LONDON – The UK tax collector has paid out nearly £2 million to informants over the last four years, according to data obtained by Business Insider.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) paid £421,460 for information about tax evasion in 2016/17, according to data released in a Freedom of Information request.
HMRC paid £460,433 in 2015/16, which compares to a spike of £605,000 in 2014/15, and to £402,000 in 2013/14.
HMRC declined to say how many informants the figures related to, stating disclosing this information could “prejudice the assessment or collection of any tax or duty or of any imposition of a similar nature,” and “endanger the safety of any individual.”
It has also previously declined to say how much was recovered using the information.
HMRC has a secure form on its website through which whistleblowers can provide information, as well as a tax evasion hotline, but does not advertise payments.
“As an organisation they are under a reasonable amount of pressure to collect unpaid tax” and if a “relatively small fee translates into something bigger that’s good business,” Paul Noble, head of tax investigations at law firm Pinsent Masons, said.
The UK’s tax gap, the difference between the amount of tax due and the amount collected, was at its lowest ever level of 6.5% in 2014/15, according to the most recent statistics. Although the official estimate that £36 billion went uncollected, through tax evasion and avoidance, error and other criminal activity, advocacy group Tax Justice Network said the figure was closer to £122 billion.
HMRC has come under increased pressure to crack down on evasion in recent years, particularly following the Panama Papers scandal, and has been asked to triple the number of criminal investigations for “serious and complex tax crime” and recover an additional £7.2 billion in tax by 2020/21.
A series of new laws to help achieve these targets came into force this year, including the Criminal Finances Act, which includes a new criminal offence of failing to prevent tax evasion. Earlier this year, HMRC also warned of the potentially “life changing consequences” of failing to disclose offshore-held wealth by September 2018, under new transparency legislation.
The government is allegedly preparing to publish new draft legislation on a register of beneficial ownership for overseas companies that own UK property or participate in UK government procurement, according to someone with knowledge of the plans.
HMRC didn’t immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.