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Worldwide Disclosure Facility

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The Worldwide Disclosure Facility (WDF) is a mechanism of making a disclosure to HMRC relating to ‘offshore income and gains’.

HMRC has increased its focus on the ‘tax gap’ and ever-increasing transparency between global tax authorities in an attempt to recover lost tax and prevent similar issues occurring going forward.

It is therefore important to ensure UK tax on your offshore assets has been correctly declared, or you could face severe penalties from HMRC.

The WDF can be used to make both voluntary and prompted disclosures of historically unreported offshore income and gains.

It is a two-step process, whereby an initial notification of intention to make a disclosure is made to HMRC. HMRC will then issue a disclosure reference number, which triggers the start of a 90-day window to submit the disclosure and pay the tax, interest and penalty calculated as due.

Whilst this sounds straightforward, determining the number of years to include in a disclosure and amount of penalty to offer depends on numerous factors, hence professional advice is recommended.

Why you need to review your tax position

1. Increasingly complex and constantly changing UK tax legislation

  • There is a common misconception that income and gains earned and taxed overseas are not taxable in the UK, whereas this is simply not correct.
  • The rules concerning offshore matters have changed significantly over recent years, which catches many taxpayers out. For example, we often still see cases where non-doms are not aware the remittance basis rules changed over a decade ago.
  • Numerous anti-avoidance measures have been introduced, aimed at offshore Trust structures and overseas property structures. Structures that were previously tax compliant may therefore have unidentified issues to address.
  • Taxpayers may be inadvertently affected by unknown issues created by third parties, for example, changes to complex Trust rules that have not yet been appreciated.

2. Increasing global transparency

  • The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) has been adopted by over 100 jurisdictions, which leads to annual automatic exchanges of financial information between the UK and other participating countries.
  • HMRC’s ‘connect’ software allows the collection and analysis of millions of lines of data and means you might be susceptible to investigation before you realise you have a tax issue.
  • Consultations on ‘mandatory disclosure rules’, backdated several years in some circumstances, are in progress, which highlights HMRC’s continuing drive to identify issues in connection with overseas assets.

3. Penalties and other consequences

  • Consultations on ‘mandatory disclosure rules’, backdated several years in some circumstances, are in progress, which highlights HMRC’s continuing drive to identify issues in connection with overseas assets.
  • You could be at risk of reputational damage from HMRC’s ‘Name and Shame’ powers..
  • Your future tax compliance could be monitored under the 'Managing Serious Defaulters' regime.

Why should you use the Worldwide Disclosure Facility

HMRC has an extensive nudge letter campaign targeting individuals and businesses who are thought to have undisclosed offshore income or gains. The letters are triggered by information HMRC routinely receives under the Common Reporting Standard.

The Worldwide Disclosure Facility is a formal settlement process that allows taxpayers and their advisers to make a full disclosure of any offshore tax irregularities and make an offer of tax, interest and penalties in full and final settlement of the historic issues. HMRC will view engagement with the Worldwide Disclosure Facility as a sign of co-operation which will help the investigation progress more efficiently and ultimately resolve previous understatements by contract settlement.

It is also possible to make a voluntary disclosure via the Worldwide Disclosure Facility if you realise that you have unresolved offshore tax issues before HMRC gets in touch. Coming forward voluntarily before HMRC opens an investigation will put you in a more favourable position, and you will be exposed to lower tax-geared penalties.

The Worldwide Disclosure Facility is available to individuals, companies or Trustees with offshore tax issues to disclose. We have dealt with numerous disclosures of this nature; please contact us if you would like to discuss how we can help you. 

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Offshore matters: Assessment windowsand penalties

Disclosures relating to offshore tax matters unfortunately attract severe penalties under the ‘Failure to Correct’ regime, in addition to extended assessment windows. 

Taxpayers with historic offshore tax issues who failed to take proactive action before the ‘Requirement to Correct’ deadline on 30 September 2018 have automatically failed to correct; these individuals are now exposed to huge penalties in respect of some past tax years, unless it can be demonstrated they have a reasonable excuse for the failure.

How many years can HMRC assess?

Tax Resolutions practitioners often get asked this question. HMRC’s assessment powers are not unlimited, meaning there are strict rules about how many past years HMRC can seek to collect tax from. This depends on the nature of the non-compliance. 

Broadly, the rules state that if a taxpayer has submitted inaccurate tax returns, the assessment window is defined by the behaviour that caused the inaccuracy. This is four years for innocent errors, six years for careless errors and twenty years for deliberate errors. 

Recent legislation has now widened the assessment window for offshore matters, regardless of whether the loss was brought about due to innocent error or carelessness. This is to allow HMRC more time to investigate offshore cases where information is harder to obtain. 

The effect of this is that HMRC has twelve years to assess tax lost as a result of innocent error and carelessness where offshore matters are concerned. We have recently seen HMRC attempt to apply this legislation, although there are safeguards which can be argued in certain cases. See our recent podcasts for more information.

If the taxpayer is in a 'failure to notify chargeability' situation, because they have never registered for Self-Assessment and are effectively a tax ghost, the rules are different. The default position is that HMRC can look back up to twenty years, unless the taxpayer has a reasonable excuse for the failure, in which case the window is four years. 

What kind of penalties will be charged?

Tax-geared penalties are also determined by the behaviour of the taxpayer. The penalty rates are increased where non-compliance is deliberate, the disclosure has been prompted by HMRC opening an investigation or there has been a significant delay between receiving the income/gains and making the disclosure. Enhanced penalties may also apply if the income or gains relate to certain countries which HMRC categorises as having a lower degree of tax transparency and information exchange.

Failure to Correct (FtC) Penalties

The standard Failure to Correct penalty is 200% of the unpaid tax. This can be mitigated down to a minimum 100% for a good quality, voluntary disclosure. However, the minimum penalty for disclosures that have been prompted by HMRC is 150%. 

FtC penalties apply automatically to underpaid tax on offshore assets unless the taxpayer has a reasonable excuse. See our numerous articleswebinars and podcasts on the subject of reasonable excuse.

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Contact us

Sean Wakeman
Sean Wakeman
Partner, Head of Tax Resolutions
John Cassidy
John Cassidy
Partner, Tax Resolutions