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Last updated: 3 Mar 2021
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Spring Budget 2021: A new taxpayer protection taskforce targets COVID-19 support fraudsters

The Chancellor has announced the government's pledge to tackle tax fraudsters, specifically those that abused the COVID-19 support packages, by granting £100m to HMRC to set up a new HMRC taskforce of around 1,000 investigators.

For months, HMRC has been talking of widespread abuse of the economic support packages the government introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has listened to HMRC’s concerns, and in today’s Budget has confirmed that HMRC will be provided with significant additional resources to tackle those that have unlawfully benefited from schemes such as the CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – better known as ‘Furlough’) and the SEISS (Self-Employed Income Support Scheme). 

The Chancellor confirmed HMRC will be granted £100m to form a new ‘Taxpayer Protection Taskforce’. Usually, HMRC team names are linked to the type of individual or entity it services. I suspect such a deviation from the norm and choosing such an emotive name for this team has been carefully considered. HMRC clearly wants the general public to feel that it’s a department working for them, challenging those that have used the British economy when most vulnerable. 

Equally unusually, the Budget has confirmed the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will tackle, what it is calling, ‘COVID-19 fraud’. This is a bold and marked deviation from how HMRC usually communicates with its customers. Recently,  HMRC has been writing to those it suspects may have submitted false or incorrect COVID-19 support package claims. Even when issuing these targeted letters, HMRC has been at pains to stress that it doesn’t believe every incorrect claim will have been submitted fraudulently. 

From today’s Budget, however, it appears HMRC may  be adopting a more accusatory approach. The wording in the Budget is unequivocal. The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce has been set up specifically to target COVID-19 fraud. This provides a clear indication that this team of 1,265 HMRC officers will be tackling deliberate offenders. Where deliberate behaviour exists, HMRC is entitled to investigate cases criminally and it is anticipated that the most heinous offenders will receive jail time. It’s already been reported that several individuals have been arrested in relation to abuse of the CJRS and SEISS.

Those who are not criminally prosecuted will face severe financial penalties. In cases involving fraudulent claims, the minimum penalty that the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will charge is 35% of any invalid claim. However, the legislation allows HMRC to charge penalties equivalent to 100% of any unjustified claim in cases where taxpayers have attempted to conceal their fraud, and not co-operated with HMRC to rectify the situation. 

HMRC is now well resourced and committed to recovering any sums that were incorrectly distributed. Buzzacott’s Tax Investigations and Dispute Resolution team have extensive experience in representing taxpayers who have filed inaccurate COVID-19 support claims and in handling HMRC taskforce investigations. We would urge anyone worried about the prospect of an HMRC investigation to contact us for a free, no obligation discussion. Our specialist representation can help individuals to avoid potential jail time and mitigate the significant financial penalties that HMRC will be looking to charge.

About the author

Joe Burns

+44 (0)20 7710 2602
burnsj@buzzacott.co.uk

For months, HMRC has been talking of widespread abuse of the economic support packages the government introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has listened to HMRC’s concerns, and in today’s Budget has confirmed that HMRC will be provided with significant additional resources to tackle those that have unlawfully benefited from schemes such as the CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – better known as ‘Furlough’) and the SEISS (Self-Employed Income Support Scheme). 

The Chancellor confirmed HMRC will be granted £100m to form a new ‘Taxpayer Protection Taskforce’. Usually, HMRC team names are linked to the type of individual or entity it services. I suspect such a deviation from the norm and choosing such an emotive name for this team has been carefully considered. HMRC clearly wants the general public to feel that it’s a department working for them, challenging those that have used the British economy when most vulnerable. 

Equally unusually, the Budget has confirmed the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will tackle, what it is calling, ‘COVID-19 fraud’. This is a bold and marked deviation from how HMRC usually communicates with its customers. Recently,  HMRC has been writing to those it suspects may have submitted false or incorrect COVID-19 support package claims. Even when issuing these targeted letters, HMRC has been at pains to stress that it doesn’t believe every incorrect claim will have been submitted fraudulently. 

From today’s Budget, however, it appears HMRC may  be adopting a more accusatory approach. The wording in the Budget is unequivocal. The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce has been set up specifically to target COVID-19 fraud. This provides a clear indication that this team of 1,265 HMRC officers will be tackling deliberate offenders. Where deliberate behaviour exists, HMRC is entitled to investigate cases criminally and it is anticipated that the most heinous offenders will receive jail time. It’s already been reported that several individuals have been arrested in relation to abuse of the CJRS and SEISS.

Those who are not criminally prosecuted will face severe financial penalties. In cases involving fraudulent claims, the minimum penalty that the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will charge is 35% of any invalid claim. However, the legislation allows HMRC to charge penalties equivalent to 100% of any unjustified claim in cases where taxpayers have attempted to conceal their fraud, and not co-operated with HMRC to rectify the situation. 

HMRC is now well resourced and committed to recovering any sums that were incorrectly distributed. Buzzacott’s Tax Investigations and Dispute Resolution team have extensive experience in representing taxpayers who have filed inaccurate COVID-19 support claims and in handling HMRC taskforce investigations. We would urge anyone worried about the prospect of an HMRC investigation to contact us for a free, no obligation discussion. Our specialist representation can help individuals to avoid potential jail time and mitigate the significant financial penalties that HMRC will be looking to charge.

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