Taxation logo taxation mission text

Since 1927 the leading authority on tax law, practice and administration

This week's opinion: 24 June 2021

22 June 2021 / Andrew Hubbard
Issue: 4797 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
HMRC must show it targets the ‘big boys’

I am always interested to read the latest list of deliberate tax defaulters ( This is not from a prurient desire to see whether it includes somebody I know (perish the thought) but because it gives an interesting snapshot of the compliance work of HMRC. 

The list contains many of the sorts of businesses which anybody who did investigation work with the Revenue would expect – restaurants, builders etc – but what struck me, given that only UK taxes are involved, was its international reach. I counted seven lorry drivers/hauliers from Europe and four online sellers from China or Hong Kong. 

The figures for the latter are astonishing. One of them had underdeclared tax of £3.6m for the six months to 30 Apr 2019. These are not estimates. Names only appear when the tax liability has been agreed and the associated penalty has been confirmed. They are real figures. 

I doubt that these overseas firms will be much bothered by their names being published, but I wonder whether HMRC could do more with the information. The public perception is that HMRC lets the ‘big boys’ get away with it and only goes for the ‘little people’. We all know that that is a distortion – readers will have different views as to how distorted it is. Public confidence in the tax system might be enhanced were a more nuanced picture to emerge. 

I cannot begin to imagine how you would go about investigating an offshore online seller: you can hardly ask them to bring their books and records into the tax office in a carrier bag. Well done to all those involved.

If you do one thing...

Have a look at the new IFS tax lab It is not a practitioner resource but has lots of interesting information about the political, social and economic aspects of taxation.

Issue: 4797 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
back to top icon