People working at computer

Tackling tax evasion due to Electronic Sales Suppression

Hayley Ives, Director, Tax Resolutions
02/03/2022
People working at computer

Finance Act 2022 recently received Royal Assent, meaning powers are now available to address threats to the tax system due to Electronic Sales Suppression (ESS).

While the scale of evasion is difficult to quantify precisely given the concealed nature of this activity, HMRC is aware that ESS is a growing area of tax evasion that must be addressed.

Legislating against the risk of ESS demonstrates how seriously HMRC takes the threat and reflects the department’s determination to keep up with ever evolving technology to catch tax evaders.

What is Electronic Sales Suppression?

ESS can be used by businesses to manipulate electronic sales records during or after the point of sale.

Software and hardware can be obtained that hides or reduces the value of individual transactions to shrink the recorded turnover of the business, while providing what appears to be a credible and compliant audit trail. This, of course, reduces the business’s tax bill.

Such practices have the ability to cause huge damage to the Exchequer if left to continue unchecked, hence the work to build protections into legislation.

Background

A consultation on ESS ran between 19 December 2018 and 20 March 2019. The consultation document made interesting reading and can be found here: HMRC Electronic Sales Suppression [pdf]

A number of Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system manufacturers and software designers who responded to the consultation advised HMRC that some businesses openly asked for ESS functionality to be built into their till systems.

The main driver for using ESS technology appears to be to keep the business below the VAT registration threshold as well as to reduce taxable profits, which is of course tax evasion.

The types of business which are viewed as high-risk include takeaway outlets, hospitality and retail. 

What will change?

Schedule 14 of Finance Act 2022 gives HMRC the power to charge penalties to those involved in ESS:

  • those making, supplying or promoting the use of an ESS tool can expect a penalty of up to £50,000
  • those in possession of an ESS tool can be fined up to £1,000. 

At first glance, the penalty for those who are tempted to use ESS tools appear on the low side. However, it is logical to expect that HMRC will pursue such individuals who use ESS in their business using existing Civil (and perhaps even criminal) investigation powers. The penalties HMRC can charge for understatements resulting from deliberate and concealed actions are up to 100% of the potential lost revenue, so there is much to gain by leaning on ESS promoters for information to uncover the end users.

The new legislation also extends HMRC’s statutory information powers (at Schedule 36, Finance Act 2008) to persons that HMRC has reason to suspect may be liable to an ESS penalty.  It also enables HMRC to issue information notices for the purposes of assessing an ESS penalty, enabling HMRC to understand the operation of the ESS tool and/or for identifying any other person whose activity might result in an ESS penalty. 

The new measures will therefore enable HMRC to tackle tax evasion undertaken by businesses that use tools to hide or reduce the value of transactions and the corresponding tax liabilities and eventually deter this behaviour altogether.

How Crowe can help

Businesses which have engaged in the use of ESS historically should seriously consider making a voluntary disclosure to HMRC using the Contractual Disclosure Facility to obtain immunity from prosecution and secure the lowest penalty loadings. If taxpayers wait for HMRC to make the first move, they will find themselves in a worse position, particularly if HMRC opts to pursue a criminal investigation in order to make an example of them.

Crowe's Tax Resolutions specialists have worked with numerous taxpayers and their agents to bring historic tax issues up to date. If you choose to work with us, you can expect that we will:

  • act as a buffer between you and HMRC so that you do not need to speak directly with HMRC
  • ensure that HMRC does not overstep the mark, for example, by making requests for data that HMRC is not entitled to
  • review the background of your case and identify all issues that need to be disclosed
  • advise on the most appropriate steps to ensure a full disclosure is made to HMRC to reduce the possibility of HMRC asking follow up questions
  • calculate the underpaid tax whilst ensuring all legitimate claims for tax relief / allowances are considered
  • advise you on the likely penalty position and consider all mitigating factors to reduce penalties as low as possible
  • liaise with third parties to obtain the data that is relevant to your disclosure.

Our team is approachable and provides a discreet and comprehensive service, giving you the confidence you need when dealing with a sensitive matter such as an HMRC investigation.

To discuss this further, contact Hayley Ives, Tax Resolutions.

 

Contact us

Hayley Ives
Hayley Ives
Director, Tax Resolutions
London
John Cassidy
John Cassidy
Partner, Tax Resolutions
London