Global tax transparency – more data access for HMRC

Not so secretive Switzerland

For those that have been reading my recent blogs, you will know that in my view HMRC has had powers to obtain information from an increasing number of sources, and it is getting much better at using them.  However, it is not just HMRC that is driving this. Global tax transparency is a common theme for all revenue authorities. 

If I was to have even suggested 10 years ago that Switzerland, long held up as an impenetrable safe haven due to its banking secrecy laws, would in 2020 be sharing bank account information with HMRC, I would have been laughed out the room as someone with no concept of the tax or banking world.  Yet that is exactly what is happening today. If Switzerland is willing to embrace such transparency then it is fair to assume that safe havens of secrecy are fast disappearing.

Common Reporting Standards

How has this happened you ask?  In 2014 the OECD Council approved a request from the G20 for jurisdictions to collect account data from financial institutions annually and share it with other members.  This is known as the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), and the first exchange happened in 2017.  Consequently, HMRC has started to make enquiries of individuals who they believe have financial accounts overseas and who have not reported them for tax purposes in the UK.

Nudge letters

This week we saw another wave of ‘nudge’ letters from HMRC suggesting they have information from overseas and encouraging disclosures under the ‘Worldwide Disclosure Facility’ (WDF).

If you receive one of these letters you need to be careful about your next move.

Clearly HMRC believe that you have omitted relevant overseas income or gains from your return. If you do not immediately know what could have been omitted then you need to seek advice from a professional to discuss any dealings you have had overseas. 

Worldwide Disclosure Facility

If you can identify what HMRC is referring to then a disclosure under the WDF should be considered.  But keep in mind:

  • The WDF does not preclude HMRC taking criminal action where they feel it appropriate.  You will be particularly at risk if the disclosure is incomplete or the income and gains arise from criminal property. 
  • The number of years you need to disclose will depend in the behaviour that led to the inaccuracy in the first place.  In general, this will be reasonable care (4 years), Carelessness (6 years), and deliberate (20 years).  Again, this needs care given that not disclosing a year may lead to criminal sanctions as above.
  • Whilst the nudge letter remains silent on the issue, penalties will apply. These can be up to 200% of the potential lost revenue and are based on the same behaviours as above.  You will be invited to self assess but it is a minefield that usually will need professional advice.

Thinking of signing?

If you do not believe that you have anything to disclose then the letter invites you to sign a certificate to that effect.  Though the certificate warns of criminal prosecution if you make a false declaration there is no legislation that requires you to sign such a statement. Therefore I advise that you seek specialist advice before signing.

As always, we are here to talk to anyone affected by the above and happy to discuss how we can help.