An abuse of power

SHOULD WE BE concerned at HM Revenue & Customs’ latest policy decision? The taxman has revealed that the department intends to keep up to 900 known tax evaders constantly monitored. For up to five years after an offence the taxman will use its powers to make unannounced inspections; and inspect the records of suppliers and customers to ensure a former offender’s tax affairs are in good order.

The measures are being billed as a genuine deterrent to recidivist tax evaders tempted to cheat the exchequer again.

Tax evasion is always to be condemned but there is something slightly disquieting in this policy. While deterrents are a good thing the intrusion built into HMRC’s new policy may leave some people asking a very valid question about where lines are to be drawn. Most criminals can expect to be punished, pay their debt to society and then get on with their lives. HMRC in this policy is saying that is not enough. The surveillance must continue to the point where evidence will be continuously collected after the demands of justice are met.

There is no defending tax evasion, but such a policy should spark a debate about when an offender’s time is served and when it is not. It also prompts questions, as with our cover story, about the extent of HMRC’s powers.

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