What are the Taxman’s Surveillance Powers?

Reports in the press say that public bodies like HMRC are getting authority to carry out surveillance on huge numbers of UK citizens – more than 1% of the population each year – under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The Home Office have published draft codes of practice concerning the use, by public authorities, of powers conferred by RIP 2000.  The code most relevant to tax investigations is “Covert Surveillance”.  Covert Surveillance is carried out in a way to ensure the subject is unaware of it.

The code runs to 30 pages, but some brief extracts give a good flavour of how the taxman will operate in a tax investigation.

“…HMRC officers might covertly observe and then visit a shop as part of their enforcement function to verify the supply … of goods…Such observation may include the use of equipment [e.g. cameras]…where this does not involve systematic surveillance of an individual.  It forms part of the everyday functions [of HMRC]…This low-level activity will not usually be regulated under …the Act”.
“Directed Surveillance is conducted where it involves the observation of a person…with the intention of gathering private information to produce a detailed picture of a person’s life, activities associations”.
“Intrusive surveillance” takes place inside residential premises or vehicles; i.e. telephoto spying.

Where a tax investigator wants to use carry out Directed or Intrusive Surveillance he needs written authority from a senior tax inspector, usually in the same office. Covert surveillance does not require such authorisation but the code suggests that best practice and the need to get evidence admitted in criminal proceedings [which per the Human Rights Act could include cases termed civil by HMRC e.g. Contractual Disclosure Facility (Code of Practice 9) cases] is that authorisation should be sought in all cases.

What does it mean for me?

If you are worried that the taxman has put you under surveillance then you are probably undergoing a tax investigation. Lynam Tax specialise in dealing with HMRC and are experts helping people under enquiry.

If you need advice and help in a difficult Tax Enquiry email:  partners@lynamtax.co.uk, or call:

Paul Lynam on 0845 643 9997
or Andrew Nutbrown on 07718 778710