Emma Ann Hughes 

What is needed to tackle tax evasion

Emma Ann Hughes

Emma Ann Hughes

This week a Hampshire landlord who evaded £158,000 of capital gains tax from the sale of properties was jailed for two years and three months.

An investigation by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) revealed that between 2006 and 2013, Richard Fuller didn’t declare profit gained from selling properties in the Aldershot area.

This allowed the 53-year-old to evade a total of £157,725 in capital gains tax.

HMRC should be applauded for bringing Fuller to justice.

He thought he was above the law but I am sure he wouldn’t have thought twice about rushing to an NHS hospital if he suffered a medical emergency. 

It is simply not acceptable to steal from UK taxpayers and it is great news that he now sits in a prison cell.

But the comments made by Richard Wilkinson, assistant director at HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, got me thinking.

Mr Wilkinson said: “HMRC will continue to pursue those who attempt to hide their gains on assets, their income, and investigate those who attack the tax system.”

Back in 2015 it was reported that tax fraud was costing the government a “staggering” £16bn every year.

Two years ago a report by the government’s independent auditors criticised tax investigators for focusing their efforts on easy, low-value prosecutions for evading income tax, VAT and tobacco duty.

The independent auditors questioned why HMRC instead wasn’t chasing big business.

Acknowledging the problem, that same year, the then coalition government announced measures to tackle tax evasion and avoidance – including a fresh tax targeted at the likes of Google and Amazon.

Then chancellor George Osborne claimed these measures would raise £3.1bn for the public purse over the next five years.

New criminal offences for tax evasion and fresh penalties for advisers who assist in evasion were also introduced.

While HMRC should be applauded for jailing Fuller, tax officials need to also be chasing down more multi-nationals involved in evasion and aggressive tax avoidance schemes.

HMRC has got sharper and better over the years at catching individuals trying to avoid contributing to the nation’s tax coffers.

Successful convictions secured by HMRC show their officers browse Facebook profiles, note careless talk in the pub and are willing to talk to bitter ex-partners to uncover holes in certain people’s income tales.

But what they really need is the power to march into multi-national companies and walk away with evidence that is clear for all to see.

My sympathy is with HM Revenue & Customs as really it is the powers that be that sit above the tax office – the UK government - that needs to lead this.

It is for the government to crack down on this… something that despite their stated aim of tackling multi-national tax evasion they are now unlikely to do given their fear of alienating big business as we head towards the Brexit door.

emma.hughes@ft.com

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