HMRC moves to tackle tax evasion welcome – but it will not work without more people to enforce it

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I welcome this initiative by HMRC to tackle tax evasion:

Businesses and individuals avoiding tax payments are to be targeted by new software launched by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

The software, set to be launched later this year, will work by searching the internet to identify small businesses and personal ventures, such as private tutors and eBay traders, who may be operating a business and not declaring their income.

HMRC said that websites including Amazon, Gumtree and eBay would be looked at and that any discrepancies, such as traders not being registered for self-assessment, would help the tax body identify those who have failed to pay the correct amount of tax.

Mike Wells, HMRC's director of risk and intelligence, said the purpose of the software was to “reduce the tax gap and help customers pay what they owe”.

That makes complete sense.

But note too what I said last week at the National Pensioners Convention:

In 2005 there were 100,000 people working at HM Revenue & Customs. By 2015 there will be 50,000. And I'll tell you something very simple, very straightforward, and obvious to anyone.

You don't catch tax cheats with a computer.

You don't catch tax cheats by sending a letter and asking them to send a cheque by return.

You trap tax cheats by hard work, by real people, using real skills, to ensure that the tax that is owing, the tax that is paying your pensions, is collected.

And the last government to its shame, and the current government to its discredit, have chosen to cut the number of people at HM Revenue & Customs doing just that.

I stand by that, because it's true.

This new software can find who it likes - but only people will resolve whether tax is due.

And I'd add - if small business is picked on and big business continues to get away with cosy deals none of this is going to work: there will be too great a sentiment of alienation amongst the business community for any effective cooperation to exist - and all tax is eventually imposed by consent.


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