Saturday, 1 August 2009

Stirring the pot

I watched with interest the interview on the Accountancy Age website with Dave Hartnett, Permanent Secretary for Tax about the New Disclosure Opportunity (NDO). To quote HMRC,

“the NDO will allow people with unpaid taxes linked to offshore accounts or assets to settle their tax liabilities at a favourable penalty rate. It will run from the 1st Sept 2009 until 12 March 2010.

If you have unpaid tax linked to an offshore account or asset to declare, to benefit from the terms of NDO you will need to notify us AND disclose (tell us the details, calculate the amount due and make a full payment) within a set time limit.”

There will be a specific lowered rate of penalty for those coming forward under the scheme. It is not an amnesty in that tax, interest and penalties will have to be paid; it is simply that the penalty will be fixed at 10% unless people had a letter from HM Revenue & Customs under the original Disclosure Opportunity and passed it up, in which case the penalty will be 20%.

The original opportunity for those with undeclared and taxable offshore income to come forward was in 2007. This followed legal action through which British banks holding their customers' money offshore were effectively obliged to disclose details of the relevant accounts as they have done for many years in respect of UK based accounts. HMRC wrote to the bank customers they thought might have undeclared accounts. This time round, HMRC will write to many more people since they have information from many more banks.

In the interview, Mr. Hartnett admitted that he had no idea of the number of people would come forward or the amount of money which would be recovered. This was an honest reply. We only gleaned that he thought it would be more than under the previous scheme. Pressed on the criticism that the earlier campaign was under-publicised he said that around £1M would probably be spent in advertising and initiatives. I wish HMRC luck with this trawl and will have no sympathy with those continue to evade tax. I will be happy to assist anyone who wishes to come clean.

The NDO is not the only trawl in which HMRC is currently engaged. Many possibly non-tax payers or marginal taxpayers will have received letters in the last couple of weeks asking whether they should still be receiving their bank interest without deduction of tax.

Those recipients I know about actually receive their interest net of tax (and pretty paltry interest it is at current rates), but although some have been happy just to refer the printed note to me, one very elderly lady became convinced HMRC were after her and would take away her pension. That second reaction was extreme, but I cannot help thinking that the distress caused be this second mailshot to people on low incomes will far outweigh the concern of the generally much wealthier recipients of the NDO letter. I am not sure anyone in HMRC will have thought about that and I am sceptical that any significant tax will be raised by this mailshot to the poor and elderly.

© Jon Stow 2009
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