What is tax avoidance?
Tax avoidance is where a taxpayer uses a scheme or arrangement that is preordained and results in a lower amount of tax being paid.
Is tax avoidance illegal?
Despite what may be reported in the media, tax avoidance is legal.
There are many reasons why a taxpayer may be suspected of avoiding tax including when a taxpayer appears to have a lifestyle beyond their taxed income.
The vast majority of taxpayers who HMRC suspected of avoiding tax in the UK are investigated on a civil basis under Code of Practice 8 (COP 8). However, there has been an increasing number of both scheme promoters and scheme users who are being considered for prosecution.
Inland Revenue Commissioners v. Duke of Westminster 
Although this case was decided many years ago, it is still relevant today in so far as tax avoidance is concerned. Quoting from the case:
Every man is entitled, if he can, to order his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow tax-payers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.
The Counter Avoidance Directorate (CAD)
HMRC’s CAD have sought to counter the use of mass marketed tax avoidance schemes by issuing Accelerated Payment Notices (APNs) and Follower Notices which require any tax to be paid.
HMRC will not ‘approve’ a tax avoidance scheme – or a legitimate service, for that matter. If you are provided with a Scheme Reference Number it does not mean that the scheme is “HMRC approved”,
Types of tax avoidance schemes
There is no comprehensive list of tax avoidance schemes but they include:
- Business Premises Renovation Allowance (BPRA)
- Disguised Remuneration
- Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs)
- Family Benefit Trusts
- Film Partnerships
- Gift Aid Avoidance
- Job Board Schemes
- Loan Schemes
- Plan Green Car Benefit Scheme
- Revenue Service Trust
- Share Loss Relief Scheme
- Stamp Duty Land Scheme
- Stripped Bond Tax Avoidance Scheme
Over the years, HMRC have provided taxpayers with a number of Settlement Opportunities (for example the Employee Benefit Trust Settlement Opportunity) to regularise their past tax affairs and settle any outstanding liabilities.
Exiting tax avoidance
Currently, whilst any taxpayer will be assessed for any unpaid tax plus interest, it is rare that any penalty is imposed. If tax avoidance crosses the boundary into being tax evasion, then a penalty can apply.
Some taxpayers may not realise that they have participated in a tax avoidance scheme. Anyone unsure of their past tax compliance should seek specialist advice.
Help is at hand
If you would like to discuss this matter further, please contact me at email@example.com or on 07979 313 010.