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HMRC has the power to check personal information about taxpayers they're investigating by issuing a ‘third party notice’ to banks and other institutions.
This power does have some restrictions, but HMRC now wants to introduce a separate ‘financial institution notice’ for gathering financial information.
HMRC won’t need approval from a tax tribunal to issue this notice (the independent tax tribunal is responsible for appeals against decisions made by HMRC).
HMRC will have to let the taxpayer know why they’re asking for the information – unless a tax tribunal rules that this condition shouldn’t apply. This means HMRC could potentially ask for financial information without the taxpayer’s permission.
Ultimately HMRC wants to speed up the time it takes to get information, bringing the UK in line with international standards.
HMRC has the power to obtain relevant information from taxpayers to check they’re paying the right amount of income tax, capital gains tax, corporation tax and VAT.
This information is sometimes held by third parties, and if HMRC wants to see it, they can issue a ‘third party notice.’
Third parties include banks and other financial institutions, as well as lawyers, accountants, and estate agents.
HMRC can’t issue a third party notice without taxpayer or tax tribunal approval. Plus, HMRC needs to prove that the information is ‘reasonably required’.
And if HMRC has got permission from the tribunal to keep its tax investigation secret, the third party is still legally allowed to tell the taxpayer they’ve been asked for the information.
In 2018, HMRC published a consultation document called ‘Amending HMRC’s Civil Information Powers’.
In this document, HMRC argued that getting permission from the taxpayer and tax tribunal to issue a third party notice slowed down its information gathering process, both in domestic and international investigations.
So, HMRC outlined some options for getting taxpayer information quicker, including:
Two years later, in July 2020, HMRC announced that it’s creating a new ‘financial institution notice’ to speed up the process of getting information from banks and other organisations about a known taxpayer's tax position.
HMRC will create this new notice instead of amending its powers for all third party notices. Respondents overwhelmingly objected to that proposal, saying the change would be wider than what’s needed to tackle this particular problem.
The tax body won’t need approval from the taxpayer or tax tribunal to issue financial institution notices, but HMRC claims there will be safeguards:
Hugh Gunson, legal director of private wealth disputes at Charles Russell Speechlys, said the financial institution notice “is a powerful new weapon for HMRC in tax enquiries and investigations.
“Financial institutions and taxpayers alike should be prepared for HMRC to deploy these with increasing regularity – and when faced with one they should ensure they are fully aware of their legal obligations.”
What do you think of these proposals? Let us know in the comments below.
Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.
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