What’s inside Pandora’s Box?

Graham Caddock, 20 June 2023

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HMRC continue to make use of leaked tax-haven information to prompt individuals to come forward and regularise their tax affairs.

Over the last few years, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released almost 12 million records from 14 offshore jurisdictions. This data leak relates to individuals, companies and trusts alleged to have used secretive low tax environments to avoid the prying eyes of HMRC. Since the release of the information (known as the Pandora Papers), a new HMRC task force has wasted no time trawling through the data and issuing “nudge” letters to those suspected of evading UK tax on their offshore income and gains.

So what does this latest HMRC nudge letter say?

Last week, HMRC prompted hundreds of individuals to check their tax affairs to ensure they have declared all their UK tax liabilities. The letter, an example of which can be seen here, states that recipients have 30 days to check their tax position and contact HMRC if they wish to disclose any UK tax irregularities. Failing to make a voluntary disclosure could run the risk of:

  1. tax penalties up to 200%,
  2. being publicly “named and shamed”, or
  3. criminal prosecution for deliberate dishonest behaviour

Why are HMRC doing this now?

According to HMRC, tax avoidance is becoming increasingly global and the investigation of offshore matters is one of their primary objectives over the next few years. HMRC are determined to recover some of the estimated £10 billion lost to tax fraud each year as part of its “tax gap” mitigation strategy. This latest initiative builds upon recent nudges into offshore income and gains, domicile and residency claims and bogus COVID-19 payments.  

What should I do if I receive one of these nudge letters?

The simple answer is not to ignore it! HMRC will not go away and they are likely to chase those who fail to reply with more formal enquiries.

Remember, there may be legitimate reasons for holding assets abroad - perhaps for asset protection or part of a legally structured family office strategy. In addition, it’s also important to note that not all the information HMRC receives is correct and/or from reliable sources. We at Lubbock Fine have come across many instances where we have informed HMRC that their information is incorrect, particularly in relation to that received as part of the international exchange of information called the Common Reporting Standard (CRS).

What’s the right thing to do?

If you discover that you have underpaid your UK taxes, it’s always best to make an approach to HMRC before they open a formal tax investigation. A voluntary disclosure (if handled correctly) will ensure the best outcome is reached with HMRC, mitigating tax related penalties (often to nil) and avoiding the chance of criminal proceedings.

How can we help?

We at Lubbock Fine have years of experience in handling all types of HMRC investigations, especially those involving offshore tax disclosures. If you have concerns with regards to any HMRC enquiry, or would like to discuss making a voluntary disclosure, please contact Graham Caddock (grahamcaddock@lubbockfine.co.uk) for a confidential discussion.