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VAT enquiries yield most for HMRC

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HMRC’s large business directorate recovered almost £3.2bn in underpaid VAT from large businesses as a result of compliance investigations in 2015/16, according to international law firm Pinsent Masons. HMRC is focusing on major e-commerce companies running online marketplaces, and new powers introduced this year to hold e-commerce platforms ‘jointly and severally’ liable for the VAT debts of overseas internet traders will enhance HMRC’s efforts in this area.

In addition, proposals confirmed in the Autumn Statement to introduce a new penalty for participating in VAT fraud will increase HMRC’s scope to tackle abuse. This will target businesses and company officers who knew, or should have known, that company transactions were connected with VAT fraud.

Pinsent Masons also reports that HMRC’s counter-avoidance directorate collected £886m in 2015/16, an increase of 80% over the previous year. The unit was set up in April 2014. Paul Noble, a tax expert at Pinsent Masons, said that HMRC would view the latest figures as a ‘successful validation’ of its approach, but warned of the importance of its using its extended powers, such as accelerated payment notices, ‘in a proportionate manner’.