The Inland Revenue (IR) has not prosecuted a single lower-end case arising out of black market tax fraud, despite recommendations that it should do so made nearly two years ago
The recommendations were contained in a government-sponsored report by Lord Grabiner QC in June 2000 on the informal economy. Grabiner called for the introduction of a new statutory offence of fraudulently evading income tax. Offences of this kind were to be tried in the magistrates' court, which opened up the potential for widening the volume of prosecutions, which until then had been limited to larger tax offences. The relevant legislation, section 144 of the Finance Act 2000, was introduced on 1 January 2001. However, to date there has not been a single prosecution. This has some political resonance as the Government attempts to crackdown on individuals cheating the benefits system. Grabiner estimated that 120,000 people are working while signing on at a cost of almost £500m to the taxpayer. White collar crime partner at Burton Copeland, Harry Travers, said section 144 "flies in the face" of existing IR policy to prosecute only so-called heinous crimes. He said: "It remains to be seen how [the section] will work in practice. Some have suggested that the IR's possible lack of enthusiasm for the new policy is reflected in the fact that there has not been a single prosecution." Extra staff - revenue executives, which are a grade below revenue inspectors - have recently been hired to help facilitate Grabiner's recommendations. It is uncertain as to how many were recruited, but an IR statement last August said it was recruiting 50 new investigators. The IR has not taken on additional lawyers to cope with the expected increase in work. An IR spokeswoman said there were several cases under investigation, but that it was too early for any prosecutions. She added that the earliest opportunity for a prosecution under section 144 was 6 October 2001 because offenders who fail to declare tax by 5 April, the end of the tax year, have six months to report otherwise their evasion becomes an offence.