9:52 AM, 1st November 2011, About 12 years ago
A 200-strong team of investigators is targeting overseas property owners to check they are not tax cheats.
HM Revenue and Customs has warned wealthy UK residents with homes and land overseas that the team is checking whether they have paid enough tax on rents and capital gains.
The task force can call on finance, accounting and property experts from across HMRC to hunt tax cheats.
The investigators are using sophisticated and innovative risk assessment techniques to identify wealthy individuals avoiding and evading taxes and duties.
The team’s main weapon is data-mining with web spiders – small pieces of computer code that crawl the internet looking for targeted data in the same way search engines collate information.
The spiders can sift websites for information about overseas apartments or villas for rent and link the information with an owner from data obtained from foreign governments through tax information treaties.
The aim is to identify property owners who do not appear to have the means to own homes abroad, as well as those who are failing to declare rents and gains on tax returns
Commodity traders and investors with offshore bank and savings accounts are also HMRC targets.
The task force is working across several HMRC departments and includes experts handling companies, residence inquiries and trusts.
Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, said: “The government is committed to tackling tax evasion and avoidance across all areas of the economy. That is why we allocated HMRC £917m to reduce the tax gap over the next four years in the last Spending Review. This new team is part of that investment.
“With HMRC’s increased capability and expertise, and its increasing success in tackling evasion both at home and offshore, the message is clear: there is no hiding place for tax cheats.”
HMRC is also running a similar operation in the UK collating Land Registry, council benefit payments, electoral records and tax returns to identify property investors who have not paid enough tax.