The 23 businesses have been referred to HMRC’s Tax Evasion Referral teams, which investigate cases to determine whether a civil investigation should be launched, or criminal referrals made to HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service.
Files on up to 250 wealthy taxpayers were also passed to the Tax Evasion Referral Teams last year, as HMRC “continues its crackdown” on those with undeclared income from offshore assets.
Its increased investigations come as the government looks to increase revenues in order to “fill the gap” made by falling tax revenues, as well as the increased costs of government support schemes during the pandemic.
According to Pinsent Masons, the Furlough Scheme alone could cost the Treasury up to £100bn, putting HMRC ”under pressure” to increase its yield from investigations.
Andrew Sackey, partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “HMRC clearly now has the behaviours of a number of the UK’s biggest businesses in its sights. If a case is referred to the Tax Evasion Referral teams then detailed investigations are almost certain to follow.
“For large corporates that do find themselves in the tax tribunals for alleged evasion, the reputational risks are substantial.”
He added: “The Tax Evasion Referral teams are one of HMRC’s key triage tools. It enables HMRC to centralise its consideration of suspicious conduct and identify the most serious cases of tax evasion and then allocate the right level of specialist resource necessary to ensure it gets the result it considers to be right.
“It is not just big businesses that will be facing more scrutiny in the years ahead – hundreds of wealthy taxpayers are also having their tax affairs reviewed by the Evasion Referral teams. High Net Worth’s have long been a key target for HMRC scrutiny.”
He added that furlough fraud would continue to be of “particular interest” to HMRC in the future, as it is “well aware” of how open to abuse the scheme may be, and has already launched its first dawn raids against suspected offenders.
He said: “HMRC are aware of recent reports that large numbers of furloughed workers continued to work and will be reviewing the claims put in by businesses of all sizes and we can expect plenty of investigatory activity in this area.
“Businesses who discover that they have received furlough monies that they weren’t entitled to should urgently consider taking specialist advice to take advantage of the new limited amnesty offer.”