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HMRC taskforce targets London lawyers

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HMRC expects to recover almost £20m from ‘tax dodgers’ through investigations to be carried out by a new series of taskforces, including those in the legal profession in London who ‘do not pay the right amount of tax’.

The legal profession taskforce is expected to yield £3m from investigations into the tax affairs of barristers and solicitors.

Other taskforces will target grocery and retail businesses in North Wales, the North West and the South West; hair and beauty in the North East; restaurants in the South East and Solent; and the motor trade in Scotland.

The taskforces, funded by the government’s spending review investment to tackle evasion and avoidance, are specialist teams that undertake ‘intensive bursts of activity’ in specific high risk trade sectors and locations in the UK. The teams visit taxpayers to examine records and carry out other investigations, HMRC said.

Gary Ashford, who represents the CIOT on HMRC’s Compliance Reform Forum, said the range of groups targeted in today’s announcement showed how widely HMRC was casting its net.

‘The use of a taskforce tells us that HMRC have evidence of evasion in the sector that they are targeting. Lawyers are the first professional group to be covered by a taskforce. Previously doctors and dentists, and tutors and coaches have been covered by disclosure campaigns,’ he said. The CIOT continues to advocate a ‘general disclosure facility’ to encourage people to regularise their tax affairs.

The BBC news website reported that Michael Todd QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said: ‘We were unaware until yesterday that HMRC had specific concerns about the tax affairs of lawyers. We are concerned that HMRC has chosen to proceed in this manner, rather than using the channels of communication with the relevant professional bodies, which have always been open. In future, we would welcome a greater level of engagement with HMRC, so that we can better assist it in carrying out its duties to the public.’

Tim Gregory, a partner at accountants Saffery Champness, was quoted as saying: ‘While every walk of life has its bad eggs, only an exceptionally unusual lawyer would risk their livelihood by cheating the system, so it seems unlikely that there can be many for HMRC to investigate.’

Mike Eland, HMRC’s Director General Enforcement and Compliance, said the department was on target to collect more than £50m as a result of taskforces launched in 2011/12.  Those taskforces targeted restaurants in London, the North West and Scotland; fast food franchises in London; fraudulent repayments in London; property tax fraud in London; landlords in the North West, North Wales and Scotland; construction in the North West; hot food takeaways in Scotland; scrap metal dealers in Scotland; and overdue returns in the South East.

Taskforces launched in May 2012 focused on indoor and outdoor markets in London; taxi operators in Yorkshire and the East Midlands; property rentals in East Anglia, London, Yorkshire and the North East; and restaurants in the Midlands.

In July 2012 HMRC launched further taskforces dealing with the motor trade in South Wales and the South West, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and the North East; pubs and nightclubs in Scotland; hair and beauty in Northern Ireland; and restaurants in South Wales and the South West.