Self-assessment tax amnesty undermines statutory regime

WE WELCOME any activity which ensures that the fair and proper amounts of tax are paid. However, is HM Revenue & Customs doing the right thing by offering another amnesty to reach this goal?

It seems that HMRC is trying to secure the completion of tax returns which should have been filed 18 months ago, in January 2011 or even earlier. This belated attempt certainly begs the question as to why HMRC hasn’t already pursued the recalcitrants. It is not as if HMRC doesn’t know who they are.

We also have doubts as to whether this amnesty is actually fair. The page on the HMRC website detailing the amnesty suggests that people who sign up for the 2009/10 (and earlier) amnesty may be treated more leniently than those who have already filed late for any of those years and were charged interest and penalties. That’s a bit like retailers offering better terms to new customers than long-standing, loyal customers.

Furthermore, this endless string of amnesties is beginning to reflect badly on the taxman. Why doesn’t HMRC offer a blanket amnesty, giving anybody whose tax affairs are not in good order a once-and-for-all chance to make honest women and men of themselves, before returning to the normal, statutory regime for tax compliance?

George Bull is senior tax partner at Baker Tilly

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