HMRC intensifies crackdown on hidden offshore assets

Out-Law News | 05 Nov 2019 | 10:56 am | 1 min. read

An international information gathering exercise by the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) could spur an increase in the number of investigations the authority opens into tax avoidance and evasion, a tax expert has said.

Steven Porter of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, flagged the issue after new figures revealed a 24% increase in the number of requests UK tax authority HMRC made to overseas authorities for information on UK taxpayers in the past year.

According to the figures, which were uncovered by Pinsent Masons, HMRC made 540 such overseas requests in the past year. Porter said the requests are aimed at identifying hidden offshore assets liable for UK tax.

"These requests are just part of HMRC’s approach to investigations," Porter said. "HMRC also targets taxpayers with offshore interests through nudge letters sent to their homes and can demand information from their accountants and tax advisors. HMRC is also benefiting hugely from the Common Reporting Standard which gives it access to data from over 100 foreign tax authorities. Taxpayers have almost nowhere to hide."

"HMRC recently admitted it was behind on opening investigations into hidden offshore assets. This could kickstart more investigatory activity, so taxpayers must be prepared for a renewed push," he said.

A recent parliamentary inquiry was carried out into whether HMRC is sufficiently able to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. The inquiry came after the 2016 Panama Papers scandal which saw documents reportedly detailing the use of offshore tax structures in Panama by some prominent public figures leaked to the media.

HMRC’s current approach to hidden offshore assets is laid out in its ‘no safe havens’ strategy, which was published in March this year. HMRC outlined its intention to use criminal investigations to send a strong deterrent message to taxpayers in that strategy paper.

HMRC’s specialist ‘offshore, corporate and wealthy’ unit has recovered over £1 billion from investigations in just three years and generated £560 million in 2018/19 alone.