Name-and-shame policy must be used sparingly

by Calum Fuller

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25 Feb 2013

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IT'S HAPPENED. It's finally happened.

After threatening to do so for months HM Revenue & Customs has, to use Margaret Hodge's words, "named and shamed" deliberate tax defaulters for the first time.

There are, though, some parameters to their outing of the nine on this week's list. For one thing, only those dodging £25,000 or more since April 2010 are named.

Of course, it is hoped that doing so will discourage would-be tax dodgers from even trying, and to some extent it could.

Anyone who cares to read the list will see that several small companies and individuals from all over the UK feature - the message being: ‘whoever you are, wherever you are, we will find you'.

And that can have a profound effect on people; reputations have to be upheld, after all.

That, however, raises a significant question. What redress can those named have after being so publicly shamed?

Well, in order for HMRC to publish a name, a compliance check must be carried out, a penalty levied, statutory safeguards accounted for - including the taxpayer's right to exhaust all appeal routes - and time allowed for representations to be made to HMRC as to why the name may not be published.

Only then can a name be published.

Not only that, but had any of those named voluntarily disclosed from the outset, publication would have been avoided and reduced penalties would have been imposed.

As for how effective the policy will prove, it is as yet too early to tell. My suspicion is that it will make early inroads before eventually tailing off and losing its impact as people become desensitised.

That prediction may be speculative, but what is certain is that naming and shaming should be treated as another weapon in the taxman's arsenal, rather than the go-to tool.

Calum Fuller is the tax correspondent for Accountancy Age and Financial Director

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