Driven by a public desire to come down hard on those who side step their tax obligations, since 2010-11 HMRC has trebled the number of raids on business premises with a view to obtaining evidence for criminal prosecution.
In his Budget announcement yesterday, the Chancellor earmarked a further £60m to facilitate an escalation by HMRC of the growing number of criminal tax investigations.
The quality of information and data available to HMRC is now much improved, meaning that the department is getting better at tracking down and detecting serious and complex tax irregularities. HMRC is also intending to merge two existing top-level investigation teams - Specialist Investigations (civil) and Criminal investigations - into one, giving them greater cohesion and communication in tackling tax evasion. This will inevitably lead to more cases being identified and pursued criminally.
The message to tax cheats is clear - get your house in order now and take advantage of the various disclosure facilities available. These come to an end on 31 December and will be followed next year by a less advantageous approach to voluntary disclosures. And for those with historic tax irregularities who don’t come forward - keep looking over your shoulder. HMRC will eventually track you down and the outcome may be a life-changing criminal prosecution, rather than civil financial settlement.