HM Revenue and Customs is probing 250 wealthy taxpayers for serious tax evasion as it continues to tighten its grip on tax crime.
Freedom of information requests, submitted by law firm Pinsent Masons, showed 250 taxpayers as well as 23 of the 2,100 largest businesses in the UK were referred to the taxman’s evasion teams in the year to March 2020.
Andrew Sackey, partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “HMRC clearly now has the behaviours of a number of the UK’s biggest businesses in its sights. If a case is referred to the tax evasion referral teams then detailed investigations are almost certain to follow.
“For large corporates that do find themselves in the tax tribunals for alleged evasion, the reputational risks are substantial.”
The findings come as HMRC continues to bolster its crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance.
The government pledged extra funding to support its crackdown on tax avoidance at the budget, which the chancellor said would create an additional £4.4bn in revenue over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the average prison sentence for tax evasion has increased by 10 per cent since 2017 and the taxman has pushed for the crime to be considered a more serious offence.
A HMRC spokesperson said: “HMRC’s aim is for everyone to pay the tax that is due, no matter who they are.
“Our role is increasingly about making it straightforward for taxpayers to get it right, first time, while also tackling the minority who deliberately set out to cheat the system.”
The spokesperson added that as the country emerged from lockdown and rebuilt the economy, HMRC would collect the tax due in a way that recognised the “very real needs and challenges” that businesses and individuals faced.
Looking forward, Mr Sackey said furlough fraud was going to be of “particular interest” to HMRC over the coming months and years.
Last month the Revenue started to crack down on furlough fraud, making the first arrest relating to the Job Retention Scheme.
Mr Sackey said: “HMRC is well aware of how open to abuse the scheme may be and has already launched its first dawn raids against suspected offenders.
"Businesses that discover that they have received furlough monies that they weren't entitled to should urgently consider taking specialist advice.”
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