Revenue urges you to oust tax dodgers

HM Revenue and Customs has pushed evasion up its PR agenda by unveiling a new TV advert that calls on people to report suspected tax dodgers.

Launched last night, the promo on ITV 1 featured a man sitting in a pub bragging he ducks tax largely because “there’s nothing” the Revenue “can do about it.”

Not so, says the Revenue voiceover, before it asks people who suspect those of avoiding their tax payments to report them via a new hotline, so the tax authority can do “something about it.”

The 30-second advert, aimed at deterring evasion, comes exactly a month after Revenue & Customs came under fire from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for implying all self-employed people were tax dodgers.

The offending press advert featured a plumber hiding under a sink, captioned by the Revenue’s strap line, ‘With your help, we’ll make sure self-employed people who don’t pay their tax have nowhere to hide.’

“Although the complaint was not upheld, we did listen to and had a dialogue with the ASA,” a Revenue spokeswoman said yesterday.

“While we still believe that there was nothing wrong with the original copy, we were happy to change to prevent further misinterpretation.”

Both adverts mark an unprecedented clampdown from HMRC on UK residents, as the authority seeks to reign in revenue lost through the ’black’ – or informal economy.

Last month, John Whiting of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, exclusively revealed how the Revenue was seeking to clampdown on tax avoidance, rather than tax evasion.

“A lot of the push from tax authorities is to clampdown on avoidance (which by definition they know about it), but what about clamping down on evasion?” he asked in an interview with Freelance UK.

“Are they putting enough effort into controlling evasion? We’ve seen a blurring of the lines between tax planning/avoidance and evasion, have they got the proportions of enforcement right?”

Yesterday, as Revenue & Customs launched its televised clampdown on evasion, one of its officials admitted the authority holds “no reliable estimates” on the size of the informal economy.

“By its nature, the size of the informal economy is hard to measure,” a spokeswoman told Freelance UK.

“Most estimates are based on analysing high-level economic aggregates, such as labour market statistics or income and expenditure surveys, and calculate the result as a percentage of GDP. However there is research which suggests that these estimates tend to be exaggerated.”

Some press reports suggest the informal economy could be withholding as much as £75billion from the Treasury coffers, mainly through so-called ‘cash-in-hand’ payments.

But, in a statement, HMRC said, “It would be impractical to arrive at a precise and meaningful figure as to the scale of the problem without a considerable investment of time and resources."

Reflecting on the intention of its latest PR campaign, the Revenue continued: “Our aim is to get as many people as possible to comply with their [tax] obligations voluntarily. To do that we need to make sure that people clearly understand these obligations and the help available to them.”

The new whistle-blowing hotline to oust suspected tax dodgers is 0800 788 887; lines are open seven days a week.

A Revenue spokeswoman added: “If you have trouble getting through on the number you can make a report by going to our website, at www.hmrc.gov.uk/hotline



 

2nd March 2006

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