The UK Tax Amnesty – here we go again

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Last year's 'tax amnesty' in the UK worked: about 45,000 people who had hidden cash in tax havens paid up. Almost 20,000 more declared they had such cash and then did not pay. It's believed more than 30,000 others were written to and did not respond.

But the amnesty dealt with customers of just five banks - Barclays, HBOS, Lloyds TSB, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest). OK, they're important, and as I've repeatedly stressed here, all have knowingly harboured tax evaded funds in the Crown Dependencies and elsewhere, but if you were really serious about abusing the system it was unlikely you were going to put your money with some of the better regulated (if we can assume that not declaring suspicion of money laundering implies that) organisations. You would be much more likely to use some of he dodgier organisations and banks that populate the tax haven world.

And now HM Revenue & Customs is going to flush out customers of the other banks. The Sunday Times has revealed that the Revenue is going to offer another amnesty. It looks unlikely to apply to anyone already contacted, which seems absolutely appropriate. And it looks likely that it will only apply until the Revenue have secured customer details from an estimated 117 foreign and UK institutions working in the Crown Dependencies and, maybe, other European havens.

Dave Hartnett, the Revenue's acting chairman, is the man behind the move (again) and has promised that the arrangement will be more complicated tan last time. It has to be: this is the second time of asking and so it cannot be as generous as the first offer was. I can already as a result hear the howls of protest from the tax profession at how unfair this will be. My answer is simple: criminals who are being offered the chance of a lower sentence are not in a position to complain. And let's be clear, it's criminality we're talking about here. As Dave Hartnett has said:

Some people will go to jail - I have no doubt about that, for example where they have lied to us during a previous investigation. We do not tolerate that at all.

So don't expect a fantastic deal, more like a get out of jail on payment of a moderate fine card. Which I can live with.

But let's add three things:

1) Given the scale of this there is no way that the Treasury Select Committee can conclude that tax havens are not a threat to the UK;

2) Given the knowing involvement of so many financial institutions in this criminal trade there is no way they can survive without changes in their regulatory regime;

3) Deloittes, PWC, HSBC and Citi mislead the Treasury Select Committee when they said there was no serious offshore problem in July. There clearly is. So why did they say what they did?

It's time for them, as well as dishonest taxpayers to come clean.