HMRC experienced 8 per cent rise in serious tax evasion cases

Research has revealed that HMRC saw the number of serious tax evasion cases in 2015/16 increase by 8 per cent, with nearly 3,000 suspicious activities being referred for specialist investigations.

Local HMRC offices identified 2,972 cases of serious tax evasion, which were passed on to the dedicated task force, known as the Evasion Referral Team. This was a rise on the 2,749 cases in the previous year.

This information comes from international law firm Pinsent Masons, who said that the rise was due to the Panama papers leak and strong criticism over the handling of allegations of tax evasion at Swiss HSBC, leading to more political pressure to deal with tax avoidance and evasion.

HMRC received a further £800m to finance its tax evasion and compliance operations in the 2015 Summer Budget, in the hope it will lead to the recovery of £7.2bn in unpaid tax by 2020.

“HMRC is very alive to the ongoing need to tackle serious on-shore and off-shore tax evasion. Although significant progress has been made to deter offshore tax evasion in recent years, the battle is far from over,” said Fiona Fernie, partner at Pinsent Masons.

“Headline-hitting exposés like the Panama papers leak and the HSBC Swiss banking scandal highlight that sheltering wealth from the taxman, remains an extremely highly-charged issue.

“This is exacerbated by the apparent blurring of the lines between avoidance and evasion and the fact that many individuals seem to assume that any type of tax structuring which involves off-shore is automatically illegal.”

Ms Fernie added that those coming forward of their own will are more likely to be treated favourably compared to those who do not come forward to admit cheating on their taxes. She also encouraged anyone who has concerns over the possibility of their tax position being seen as abusive to come forward and hold negotiations with HMRC over a potential settlement.