Policy document proposes ‘shocking’ new powers for HMRC

Policy document proposes ‘shocking’ new powers for HMRC

In a policy document published by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) earlier this week, the tax authority has requested new powers to be able to access taxpayers’ bank accounts without requesting permission beforehand.

The ‘shocking’ request, which comes as part of new plans to crack down more aggressively on tax evasion, has caused a media storm, with some criticising the proposals as a “troubling” effort to invade peoples’ privacy.

Under existing laws – which date back to 1970 – HMRC is required to contact banks, lawyers, accountants and other third parties to request access to such information. From here, these institutions will notify customers of HMRC’s intent to access their bank statements and other personal information.

However, the tax authority has voiced concerns that this level of transparency and bureaucracy proves ineffective when it comes to launching investigations and that HMRC would benefit from being able to be able to draw ‘a veil of secrecy’ over such inquiries.

It says that the existing system uses up a “disproportionate amount of resources” and that the process needs to be more streamlined so that HMRC is better placed to crack down on income, Capital Gains Tax (CGT), corporation tax and VAT avoidance.

It adds that foreign Governments have repeatedly complained that the system is “onerous” when it comes to launching tax investigations into individuals with a connection to the UK.

Under the requested changes to so-called ‘information orders’, HMRC would be able to examine personal bank accounts in order to determine whether or not taxpayers are paying the correct level of tax, reports suggest.

The proposals have attracted widespread criticism.

John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Giving the taxman powers to access taxpayers’ bank accounts without notifying them is a sinister step that would undermine fundamental freedoms.”

Meanwhile, Justin Modray, of consumer advice group Candid Money, added: “Anything that gives the taxman more power to dive into your finances is a concern. There are people who do evade tax, and the more that’s clamped down on, the better. But the fear for ordinary people is that HMRC could be poking around in your bank account and you wouldn’t know anything about it.”

HMRC warns of sharp increase in ‘scam’ websites

Earlier this month, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) put out a press release warning taxpayers to watch out for fraudulent websites posing as genuine HMRC resources.

According to HMRC’s own research, a ‘record’ 20,750 malicious sites have been taken down in the past 12 months alone – 29 per cent more than the number of ‘fake’ HMRC websites that had to be removed the previous year.

The Revenue also warned that other types of scams were still common – such as phishing emails and bogus text messages.

Such opportunistic scams are usually distributed to taxpayers at random, in an attempt to trick the recipient into opening an attachment or clicking a hyperlink, or fool them into handing over personal information.

HMRC advised online users to report websites, individuals and organisations if they suspect they are involved in fraudulent activity. More importantly, it also pointed out that no reputable bank or official Government organisation will ask a user to hand over their PIN, password or bank details.

Commenting, Mel Stride MP, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The criminals behind these scams prey on the public and abuse their trust in Government. We’re determined to stop them.

“HMRC is cracking down harder than ever, as these latest figures show. But we need the public’s help as well.

“By doing the right thing and reporting suspicious messages you will not only protect yourself, you will protect other potential victims,” he said.

Female contractors driving growth in IT and tech sector

New research reveals that there has been a steep rise in the number of women acting as self-employed contractors and freelancers in the UK’s IT sector.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of female IT contractors operating in the UK rose by a quarter (25 per cent) last year, soaring from 16,568 to 20,648.

Following the publication of the research, commentators have been keen to point out that there are now “more women than ever before” joining the sector as contractors and freelancers, as flexible working and the benefits of ‘being your own boss’ continue to attract Britons to self-employment.

An analysis of the ONS’ data reveals that women now account for approximately 16.5 per cent of the UK’s entire IT contractor market, up from 13.8 per cent back in 2016.

Meanwhile, the wider IT contracting market has increased by 4.5 per cent year-on-year.

Commentators have said that the “remarkable” news should help to boost confidence across the IT sector, which has been widely reported across the media as suffering from “chronic skills shortages” of late.

“With future demand so hard to predict, many organisations are deferring hiring decisions and turning to contractors to provide additional capacity,” one of the analysis’ authors said.

And finally…

An age-old London underground station used by hundreds of people each day received a highly unusual ‘rebrand’ earlier this month in honour of a new-found football hero.

Southgate station in North London was renamed ‘Gareth Southgate’ for 48 hours between Monday 16 and Wednesday 18 July, in honour of the great success the England team enjoyed at this year’s World Cup under the manager’s watchful eye.

The team’s nail-biting climb to fourth place in this year’s tournament marked England’s most successful World Cup in almost three decades – and earned Southgate a surprise reputation as a national hero.

Football fans all across the country could be seen wearing ‘signature Southgate waistcoats’ all throughout the tournament, while street artists decided to silently ‘edit’ signposts throughout Southgate station long before Transport for London (TfL) moved to make the official change.

“The great performance of the England team this summer brought people of all ages together in celebration,” said Mark Wild, Managing Director of TfL.

“We’re delighted to be able to show our appreciation to Gareth and the team by renaming the station in his honour.”