Tax: Offshore savings - the next chapter
Regular readers will know that back in April the Revenue offered people who had put money away in offshore bank accounts (or property) a chance to declare it.
This applied to those hundreds of thousands of people who put money offshore and failed to pay the right tax on it. They may have hidden business income there without declaring it or put 'clean money' there but failed to declare interest it earned.
This special arrangement was called the offshore disclosure facility.
It was not an absolute amnesty in that there was no promise that you would escape prosecution. What there was, and this was attractive, was a simplified way of coming clean and a reduced 10% tax penalty.
In other words, you paid the Revenue the tax you owed, a penalty of 10% of that tax and interest because you were paying the tax later than you should.
So what has happened since then?
› The opportunity to register for that facility closed in June.
› Those who registered must submit the forms and pay the tax by November 26, 2007.
› The Revenue has already raised well over £100m.
› The Revenue is investigating those who failed to register - and it is now moving on to new banks.
› A limited disclosure facility may be offered to customers of the new banks.
This is all quite relevant if you have, or used to have, money offshore.
The original disclosure facility was set up because the Revenue used its powers to get from seven main banks details of UK residents who had money offshore.
It got loads of people's names and addresses and even wrote to them warning that they should consider if the facility applied to them.
Not everyone who got warning letters – normally both from their bank and the Revenue – registered for the offshore disclosure facility. Already I am taking on cases of people that the Revenue is investigating. The Revenue is, unusually, being quite up- front in launching the investigation. It is saying 'hand over the details of those offshore accounts'.
What horrified me back in June was that a number of people who spoke to me said their bank was not one of those the Revenue had information from. They used this as a basis for continuing to withhold information from the Revenue.
In the last couple of weeks Revenue director-general Dave Hartnett confirmed that the Revenue is ready to pounce on the next batch of banks.
HMRC has met with about 150 banks and institutions and from the New Year will be asking them for information on offshore accounts. After that the Revenue will again be deluged with names and addresses.
Hartnett suggested that another, more limited facility, may be offered.
What I reckon is that if HMRC gets information on offshore savings with XYZ Bank then a special disclosure facility will be available only if the person had savings with that bank.
So it does not look as if those with savings in the original seven banks (including Lloyds and Barclays) will get another bite at the cherry unless they also invested with XYZ Bank.
So what should people do? This depends on which category you're in.
Had money offshore and received a letter from your bank about the offshore facility? If you failed to register for the facility, the time bomb is ticking. The Revenue will get to you.
I suggest you cough up now.
Had money offshore but received nothing from your bank in 2007 about the offshore facility? Probably your bank was not in the initial seven.
The question is does your bank fall into the next batch of 150?
It's more difficult to advise on this. First, do not dispose of any bank statements and so on from 1987 as they may help work out what tax you owe. You could wait and see if another 'amnesty' comes along, or you could come clean now.
Remember, by sitting on your hands you could still find a tax investigation happens even if no new 'amnesty' is offered.
What you end up doing depends on how exciting you want life to be, and how quickly you want to put the worry of offshore cash behind you.
Adrian Huston, a former tax inspector, is now a partner in Belfast tax and accountancy firm Huston & Co LLP (www.hustontax.com; tel: 028 9080 6080).