31 May 2023
Since April 2022, HMRC has produced a list of named tax avoidance schemes and those involved in promoting them. The intention is to provide taxpayers with information to help them steer clear of tax avoidance schemes or, if they are already using them, to exit them as soon as possible.
Since the publication of this list, HMRC has used several ways of engaging with taxpayers to help meet its aims, including press releases and digital engagement on social media. HMRC even directly writes to users of the named schemes to inform them that the scheme has been listed so that they can consider their position and exit the arrangements.
Furthermore, the list is directly linked to the HMRC marketing campaign ‘Tax avoidance: don’t get caught out’, which details what tax avoidance is, how some schemes work, and even includes some personal stories about taxpayers who used tax avoidance schemes and ended up having to settle large tax bills with HMRC.
It is clear from all this activity that HMRC is trying to educate and deter taxpayers from using avoidance schemes, but how successful is HMRC’s marketing?
With all the resource being put into deterring taxpayers from entering schemes, you would assume that the traffic on the named schemes list webpage would be very high. However, a freedom of information (FOI) request issued by RSM UK to HMRC shows that in the period 4 May 2022 to 3 May 2023, the list of named avoidance schemes webpage had a total of 43,282 unique views – the equivalent of roughly 3,600 per month.
In contrast, a search using other internet sources for the number of visits to the Tax avoidance: don’t get caught out webpage indicates there are on average over 17,000 views per month.
The FOI response highlights that HMRC’s goal is to reach taxpayers directly, to make them aware of the risks of these specific schemes and get them out of avoidance as soon as possible. It is clear from the various methods by which HMRC promotes the list that this is in fact a key priority, however the limited number of webpage unique views may suggest that these methods are not working.
A further blip in the effectiveness of this list of named tax avoidance schemes is that in specific circumstances, promoter or supplier details can only be listed on the page for 12 months. This has resulted in some schemes having to be removed from the published list already, with others reaching the end of their 12-month limit soon.
Whilst HMRC’s aims are to help educate and deter taxpayers from using tax avoidance schemes, when you consider the combination of a time limited list and low website traffic, there is a strong indication that these aims may not currently be being achieved. Is this list and HMRC’s other marketing campaigns doing enough to deter taxpayers from using avoidance schemes? Only time will tell.