Why the secrecy, HMRC?

    Last year HMRC celebrated collecting in excess of £540m from more than 140 taskforces launched across the UK between 2011/12 and 2015/16. Indeed 2015/16 alone delivered £248m from the multi-disciplinary, geographical approach focused on specific sectors of high risk tax evasion and fraud.

    In the early years, HMRC was keen to promote the sectors it was targeting and the expected yield from the compliance activity. A digital map was even provided on GOV.UK highlighting all the taskforces by year and sector up to 2014/15. However that transparency has been replaced by a more secretive approach over the last two years.

    We have sent Freedom of Information requests to HMRC after the end of both 2015/16 and 2016/17 and asked for a list of historical taskforces carried out in each of those tax years. Each request was refused because ‘disclosure would be likely to undermine the compliance activity which HMRC undertakes, and would prejudice the assessment and collection of tax. Generally, HMRC does not disclose the specific ways it tackles tax non-compliance in identifiable groups, as this may make it easier for non-compliant members of that group to avoid proper scrutiny.’

    Whilst that may be HMRC’s position now, what could have prompted the change in HMRC’s willingness to disclose targets?

    The answer could well be the ongoing nature of the taskforce activity in the same geographical locations begun years before, alongside HMRC’s desire to achieve more prosecutions.

    Some of the prosecutions over the last two years provide an insight:
    • Robert Steele from Gloucester who was jailed for three and a half years after claiming false VAT repayments. He was caught by the South West England and South Wales VAT Fraud Repayment taskforce.
    • Lincoln based Turon Miah and his younger brother, Sufi, who were sent to jail for VAT fraud after being caught by HMRC’s Restaurant taskforce withholding nearly £64,000 in VAT from unreported sales of over £380,000.
    • Nine subcontractors, led by James Roberts of Widnes, who made false claims for tax repayments. The fraud was uncovered by the Income Tax Self-Assessment Repayments taskforce.
    • Peter Duffield from Orpington who was sentenced to four years after evading more than £1.3m in tax. He was caught by the HMRC Property taskforce.
    • Hampshire landlord Richard Fuller, who failed to declare Capital Gains Tax from the sale of properties evading £157,725. He was jailed for two years and three months after the HMRC Property taskforce caught him as well.

    A key component of HMRC’s Single Departmental Plan is to deliver more prosecutions into serious and complex crime, particularly from wealthy individuals and corporates. Taskforces appear to be a prime source of achieving the target of 100 prosecutions a year.

    For further information regarding HMRC taskforce activity, please contact the author of this article, our Head of Technical Research Guy Smith at g.smith@abbeytax.co.uk