Professional service firms are HMRC’s latest data source

HMRC is putting more taxpayers at risk of inquiry as it ramps up its data collection activities – this time by asking lawyers and financial advisers for information.

Ordinary taxpayers are becoming increasingly at risk of an inquiry as HMRC ramps up the amount of data it collects and looks for new sources of information for use in its investigations.

Recently, HMRC has been collecting data on taxpayers by submitting information requests to professional services firms, such as lawyers and financial advisers, asking for confidential information on their clients. There was 19% rise in the number of these requests last year to 1,507, up from 1,276 in 2015/16.

Submitting information requests is HMRC’s latest tactic to increase its data pool on taxpayers – these requests are often effective as firms can face criminal liability for failing to comply with them.

The hunt for new information on taxpayers comes as HMRC looks to hit its new, tougher prosecution targets. In 2015, HMRC was given an extra £800m in funding to help it meet a target of tripling the number of investigations it conducts by 2020.

HMRC already has extensive data resources at its disposal. Tax inspectors can carry out preliminary work for investigations in seconds using its £80m Connect database, which is a state-of-the-art analytical and sorting computer system designed by BAE Systems.

The Connect computer is fed from 28 data sources; including Companies House, the Land Registry and even banks, and holds information on taxpayers’ bank accounts, salaries, properties and cars, amongst other details. It compares that data with the taxpayers’ self-assessment returns and flags up anything that looks suspicious for investigation.

The powers available to HMRC are wide ranging, we are already seeing the impact of these HMRC requests and with continual improvements in technology, our expectation is for more questions to be raised where anomalies are found.

We run a Tax Investigation Service to help protect clients against the professional costs involved in a tax investigation or enquiry. This service is backed by an insurance policy we have taken out in our own name. We must stress that dealing with a tax investigation is not included in our normal fees and the costs involved could be substantial. A tax investigation could last for several months if not years and can be extremely stressful for you.

We strongly recommend you consider subscribing to our Tax Investigation Service. Contact us for a quote on or call 01242 776000.