The HMRC Nudge Unit, previously called the Behavioural Insights Team, was a team within the Cabinet Office that was tasked with improving government services and saving money by employing a blend of behavioural economics and psychology. An example of this in practice is the so-called “nudge” letters HMRC issue on the back of using their vast data collection resources. The HMRC ‘Connect’ AI computer system sends these nudge letters to large groups of targeted taxpayers, placing the onus on the taxpayer, not HMRC, to review historic tax returns and correct if appropriate.
Recent HMRC ‘Nudge’ campaigns – and the assumed originating data source (in brackets):
- Aug-20: Business who are believed to have incorrectly claimed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme subsidies (Challenged by HMRC when they believe the relevant staff were actually still working).
- Oct-20: Individuals resident in the UK who had not declared the interest arising on bank accounts held in Indian banks (per data exchanged between UK & Indian tax authorities)
- Jan-22: Individuals who have not declared cryptocurrency gains on their tax returns (based on what digital platforms now report to HMRC).
- Aug-22: Incorrectly declared benefits in kinds (based on comparing disclosures on P11d’s with self-assessment tax returns)
- Nov-22: Persons of significant control who have declared income of below £100,000 or who have not submitted a tax return (based on Companies House PSC registers).
- Jan-23: Offshore corporates that own UK property (per Companies House register of overseas entities)
- Feb-23: Incorrect R&D tax relief claims (perhaps targeted on the large number of amended tax returns submitted by unscrupulous R&D tax agencies)
- Mar-23: Black economy landlords (per property owners on online booking platforms like Vrbo and Airbnb)
- Apr-23: Individuals who have undeclared businesses through online platforms (based on sales records obtained from eBay, Etsy and Facebook)
- Jun-23: UK residents with undeclared offshore assets (per those named in Pandora Papers 2021 documents leak).
- Jun-23: Individuals claiming business asset rollover relief on what appears to be residential property (possibly based on Land Registry information)
- Sep-23: No add back of mortgage interest in rental income computations relating to residential property (probably based on comparing to total interest tax relief cl;aimed elsewhere on tax return)
- Sep-23: Potentially spurious R&D claims made by care homes (based on sector classification).
- Oct-23: Discrepancies in 2021-22 self assessment tax returns re entitlement to retain child benefit (based on comparison of tax return high income child benefit entries with child benefits data sources, if income exceeds £50k).
- Oct-23: Discrepancies in 2021-22 self assessment tax returns re full declaration of benefits in kind (based on comparison with P11d submissions by employers).
- Nov-23: Property owners who have incorporated their business in the tax year 2017/18 but reported no capital gains tax liability on their self-assessment tax return, on the basis that incorporation relief is believed to apply (Based on tax return relief claim).
- Nov-23: UK taxpayers who have used a money service business during 2022/23 to send money abroad or cash cheques, and possibly not declared all income sources on their tax return (Based on money service business data reports).
- Nov-23: Large businesses (individually or part of a group with turnover over £200m) that do not publish their tax strategy on their website (Based presumably on HMRC manually checking up on company websites).
Common arrangements for tax avoidance that HMRC believe do not work – as highlighted in their ‘Spotlight’ publication:
- Sep-20: Spotlight 56 – Remuneration structured as a loan to a trust.
- Jun-23: Spotlight 62 – A class of company shares issued to a minor, with substantial dividends on this class paid, to fund school fees.
- Oct-23: Spotlight 63 – Hybrid property ownership partnerships, owning property via an LLP with a corporate partner.
If you have received a nudge letter, inaction can be perilous. Failing to respond promptly will undoubtedly lead to follow up questions by HMRC and may also lead to harsher penalties in the long-term, if a disclosure should be made, it is not made and more tax is payable as a result.
HMRC continue to go on record, stating its plans to continue to increase the use of AI to target tax evaders and non-compliant taxpayers. So nudge letters are probably now here to stay.
Disclaimer - All information in this post was correct at time of writing.