2012 saw twice as many prosecutions for tax evasion by HMRC compared to the previous twelve months.
There were 302 criminal prosecutions during 2011/12. The department’s target for 2012/13 was set at 565 prosecutions, but in reality the tax authorities won 617 criminal prosecutions.
‘In the space of just one year, HMRC has massively ramped up the number of cases it takes to the criminal courts in order to clamp down on tax evasion.’ Says Jason Collins, a Pinsent Masons partner. ‘However, to hit the target and maximise the deterrent effect, HMRC is now taking criminal cases against the kind of tax evaders it would have previously seen as small time. This means criminal cases against middle class professionals and trades people who are evading what are relatively small sums of money.’
According to Collins it will be buy-to-let investors, along with lawyers, doctors and financial consultants, who are among those whose tax affairs will be attracting strong interest from HMRC.
An HMRC spokesman denied that it was focussing on any specific groups, reminding us that HMRC ensures that everyone pays tax ‘regardless of occupation’.
In recent months HMRC has raised £600m by running targeted anti-evasion campaigns aimed at professionals and trades such as doctors, plumbers and electricians. HMRC has been asked to increase it criminal prosecutions by five times before the next year is out. ‘HMRC is successful in 90% of prosecutions’ a spokesperson said.