Driven by ever-increasing tax transparency, HMRC began a campaign to crack down on undeclared offshore assets back in September 2016, covered in an article by my colleague Michael Goldstein. He highlighted that HMRC is now receiving information about UK taxpayers from tax authorities all over the world, which started with the UK-linked islands such as Jersey, Isle of Man, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. Since September 2017 this list has ballooned to over 100 countries. And these aren’t the only ways HMRC have of finding out about offshore assets: the Paradise Papers leak is a topical example.
Going in for the kill
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have seen a growing number of enquiries from people whom HMRC have written to, stating that they “may have” offshore assets and asking them to disclose details under their Worldwide Disclosure Facility. HMRC aren’t offering much in the way of carrots – the WDF carries normal penalties and no immunity from criminal prosecution – but plenty of sticks. There is a legal “Requirement to Correct” by September 2018, and anyone who does not do so will face penalties for “Failure to Correct” of between 100% and 200% of the tax at stake. In the worst cases there are additional penalties of 10% of the value of the offshore asset and naming and shaming on HMRC’s website.
Severe penalties: example
Tom has an investment portfolio based in Jersey worth £200,000, which yields £10,000 income each year. As a top rate taxpayer, Tom should have been paying tax on this at 45% but failed to declare it on his tax returns.
If HMRC deem his behaviour careless, they can go back 6 years, being £27,000 of tax. If Tom fails to declare this by September 2018 this he will face Failure to Correct penalties of up to 200%, or £54,000. However, if he volunteers this information to HMRC his penalty could be 0%. If HMRC prompt him with a letter as we’ve been seeing, the penalty will be between 15% and 30%, i.e. up to £9,100.
If HMRC believe Tom has acted deliberately, they can go back 20 years. Penalties could top £160,000, plus 10% of the value of the portfolio, giving total penalties over £180,000. By the time tax and interest are included, the total Tom has to pay may be north of £300,000. Tom’s name and address are published on HMRC’s website.
What to do
If you have received a letter from HMRC it is important to act. It may not necessarily be obvious what information HMRC have: we had a client recently whose grandmother passed away many years ago and left him an offshore account, which he did not realise he now owned.
It is also possible that structures put in place years ago are no longer effective for tax purposes – non-doms and UK residential property held in offshore companies spring to mind – and will now need reporting.
Even if you haven’t received a letter from HMRC, it is beneficial to get ahead of the game as this will reduce the penalties involved. Not only is the deadline of September 2018 closer than you might think, but international tax transparency will only increase.