Prosecutions for tax dodging jumped by more than half last year as HM Revenue and Customs stepped up the drive against fraud.
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As a result, lawyers are warning taxpayers and businesses to put their finances in order to avoid HMRC prying in to their affairs.
Figures released by HMRC show 240 taxpayers and businesses were prosecuted in the financial year ending March 2012, compared to 157 in the previous tax year – an increase of 53%.
The news comes following the government handing HMRC an extra £900 million to crackdown on suspected tax dodgers.
Jason Collins, of law firm Pinsent for Masons, said: “Most tax avoidance cases are being settled by negotiation or are pursued through civil courts, including the tax tribunal.
“Only in the most serious cases would HMRC decide to pursue criminal charges but most taxpayers will be ordered to pay any unpaid tax due along with penalties and interest to avoid criminal sanctions.”
Mr Collins said that HMRC was using the extra funding to boost criminal investigations and to speed up those in the pipeline.
The law firm says its research reveals that there has been a 44% increase in the number of tax fraud arrests.
One reason for this, they say, is that HMRC is now adopting an aggressive attitude towards those individuals suspected of tax fraud and they are more likely to use criminal investigative weapons rather than follow civil rules.
Mr Collins added: “Because of this stance it is now more important than ever before that businesses and individuals are tax compliant.”
Wealthy pay more tax
He pointed out that criminal investigations are not only more costly but have issues for the Crown Prosecution Service too, since they are seeing their workload increase.
Meanwhile, a specialist HMRC unit set up to tackle tax avoidance by the wealthy has led to a 10% rise in the tax take, bringing in an extra £220 million.
The unit has now raked in more than £500 million in extra tax payments since 2009.
The original idea was for the unit, which employs about 380 for staff in offices across the UK, to clampdown on aggressive tax mitigation schemes.
HMRC watchers have noted that in addition to the extra £900 million being handed to the taxman, the organisation has also avoided to government austerity budget cuts.
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