HMRC targeting HSBC Jersey clients for voluntary disclosure
HM Revenue & Customs said it has sent letters to customers of HSBC Jersey advising them to sign a declaration that they do not owe any UK tax on their offshore assets, placing some customers between the proverbial rock and the hard place.
The voluntary HMRC Disclosure Facility (HDF) was originally scheduled to run between 6 April 2013 and 30 September 2016. However, in March 2015 HMRC announced that it was bringing the end date forward to 31 December 2015. Declaration According to the Financial Times, HSBC Jersey customers have been asked to sign a certificate declaring that they owe no tax on their offshore assets, including “the source of the funds in [their] Jersey bank account”. Failure to respond may result in HMRC starting “a detailed investigation” into their tax affairs.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “We are not saying that these taxpayers have done anything wrong. If they are confident that their tax affairs are above board, we ask them to fill in a certificate telling us so. If they are unsure, we suggest they seek urgent advice from a tax professional and, if tax is due, they must make a disclosure and pay any tax due.
“But make no mistake, we are getting much tougher on offshore evasion. There will be serious consequences for those with undeclared offshore income and gains, who do not come forward voluntarily.”
Despite the ‘voluntary’ nature of the request, HSBC Jersey customers who fail to sign the declaration run the risk of flagging themselves up to HMRC as potential tax avoiders. Equally, those who sign the declaration and are found to have not declared all of their offshore assets can add fraud to any list of charges levied against them. In the week since the letters were issued, HMRC has already heard from over 15% of the customer advising that they have, or will, make a disclosure or have nothing further to disclose.
Gloves are off
As part of his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced a new penalty of 60% on tax due in all cases successfully tackled by the General Anti Abuse Rules (GAAR).
One of the new measures to be included in the Finance Bill 2016 is a new criminal offence removing the need to prove intent for the most serious cases of failing to declare offshore income and gains. There will also be civil penalties for deliberate offshore tax evasion, with penalties introduced for those who enable offshore tax evasion.
HMRC has signaled that, as of 31 December 2015, the gloves are coming off and those with undeclared offshore assets will have very few places left to hide.
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