The government will consult on plans to introduce a new strict liability criminal offence for individuals who hide their money offshore.
Under the plans announced by the Chancellor, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) would no longer need to prove that individuals who have undeclared income offshore intended to evade tax, in order for a criminal conviction to be handed down.
At present, HMRC has to demonstrate that even when someone failed to declare offshore income, that the individual intended to evade tax. This change will mean HMRC only has to demonstrate the income was taxable and undeclared meaning it will be easier to secure successful prosecutions of offshore tax evaders.
As well as introducing the new criminal offence, the government will consult on a range of options building on the existing penalties faced by those hiding their money in offshore accounts – currently up to 200 percent of the tax owed – to make sure they act as a clear and effective deterrent.
The consultation will look at whether the existing penalty limit should be raised further, how penalties could be increased if individuals try to move money around in a bid to avoid detection and extending the penalty regime to include inheritance tax.
The announcement comes as the government publishes an update to its offshore evasion strategy, No Safe Havens.
It will also publicise that HMRC is ready and able to financially reward whistleblowers for significant information that helps uncover offshore hidden untaxed assets.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said:
The government has taken significant steps to clamp down on those hiding their money offshore. HMRC has brought in over £1.5billion over the last two years and, through our leadership at the G8, we have taken significant steps towards greater transparency and tax information sharing.
But there can be no let up and we will continue to pursue offshore tax evaders. Those who continue to believe they can hide wealth offshore should know that there is no safe haven and that serious consequences await them.
The UK put tax and transparency at the heart of its G8 Presidency. The government has since signed automatic tax information sharing agreements with the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to automatically share tax information.
The UK has also – along with the France, Spain, Italy and Germany – led the way in pushing for a multi-lateral information sharing pilot. 44 jurisdictions have now signed up to this pilot and the timetable for implementation was set out on 19 March 2014.
Draft legislation to implement the new OECD standard in automatic tax information exchange will be published in due course.