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HMRC’s powers of investigation

HMRC’s powers of investigation
Wednesday, May 02, 2018

HMRC are watching you. We’ve all heard the warning, but what does it actually mean?

HM Revenue and Customs are, as you know, the government body responsible for the collection of taxes. When it comes to dealing with your finances, expenses, and self-assessment tax returns each year, it is your responsibility to declare all income and outgoings to work out how much you need to pay in tax.

If the information is falsified or inaccurate, HMRC will investigate further to find out the truth. However, in some cases, the tax body may decide to investigate you at random – even if there is nothing suspicious about your books.

For this reason, you could come under investigation from HMRC at any time. Knowing what their powers are and what it is HMRC can actually do in an investigation may come in useful should you be selected.

First of all, HMRC will tell you what it is they’re looking into

When the taxman decides to investigate someone, they’ll make it clear why they have chosen to do this and the specific aspect of your tax that they are looking into.

So, if HMRC get in touch to let you know they’re looking at your VAT records, this is all they will should at. Should their investigation lead to information about other tax issues, your details will then be handed over to the suitable department.

In addition to this, an enquiry into your self-assessment could involve either the entire tax return or just a specific aspect of it.

On their website, HMRC state that they “will only review the records relating to the tax, duty or tax credit we have told you we will be looking at. If we intend to review a number of taxes, duties or tax credits at the same time we will tell you in advance, and we will give you the opportunity to decline…”

Essentially, what this means is that HMRC absolutely must tell you which area of your tax affairs that they’re investigating as they do so. So, if they’re looking into your VAT returns, then suddenly request to see your income tax records, you can refuse their request.

What can they ask to see?

There are also certain restrictions on the types of documents and information that HMRC can ask to look at. This could mean they either do not have the right to require these documents, or that there may be limitations on what they can see. These documents could include:

  • Old documents (6 years or more)
  • Appeal material
  • Personal records
  • Journalistic material
  • Legally privileged information or documents
  • Auditors’ statutory audit papers
  • Tax advisers’ papers giving advice

If you’re under suspicion of fraud

If HMRC suspects that you are committing fraud – whether it is intentional or not – they can start an investigation under the Code of Practice 9 (COP9) investigation of fraud procedure.

What this means is that, once you’ve been issued notice, you will be invited to voluntarily disclose any attempts you may have made to hinder the tax system beforehand.

If you do not comply, or if HMRC does not believe you have properly disclosed sufficient information in order to explain any tax discrepancies you may have, it then becomes a criminal investigation.

What happens during a criminal investigation from HMRC?

HMRC’s powers when it comes to a criminal investigation are greatly increased. No matter what your thoughts about HMRC, they are extremely competent when it comes to cracking down on tax evaders.

Not paying tax owed is breaking the law, and the taxman has a whole host of criminal investigation capabilities should they suspect this, including:

  • Applying for legal orders for information to be produced
  • Applying for search warrants
  • To make arrests
  • To search the suspects and their premises following the arrest

What should I do if HMRC choose to investigate me?

As worrying as this may sound to some, HMRC is still an extension of the government, meaning they have to abide by certain rules and regulations in their investigations. They have an official Code of Practice for fraud investigations which outlines what their agents can and can’t do.

Should you find yourself involved in an HMRC investigation, speak to your accountant without delay. For further advice on your tax liabilities and keeping in the taxman’s good books, talk to your Panthera accountant today on 01235 768 561 or drop us an email to – we’ll be back in touch shortly.

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