The lengths that HMRC will go to in its quest to catch-out tax evaders seemingly knows no bounds with the disclosure that Inland Revenue Inspectors are embracing technology with the phrase “desktop review” taking on a new meaning.
It has been revealed that HMRC officers are increasingly using Google’s Street View application as a monitoring tool to assess suspected tax evaders. It appears that the officers are using photographic evidence from Google Street View as an alternative to actually visiting peoples’ homes.
With the system giving a road-side view of properties the inspectors have a quick and easy way of assessing is someone’s declared income matches with their lifestyle. For example, extensive renovations/extensions, expensive cars, caravans or boats could all be indicators that someone’s income is more than they are declaring.
Whilst HMRC cost saving is to be applauded, there are obvious dangers with this approach, not least being that the photos may be several years old as Google doesn’t publish the dates each picture was taken, which could lead to incorrect conclusions being drawn and a taxpayer liable to an unnecessary challenge.
A spokesman for HMRC recently confirmed the they use Street View but also stressed:
“Our investigations have a greater focus in looking at an individual’s bank account, employment history and the value of their property. No tax inquiry would commence purely on the basis of information from Street View — identifying cases for possible inquiry is a very sophisticated process.’