r/ukpolitics – You’re 23 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit fraud than tax fraud in the UK

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Anoosh Chakelian

For each tax fraudster prosecuted within the UK between 2009 and 2019, 23 profit claimants had been prosecuted, in line with new figures from the assume tank TaxWatch.

That is regardless of tax fraud costing the financial system 9 occasions greater than advantages fraud: in 2018/19, tax fraud price the Treasury an estimated £20bn, whereas profit fraud price simply £2.2bn.

The Division for Work and Pensions (DWP) employs three and a half occasions extra workers in compliance than HMRC does, and eight and a half occasions extra jail sentences (fast and suspended) had been imposed for advantages crime than tax crime over the previous 11 years.

Whereas the precise prevalence of those two offences is not possible to find out, it’s notable that final 12 months the DWP referred greater than twice the variety of instances to prosecutors (2,000) as the overall variety of felony investigations undertaken by HMRC (800).

Utilizing information from Freedom of Info requests and evaluation of Ministry of Justice prosecution stats, the assume tank additionally discovered that HMRC is prosecuting 39 per cent fewer folks for tax crime of all types than it was in 2015. That is regardless of the variety of reside felony investigations into critical and sophisticated tax crime rising from 50 to 400 between 2015 and 2020.

These revelations comply with quite a few guarantees from successive Conservative governments to “crack down” on tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance; Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised final March that he would recoup round £1bn a 12 months from this technique.

In March 2016, through the Conservative authorities below David Cameron, the Public Accounts Committee warned HMRC to “do extra to sort out tax fraud and counter the assumption that individuals are getting away with tax evasion… enhance the variety of investigations and prosecutions, together with rich tax evaders, and publicise this work to discourage others from evading tax and to ship out a message that those that strive is not going to get away with it”.

It accused the division of making “the impression that the wealthy can get away with tax fraud”.

That very same 12 months, in February 2016, HMRC dedicated to 100 felony prosecutions for “critical and sophisticated tax crime” a 12 months by 2020 – but in 2019/20, it had solely managed 46.

This sluggishness comes regardless of high-profile UK tax scandals in recent times, together with the Panama Papers leak in 2016 of offshore account particulars, and an identical scandal the next 12 months dubbed the Paradise Papers. Tech giants reminiscent of Amazon, Google and Fb have confronted long-running scrutiny over how a lot tax they pay within the UK.

The price of profit fraud in 2018-19 amounted to simply 1.2 per cent of whole profit expenditure. The loss to the Treasury because of the underpayment of tax accounts in the identical interval amounted to 7 per cent of tax income.

This contrasts starkly with a permanent tendency among the many public to wildly overestimate the extent of profit fraud: surveys present that individuals have a tendency to imagine 24-27 per cent of welfare spending is on false profit claims.

In 2017, the British Social Attitudes survey discovered that the general public is extra sympathetic in direction of tax dodging than enjoying the advantages system – with 68 per cent saying it’s mistaken to not declare informal work to the profit workplace to realize £500, in comparison with 56 per cent saying it’s mistaken to not declare such work to keep away from paying £500 in tax.

However, intensive analysis on public attitudes in direction of taxation by Tax Justice UK between December 2019 and June 2020 discovered that tax avoidance is universally hated by the general public – with 81 per cent saying tax avoidance by massive firms is morally mistaken, and 76 per cent saying the identical for people.

Disproportionate deal with profit fraud by the federal government – which ran a publicity marketing campaign towards “profit theft” in 2007 – coupled with a profit “scroungers” narrative within the tabloid press and media (for instance, in actuality TV programmes like 2014’s Advantages Avenue) has positioned a distorted image of widespread welfare chicanery within the public creativeness.

It’s a cussed notion, which distracts from the “huge authorities losses to white-collar criminality dwarfing the ‘profit theft’ determine”, within the phrases of political scientist Adam Taylor.

“The present system, which finally ends up jailing 1000’s of advantages claimants while tax fraudsters stroll free, can’t be justified if we’re to have equality earlier than the regulation,” stated George Turner, govt director of TaxWatch.

“However the fact is that if HMRC went after tax fraudsters in the identical manner that the DWP go after advantages crime, the felony justice system would collapse…

“It makes completely no sense to prioritise the enforcement of advantages crime over tax crime when the sum of money misplaced to the Treasury from tax fraud is large in comparison with advantages fraud.”

HMRC has commented that for the reason that launch of its Fraud Investigation Service in 2016, it has “launched over 76,000 civil instances and greater than 4,000 felony investigations”. Its coverage is to cope with fraud as a civil matter and reserve felony investigation for instances the place it must “ship a powerful deterrent message or the place the conduct concerned is such that solely a felony sanction is acceptable”.

In accordance with TaxWatch evaluation of the most recent DWP annual report, the division concluded 46,000 profit fraud investigations and referred 2,000 instances for felony prosecution in 2019/20.

A authorities spokesperson stated:

“In 2020 HMRC was given greater than £100 million of further funding to sort out tax cheats. Tax evasion is taken simply as critically as profit fraud and to counsel in any other case is to disregard the details. HMRC at all times totally investigates tax evasion and the CPS criminally prosecutes in probably the most critical instances. This method works and is clearly proven by the very fact HMRC continues to usher in document tax revenues and compliance yield, securing £37 billion in further tax by way of our civil and felony work to sort out tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance within the final 12 months.”

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