It’s no secret that HMRC has been clamping down on unpaid tax, on the back of government
initiatives to reduce the deficit and a wave of anti-tax avoidance public opinion.
As well as continually tweaking the tax rules to plug loopholes and perceived gaps in the system, the
Revenue targets certain areas, industries, or parts of the economy in its hunt for the estimate £35
billion of annual underpaid tax. However, it has to have a justification for these broad enquiries and
can’t just target tax payers without some sort of evidence that abuse is occurring.
How does it choose the areas of the economy to target? The taxman has access to a wide range of
different sources of data and information – for example from banks, local councils, the Land Registry
(details of every property bought in the UK), the DVLA, social media, hospitals and insurers. This
information is collated and analysed by HMRC’s powerful computer system, along with intelligence
generated from revenue activities themselves to identify areas of likely underpaid tax, which are
Examples of tax payers that have recently been, or currently are under scrutiny are:
‘Middle class’ professionals, who apparently are more inclined to panic and simply pay a demand for
tax when it arrives and have been targeted since 2007
Buy-to-let landlords, 40,000 of which are the subject of a current campaign
People with second or multiple incomes, for example consultants, part-time taxi drivers and car boot
sale or ebay sellers
Expats and undeclared offshore bank accounts
Areas of the freelance and contractor market that currently appear to be under scrutiny, from an
IR35 perspective, are security, finance and banking and the nuclear industry.
When HMRC believes it has enough evidence to start a campaign into a given sector of the economy,
it will send letters to a large numbers of those who are suspected of under-payment. If there is an
under-payment and this is quickly rectified, often further sanctions can be avoided.
However, HMRC does get it wrong and unless you are sure, you should not simply assume that
because you have received a letter, you should have paid some tax. If in doubt, it pays to get
professional advice and also to conduct any correspondence with the Revenue in writing.