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Tax expert warns over HMRC offshore letters

Offshore account holders who signed up for the 2007 tax amnesty have been warned to speak to an adviser before responding to a questionnaire sent out by HM Revenue & Customs.

HMRC is writing to 600 offshore account holders who registered for the 2007 tax amnesty to gather information on how the accounts have been opened, operated and maintained.

McGrigors director of tax investigations Phil Berwick says individuals should be careful not to incriminate themselves when engaging in “informal” chats with HMRC.

He says anyone receiving a letter should get in contact with their adviser before responding.

He says: “Any information disclosed by taxpayers during the course of a telephone conversation with HMRC could come back to bite them. If HMRC uncovers evidence of non-compliance, it is naïve to think that it would just brush that information under the carpet.”

“It will be quite easy for taxpayers to slip up and incriminate themselves, or give off-the-cuff responses to HMRC in a phone call. If taxpayers want to co-operate with HMRC on this initiative they should do so via their advisers.”

“Why won’t HMRC tell us what questions it intends to ask? The concern is that these phone calls will just turn into fishing trips to quiz high net worth taxpayers about their financial affairs.”

Berwick says he suspects HMRC wants to use the information gathered against the banks and advisers used by the account holders.

He says: “HMRC is trying to identify taxpayers who have failed to come forward in response to the various disclosure facilities in recent years. The noose is tightening for those with undeclared liabilities. Taxpayers can still use the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility if they qualify, but time is running out.”   

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