by the end of 2019/20 the measure will have brought forward over £5.5bn in payments to the Exchequer, it said.

In a further move, the government said it will call on regulatory bodies in the tax and accountancy profession to “take on a greater lead and responsibility in setting and enforcing clear professional standards around the facilitation and promotion of avoidance”.

HMRC explains

Tax evasion is when people or businesses “deliberately do not declare and account for the taxes that they owe” and is always illegal.

Tax avoidance involves “bending the rules of the tax system to gain a tax advantage that Parliament never intended. It involves operating within the letter – but not the spirit – of the law”.

Tax planning involves using tax reliefs for the purpose for which they were intended, for example by making contributions to a pension scheme.

“However, tax reliefs can be used excessively or aggressively, by others than those intended to benefit from them or in ways that clearly go beyond the intention of Parliament. Where this is the case it is right to take action, because it is important that the tax system is fair and perceived to be so.”

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