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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Being investigated by the Revenue
The penalties for tax dodging can be severe
The penalties for tax dodging can be severe
Being investigated by the Revenue is no joke. A major enquiry can seriously disrupt your business, while a self assessment personal tax investigation can be prolonged, detailed and intrusive.

If you have deliberately tried to conceal information and are found out, you could be fined or even sent to prison.

Most tax investigations begin because the Revenue has reason to believe that some aspect of your tax return or business accounts is wrong.

They may have received a tip off, some figures in the tax return may not tally with other information they have, or the return may have been sent in late.

Random investigations

The Revenue also randomly selects a proportion of tax returns every year.

In the first two years of self-assessment, some 15,000 returns were investigated.

The Revenue will write to you to let you know that your affairs are being investigated although it will not normally give the reason behind its decision to launch an enquiry.

Under the self-assessment regime, the Revenue must start any enquiry within 12 months of the last filing date of 31 January but there is no requirement for an investigation to conclude within a fixed period of time. Some enquiries can last more than two years.

Why am I being investigated?
You failed to complete your tax return
Your tax return was incorrect
You were selected at random
The Revenue received a tip off

Most investigations are handled by local tax office inspectors with specialist training and experience.

They know what to look for and are well versed in the excuses trotted out by wayward taxpayers who have underpaid their tax.

Whatever happens, taxpayers' affairs will be dealt with confidentially and information will only be disclosed to people that the individual agrees it may be given to, such as a tax accountant or other adviser.

The Revenue can, however, ask former employers, customers, suppliers or colleagues for information relating to its investigation.

The taxman is not required to give reasons for the enquiries it makes but it can identify areas that it wants to delve into.

If the problem appears to be a simple one of omission, it can ask taxpayers to answer specific questions or provide documents that might answer the question.

If it is discovered that tax has been underpaid, the taxpayer will have to pay what is due plus any penalty or interest accrued.

Fraud

In serious cases of fraud, the Special Compliance Office can be involved. This is the Revenue's elite unit responsible for the most high-profile investigations.

Celebrity is no bar to investigation. The SCO has the power to negotiate settlements and can also agree not to prosecute a taxpayer as long as full disclosure is made.

In cases where minor amounts of income have been undeclared or where small mistakes have been made on the return, normally the matter can be cleared up with a few phone calls and submission of relevant pay slips.

But where serious fraud (amounts of more than 50,000) is concerned, the Revenue can start to request information from banks, accountants and other parties if it is the tax inspector's "reasonable opinion" that this will help the investigation.

Getting help

Individuals with complex tax affairs or with a business to run may well find it easier to hire a specialist tax adviser or accountant to guide them through the process and minimise the disruption to their activities.

Prosecutions and the penalties can be severe including jail sentences and stiff fines designed to recoup the unpaid tax and penalties.

It is also possible to buy insurance to pre-empt the costs of a tax investigation.

Further information:

The conduct of the Inland Revenue must reach certain standards, and these are set out in a number of codes of practices.

These codes can be found on its website.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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