HMRC has been accused of presenting bullying behaviour after sending strongly worded letters to tens of thousands of people with overseas accounts and investments. The letters have come from the HMRC Risk and Intelligence Service and experts say they risk leaving some account holders open to prosecution.
Since September 2018 information about overseas accounts and investments has started to be fed into Connect, the computer system used by HMRC that collates financial information on individuals from more than 30 different databases. This includes information about salaries, bank accounts, loans, property and car ownership.
Whilst the letters do not disclose exactly what financial information HMRC holds on the recipient, and does not request any tax payment or repayment, it does ask the individuals to sign a certificate to confirm that they "understand that choosing to make a false statement or complete a false certificate is a criminal offence that can result in investigation and prosecution".
This wording is above and beyond the typical affirmation on self-assessment tax returns and has raised some eyebrows, with the chairman of the economic affairs committee stating that power had "tipped too far in favour of HMRC and against the fundamental protections every taxpayer should expect".
A leading tax barrister added that signing the certificate would be akin to "putting your head on the block". The advice from a partner at accountancy firm BDO is to take the letters seriously, as they are based on financial data HMRC have collated on the individuals concerned, but to not sign the certificate until first speaking with a professional tax adviser.
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