According to the firm, HMRC can “request phone records from telecoms networks” to aid it in its investigations into suspected furlough fraud. It has also been suggested that the tax authority could examine the phone records of an employer to “determine whether or not they have been making phone calls to an employee during the period when they were supposedly on furlough”.
RPC has said that the HMRC can “request data held by telecoms operators including the time, duration and location of a phone call as well as the number dialled”. It can also request a list of websites visited by an individual from their internet provider.
HMRC must request this information from the Office for Communications Data Authorisations (“OCDA”).
In addition the firm revealed that the “majority of applications to acquire communications data are for the prevention and detection of serious crime, including tax evasion”.
Given the 10% jump in whistleblowing reports of suspected tax evasion to 73,000 last year, RPC said there is “significant scope for HMRC to further increase the number of requests it makes to access taxpayers’ phone records”.
Adam Craggs, partner and head of tax at RPC, said: “Most taxpayers are unaware of the extensive investigative powers which HMRC has at its disposal and it will not hesitate to use these powers if it suspects fraud.”
“As HMRC shifts its focus to furlough fraud, phone and web browsing data is likely to be a hugely valuable source in identifying those who may be defrauding the public purse.”
He added: “Digital data is increasingly important in the detection of fraud, but it is critical that HMRC takes care to ensure that the correct legislative basis is used in its fight against fraud. HMRC must not misuse its investigatory powers and ensure that only lawful, necessary and proportionate applications for communications data are made to the OCDA.”.