HMRC?fails to deliver

Accountancy Age feels like a bit of a broken record on this tax amnesties
issue. But, no matter how HMRC paints it, its hit rate across the various tax
disclosure schemes in the past three years still seems, well, a bit

Of course, gaining access to the offshore accounts of the big banks,
investment houses and Liechtenstein account holders is in itself impressive –
even spectacular.

With £9m in undeclared income put forward by doctors and dentists from the
Tax Health Plan, half a billion pounds in tax recouped in the very first
disclosure scheme, plus a few hundred hardy respondents currently through
Liechtenstein, it’s arguable that those who stepped forward wouldn’t have done
so without the amnesties in place. However, only 1,500 doctors and dentists out
of 28,500 took part. Liechtenstein has only seen 419 declarations so far, and
the £400m take-up from the first disclosure was towards the lower end of

The problem, as we’ve said on several occasions, is that the taxman has
failed to bare its teeth – perhaps it doesn’t have many to bare, as our front
cover cheekily suggests. The high-profile prosecutions confidently predicted by
HM Revenue & Customs to follow amnesties, with punishment for non-declarers,
have failed to materialise. They’re on their way, HMRC keeps telling us.

Everyone knows that the department is resource-strained, to put it mildly.
Threats suggesting that “HMRC will get around to you eventually” are,
unfortunately, not very threatening.

Maybe it will all change when the name and shame regime for tax avoiders
comes into force next April, but until then it looks as if many UK citizens with
undeclared income are prepared to call the taxman’s bluff.

Peers take audit to task

What will the House of Lords conclude when it looks at the audit market later
this year? News last week that the Lords’ economics committee would look at
audit and whether auditors did enough in the run up to the financial crisis w
ill give critics the opportunity to air their views about audit and how it
should be reformed.

This discussion is well underway. The Financial Reporting Council has
established a group to look for lessons from the crisis and the debate about the
way auditors should report has, to some extent, already concluded that auditors
cannot continue the way they are.

We should not expect the Lords committee to be particularly sympathetic. Lord
Lawson is on record asking why the government did not sue auditors for their
part in the crisis. When chancellor in the eighties, Lawson ordered the Bank of
England to sue Arthur Young over the collapse of merchant bank Johnson Matthey.
Auditors should anticipate a rough ride from their lordships.

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