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HMRC Wants Powers To Seize Money From Bank Accounts

by Robert Lee,, London

06 July 2007

Controversial new powers being considered by HM Revenue and Customs could result in monies owed to the tax man being taken directly out of taxpayer bank accounts.

HMRC is seeking the new powers to reduce the cost and effort of chasing 200,000 people who haven't paid all of their tax through the courts each year, even though it says that the majority of these cases go undefended.

A consultation paper looking at payments and debts states: "Taxpayers who owe money to HMRC frequently have sufficient funds or assets to pay their debts, but choose to delay doing so. HMRC currently lacks the full range of powers to ensure prompt payment."

The proposals, if approved, would allow HMRC to freeze an amount held in an individuals's bank account equal to their tax debt. This would be paid to the department by the bank or building society in question only after other methods of collecting the money had failed. The consultation document also asks for views on whether it should be allowed to demand cash from the sale of land or property, including homes, if people do not pay up.

HMRC says that the consultation paper forms part its work to modernise its powers and deterrents. It invites comments on a range of ideas to make it easier for taxpayers to pay on time and improve the way in which HMRC deals with those who do not. The deadline for submitting comments is 17 September 2007.

The proposals have however, provoked criticism from tax experts, who are warning that the measures would represent an unacceptable extension of HMRC's powers.

"We've got to have safeguards to say that it's definitely owed and properly proceeded against," John Whiting, a tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, told the BBC News website. "The taxpayer's got some rights of appeal because if you suddenly find some money disappearing from your bank account and it's a mistake, well, how do you get it back?"

Mike Warburton of Grant Thornton told the Financial Times that: “It seems a pretty serious extension of their (HMRC's) powers.” The Chartered Institute of Taxation also expressed “quite serious concerns" about the proposals in the same report.

The proposals come as HMRC begins sifting through hundreds of thousands of bank accounts held by those believed to be hiding money offshore, following the passing of the deadline for the Offshore Disclosure Facility last month.

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