Phil Berwick, partner* and Head of Contentious Tax at law firm Irwin Mitchell, comments:  “The proposal represents a fundamental shift in the burden of proof. As the Government seeks to plug financial gaps from previous failed initiatives, it is becoming more desperate. Not everybody who has failed to declare foreign income has done so deliberately. There is a danger that HMRC will focus on “soft” targets, and hardcore evaders will still evade capture or punishment. There is also the danger that the new rules will subsequently be extended to change the burden of proof in other situations.

“The UK- Swiss Agreement raised a pitiful amount compared to what was estimated by the Government, and the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility is on course to also fall woefully short of the £3 billion estimated.

“There is already a maximum penalty of 200% of the tax that has not been paid, in addition to interest and tax for up to 20 years, for taxpayers with undeclared foreign income.

“This latest announcement follows on from the news that HMRC will have the power to raid taxpayers’ bank accounts. Because HMRC has failed to prosecute a sufficient number of offenders, the Government is seeking to change the rules to make it easier to meet targets, and prevent further embarrassment.

“HMRC has had a significant amount of data on offshore offenders for a long time, but has failed to pursue criminal investigations. HMRC already has sufficient powers to pursue these taxpayers. Where will HMRC’s quest for increased powers end?

Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans to give new powers to HM Revenue and Customs to make it easier to prosecute people who evade taxes by hiding money offshore. The intention is that criminal prosecutions can be brought against anyone with undeclared foreign income, even if they did not intend to evade taxes. HMRC have come under attack from MPs for the low number of evader it prosecutes.

HRMC will consult on new penalties for offshore tax evasion, and a document will be published on Monday.

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