The institute has welcomed the Government’s announcement last week that it will be pressing ahead with the introduction of a new ‘strict liability’ offence for offshore tax evasion and the stated intention of the new laws to targeted at only the most serious offshore tax evaders.
However, Patrick Stevens, CIOT tax policy director said: “This does not alter the fundamental wrongness of creating this criminal offence which will require no proof of intention.”
The Government announced on 16 July that it will be going ahead with the introduction of a new offence for failure to prevent the facilitation of evasion. It said it would also be introducing new civil penalties for those who facilitate evasion.
With the 2017 Common Reporting Standards deadline in mind, HMRC said it wanted to hear the views of individuals with offshore income and assets; tax practitioners; and other representative bodies on a set of questions, including whether to raise the penalty for deliberate offshore evasion.
Stevens said: “While some taxpayers do actively seek to hide their income by intentionally failing to declare it, there are others who simply make mistakes in their financial affairs without intending to act wrongly.
“It is not reasonable for someone to be convicted, let alone imprisoned, for offshore tax evasion without an intention to evade tax being proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
Stevens noted that the Government’s new plans do include a threshold of £5,000 of under-declared tax before the new offence can be used, which minimised the risk that people who made simple errors would be caught under the new law.
“It will at least ensure that those making errors over relatively small amounts of tax will not get caught by this new offence. The announcement that there will be ‘reasonable excuse’ and ‘reasonable care’ defences is also welcome.
“However these defences and thresholds do nothing to change the fact that someone who has no intention to evade tax could still be liable to criminal sanctions, and we think this is wrong.”