Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland’s hairdressers furious as tax spot checks loom

By Tom Moseley and Jane Hardy

Northern Ireland’s hairdressers have launched a furious attack on the Treasury for subjecting their sector to a tax-dodging crackdown.

Spot checks will be carried out on hair and beauty businesses here in an attempt to recover more than £2.5m in tax.

Officials will carry out “intensive bursts of activity”, demanding to look at the books of businesses to ensure that they are paying their share.

The Treasury said specialist teams would focus on “specific high-risk trade sectors and locations in the UK”.

Scottish pubs, restaurants in south Wales and the south west, and the motor trade in parts of England were also singled out.

But it is the decision to target salons in Northern Ireland which has caused the most controversy.

The Belfast Telegraph visited a number of hairdressing salons and found widespread anger at the step. One salon said that it had already had an unexpected visit from tax inspectors.

Olivia McCartan (36), a senior hairdresser at Peter Oliver Barbers in Belfast, said: “I think it’s rather unfair of the Chancellor to target one group of businesses. And it’s insulting, too, because everything is computerised here anyway.”

Emma McCurdy (31), who manages The Salon within The Trade Secret in Belfast, added: “At the moment, the Government appears to have it in for our business. This latest idea makes me see red. I’ve never claimed benefit in my life and don’t want to start.”

Michael Quinn (40), owner of Michael Quinn Hairdressing, said: “It’s an absolute joke. At the moment it takes every working hour to just keep my business afloat. The fact that the Government think there’s any money to be skimmed off the top is insulting and infuriating.”

Tory Exchequer Secretary David

Gauke said: “At a time when we are trying to rebalance the public finances and most hard-working people are making a contribution by paying the right tax, it is just not fair that a small minority try to dodge their responsibilities.”

Officials have analysed tax returns and turnover figures to identify areas where businesses might not be paying enough tax. Mr Gauke said the taskforces launched yesterday would recover £30m in unpaid tax.

The crackdown “targets the highest-risk cases in a particular sector and location, typically focusing on groups of up to around 300 customers”, the Treasury said.

Mike Eland, HMRC's enforcement and compliance director, said: “Everyone needs to pay the taxes they owe in full — these new taskforces will help us crack down on the minority who have chosen to break the rules.

“If you have paid all your taxes you have nothing to worry about.

“But deliberately evading tax you should be paying can land you with not only a heavy fine, but possibly a criminal prosecution as well,” Mr Eland said. A Treasury spokesman said that it was the hair and beauty sector in general, not necessarily just in Northern Ireland, that was a cause for concern.

However, the taskforce will operate only in Northern Ireland with the possibility of a roll-out across the rest of the United Kingdom in the future. The spokesman said: “We go in, and look at the books.

“It might be fine, or there might be money owed to us. They might even be owed money.”

There might be “perfectly legitimate reasons” why a turnover might not lead to the usual tax receipts, he added.

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